A Good Rubber Sole or How I Learned To Run on Trails

Old trail runner shoe

With this story, Trail Runner Nation is excited to introduce mom, writer, outdoors person and — yes — trail runner Alyssa Walker to our Trail Runner Nation family.

Alyssa will be writing and sharing her trail running experiences. Is she an elite trail runner? No. Ambassador for a famous brand? No. She’s a trail runner, plain and simple, just like the rest of us. A trail runner raising a family, working, jugglingtoomanythings

To kick things off, Alyssa shares some of her earliest memories of running. Sometimes on pavement, sometimes on trails, and sometimes with no trail at all. Enjoy!

You can learn more about Alyssa here.

— Doug Mayer, Producer, Trail Runner Nation

I am 4. I am fast. I run through the woods. I find trails. They lead to the beach. With his 1976 Minolta, Dad catches me taking a break on a rock in my favorite shirt and shoes, a striped terry cloth number and red canvas sneakers with rubber soles and toe bumpers, a KMart special. I like them because they are red, not because they are shoes. I don’t like wearing shoes. I wear the pants because Mom tells me to. It is chilly.


I run fast in iterations of red canvas sneakers with toe bumpers and rubber soles until I’m 8. That’s when I have a bike accident and fracture my left femur. I don’t run or ride my bike for a year. I read every Beverly Cleary title and think about when I get to run and jump in the woods and everywhere else again, just like Ramona.

At 9, I’m better. I start running with Dad. It’s my job to help him get the car. Every decently warm day after work, he comes home, changes into a yellow t-shirt, green cotton shorts, a too-small purple zip-up hoodie, and last season’s Nikes that he bought in Fall River. He drives two miles to a spot by the pond behind my school, runs home, and meets me in the driveway. I’m ready. 

“Let’s go!” he says, running a loop in our driveway, giving Mom a wave. From the front door, she smiles and waves — a nervous wreck, I later learn — as I follow Dad. We trot through a neighbor’s backyard to run underneath the power line or up the street to cut through the scrap of trail behind the dump. We cross a main road together and follow a narrow gravel path down to the railroad tracks on Narragansett Bay. We run alongside the tracks, through sand and gravel and crushed glass. We listen to the water and the gulls and the red-winged blackbirds as we head toward the ribbon of smashed shells in a spit of tall grass that will lead us up to the pond where we will get the car and drive home.

Sometimes we run fast. Sometimes slow. We stumble. We fall. We walk the hard parts. If we’re still on the tracks when the dinner train comes, we tuck into the beach roses where the thorns scratch us as we wave and smile at the passengers. They wave back. We catch our breath, admire the new red lines where the thorns scored our skin. We keep going. We dodge the sand bees that emerge from hives in rotting ties. They sting. We know.

Dad and I run to get the car until I’m old enough to do the whole thing, whatever the whole thing is, sometimes with him and sometimes alone. Sometimes we ride our bikes somewhere and run from there. We run at the high school track. To the high school track. To the hurricane bridge. Behind the industrial park. To the beach. Below the tideline. Above the tideline. Underneath the power lines. On the railroad tracks. Through weeds and reeds. Around and sometimes into nests. Past deer. When the honeysuckle blooms. When it doesn’t. Accidentally through a marsh. Through mud. Around it. In the rain.

We run in sneakers. Dad wears the hot brand from a few years ago and I wear whatever’s on sale or clearance at Fayva or Kmart, knockoffs of the era’s favorite Reeboks, Tretorns, Ponys, and Keds as long as there’s a rubber sole. Mom insists on it. “Always get a shoe with a good rubber sole,” she says. “I don’t care where it’s from.”

Dad wears his running outfit. I wear whatever I have on. A t-shirt, always. Sometimes with a sweatshirt. Shorts. Sweatpants. Sometimes jeans.

This is how I learn to run. This is how I learn to run on trails. I learn with my father in his purple sweatshirt and from my rubber-sole-obsessed mother. We run together through god-knows-what and come home hot and sweaty and scratched-up-tired and hungry and happy in shoes that meet my mother’s safety standards. We do not know that it is a thing to do this.

I am grateful it is.

I am now the one learning what it feels like to teach my children to find beauty in unexpected places, to sweat to get there, to try not to worry too much. To walk when you have to and when you want to. To find new ways of going somewhere and seeing and being in a place.

I am the same person I was on that rock 40 years ago, the one who runs through the woods. I still rarely wear shoes unless I have to. I prefer red ones but any color will do. As long as there’s a good rubber sole.

What are your first memories of running, on trail or otherwise? Share them here. We’d love to hear from you! 

Join the discussion

  • The movie Rocky featuring Sylvester Stallone had just come out. I was in 8th grade. I would meet my best friend at the corner for our 3 ish mile run. After downing the raw eggs .

  • Hi, Alyssa.

    I can’t help but reminisce about my childhood with your writing. Running around, with or without shoes on, on the road, in the mud, and whenever and wherever.

    Sometimes, it’s just good to look back. Being a child is really a reminder for us to take slow, and at the same time… just run.

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