“I can run in my jeans I guess,” I think to myself, realizing I’ve forgotten my running pants at home. I’m sitting in my car at the base of the Three Chop trail on Mt. Seymour waffling whether to run or not when I recall a race I did a few years back. In it someone actually chose to run in jeans and had me reflecting why I run in the first place.

The race is the Rubble Creek Classic, a 25km burn across Garibaldi Park that has racers ascending and descending over 1500 meters through a landscape that is as beautiful as it is demanding. It’s one of the toughest trail races on the calendar and is one that only the fittest of runners would ever think of trying.

Five minutes before race start I scan the hundred or so racers milling about the parking area all kitted out in the latest and greatest of running garb. Explosions of fluorescent colour, lightning bolts and futuristic footwear seem to be apparel of choice for everyone, for everyone except one. Standing alone leaning against a fence is a young guy looking relaxed and composed surveying the crowd as I am. He’s a stocky chap with a scruffy beard, a trucker hat sitting high on his head and a pair of aviator sunglasses sitting low on his nose. He’s donning skate shoes and large baggy jeans with a chain sweeping from his belt to his back pocket to secure his wallet. His T-shirt says something about beer and he needs to haul his jeans up after adjusting his race number. They barely sit upon his hips.

“There’s no way that guys going to finish this thing,” I think to myself. “I hope he knows what he’s getting himself into!” The Rubble Creek Classic is a point-to-point run across rugged mountain terrain. There’s no sag-wagon or support and organizers depend on the runners to take care of themselves. As the other runners chat nervously, sipping water and nibbling energy bars this guy lights up a cigarette.

The gun goes off and, with it, so do I. I set out at a hard clip and quickly pull away from the field. I’ve been training hard for this race and have hopes of winning it. The trail is narrow and winding and I look for the turn to the right that will lead me across the Cheakamus River and up into the alpine. I only realize I’ve missed the turn when I see the waters of Cheakamus Lake through the trees ahead. My over exuberance has taken me from first place to last.

I retrace my steps and find the turn I missed. I’m at least 2 kilometres behind the leaders now. All hope for a win is gone. I’m feeling dejected as I make the steady climb upwards passing slower runners as I go. I’m moving well but my head is no longer in the game. The Rubble Creek trail is one of the most beautiful traverses in South Western British Columbia as old growth forests lead to sweeping lava flats and alpine meadows with glacier clad peaks hemming in on all sides. At the high point a giant spire of basalt rock called Black Tusk lords over it all. It’s a magical place but it is lost on me now, blinded in my fog of frustration.

After an hour of hard running the trail flattens and opens up. I see a line of slower runners ahead when a shimmer of light catches my eye. Among these runners is the jeans-clad fellow I saw at the start. He’s moving well. His wallet chain is dancing wildly with each stride and is catching light from the sun. He has a huge smile on his face when I run past. “Good job buddy,” I say.

“You too,” he replies enthusiastically. “It sure is beautiful out, isn’t it!?”

“Sure is,” I say, not really feeling it, “Sure is.”

I complete the race well behind the leaders and am disappointed with my placing. It’s a little while before the jeans clad runner crosses the line but he’s beaming when he does. He joins everyone in the food tent for a quick drink but is out again before I can share a word.

Being a point-to-point race we need now to return to where we started. My wife Nicky is waiting for me with our car and we begin the 30-kilometre drive back to the start line. As we head down the road I see the familiar site of a dangling chain and loose fitting jeans striding down the edge of the asphalt. I roll down the window.

“Hey dude, would you like a drive back to start? It’s 30 kilometres you know!?”

“Yea, I know, no problem,” he replies, “Thanks though. It’s such a nice day I figured I’d run back.”

And so he did.

I just ran through one of the most beautiful sections of trail in North America I’m feeling sorry for myself for taking a wrong turn. Here’s a guy so happy to be out here he’s going to run 30 kilometres back just because he wants to. I started trail running to get out and explore the outside world just as I did today. I stumbled upon racing just by chance and it’s always been a means to an end – to move light and fast through the wilderness. Today the ‘means’ has obscured the ‘end.’ This guy who, just a few hours earlier, I thought had no place being out here is, in fact, the guy who belongs out here more than anyone.

Why do you do what you do? It’s worth asking yourself this on occasion. In business, as in sport, we need to periodically check in with ourselves to ensure we’re happy where we are. It’s very easy to get caught up in something that pulls you off track and sets you down a path you had no intention of following. I know why I run and it’s not to race. Sometimes you need a jeans-clad runner to set you straight.

Sitting in my car at the base of the Three Chop trail on Mt. Seymour waffling whether to run in my jeans or not, I decide to run.