Discover the Benefits of Trail Running

My wife was furious. We were 4 miles into a 3-mile trail run and she had just lost her shoe in the mud. I told her we were almost there, and prayed that I was right. Moments later, through a cloud of ravenous black flies, a faded trail sign appeared. We found our way back to the trailhead and before our water bottles were empty, we made plans to do it again. Welcome to trail running.

The Benefits of Trail Running

Mixing it up

Top running coaches will tell you that running 100% of your miles on hard paved surfaces can lead to injury. The camber of the road combined with the repetitive pounding on an unforgiving surface can lead to stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and shin splints. Running on grass, gravel, wood chips, or pine needles can save your legs and add longevity to your running career.

 

Seek Safety and Solitude

I worry about being hit by a car almost every time I run on the road. At 6’ 4” and 175 lbs., I can look like a tree trunk when running in the shadows. Drivers blinded by a setting sun, distracted by oncoming traffic, or by balancing a coffee cup on the top of their steering wheel have veered across the white lines and into my space on the edge of the road more times than I can count.

Running on the trails is relatively worry-free by comparison. Occasionally I’ll see another runner or walker with a dog off-leash. Or, I might run into some brambles or poison ivy. But, generally speaking, the trails offer runners both solitude and safety. Trail runners enjoy a more peaceful and pure experience, free from the loud, noxious vehicles that dominate the roads.

Playing in the Woods

When is the last time you went exploring? Some of my favorite childhood memories came from days spent exploring acres of virgin forest behind my home. I’d grab a snack and head outside to discover new places and create imaginary worlds full of heroic feats and uncertain survival.

Strafford County 4H 5K Trail Run

As adults, we still need time to play. Trail running allows us to unwind, let go of everyday stress, and rediscover the thrill of running wild through the woods. Running on a new trail is like opening a gift, or reading the first few pages of a book by your favorite author. The thrill of the unexpected, and the promise of adventure lie just beyond the treeline.

Avoiding the Treadmill

The treadmill is an awful machine that will eventually kill your spirit and end your enthusiasm for the sport of running. This winter, if the weather forecast shows frigid temperatures and heavy snow, celebrate! Grab your trail shoes, or a pair of snowshoes, and make tracks to the nearest trailhead.

1559421_566451820111924_691704608_o

Winter weather may seem daunting, but if you wear the right gear you’ll be warm and comfortable. Some of my best races have been in temperatures as low as 17℉. Running outside is the only way to truly experience the joy of running.

Philosopher and naturalist, Henry David Thoreau once said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” The pristine beauty of the outside world is simply waiting for us to appreciate it. It exists all around us, and yet we often miss it as we hurry from place to place. Find the nearest wooded trail, grassy park, or narrow foot path and discover how wonderful it is to run free.

RUNNER by Lizzy Hawker

Hawker-cover

RUNNER by Lizzy Hawker is both humbling and inspiring to a mid-pack runner like me who spends his days pounding the pavement in the suburbs. Hawker is a legend in the ultrarunning community. She’s a five time winner of the fabled Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, she held the world record for 24 hours on the road, and she was crowned women’s world champion in the 100km.

She takes us with her through all of those grueling races. And, impressive as that may be, it’s not the racing and the accolades that move the reader, it’s Lizzy’s pure and unadulterated love for running and her adoration of the natural world. She finds peace in high places and dark hours. Running allows her to explore the immediate physical world and her own uninterrupted thoughts.

Lizzy Hawker

Photo: neverstopexploring.com

On long training runs, I sometimes drift into a contemplative state of mind where clarity and truth briefly reveal themselves only to be dashed once the hypnotic moment passes. The well-trained body works effortlessly and the mind is given the freedom to wander to more interesting places. The longer the run, the more interesting this mental wandering becomes.

One cannot help but be impressed with the endurance and strength of Lizzy Hawker. She runs up and over mountains, day and night, for hundreds of miles at a time. She runs through pain and discomfort, hunger and exhaustion, and pursues her goals with fierce determination even as other world-class athletes fall by the wayside.

“Focus and attention, intention and effort. These are what bring dreams to reality, that allow us to do what it is we want or need to do. And they are what give what we want or need to do meaning.” -Lizzy Hawker

The long solo efforts are indicative of an endurance athlete’s introverted personality, but Lizzy values community and finds inspiration in the kindness of strangers. The tired runner is grateful for even the tiniest gestures. A smile, or the touch of another’s hand, can make even the toughest moments bearable.

Lizzy Hawker child

Photo: hayhotfooters.co.uk

Lizzy takes us on a world tour and introduces us to the places she runs. She brings us in close to share in her deepest thoughts and feelings about running. But, she leaves just enough out that we never know who she really is.

I found the last few chapters of RUNNER to be the most interesting. The always moving and inexhaustible Lizzy Hawker is forced to stand still. A series of stress fractures takes away her freedom and her passion, and force her to contemplate a life of stillness.

Anxiety flourishes in the gap between what we fear might and what we hope could happen. -Lizzy Hawker

As an injured runner, I ate up these last chapters in a single sitting. Hawker puts into words the powerful emotions of an injured runner with lucid brilliance and acumen. She writes from a place of knowledge and experience.

RUNNER by Lizzy Hawker, is an understated tale of epic accomplishments.