While I sit at my computer to write this article, I’m looking out my bedroom window at the rain drops collecting on the glass. I can see the mountains only a short distance away, calling me to run within the pine and aspen forests they loom over. Their snow-capped peaks have become like beacons, and I rarely dismiss the call. In fact, I know that as soon as I’m done writing, I’ll be out the door and on my way.
I’ve learned a lot over the last ten years, since I started running; my goals have transformed and grown as I have, and each week it seems like I’m a new runner. I started running when I lived in the city, but this left much to be desired. Running influenced my next move, and I couldn’t keep myself from heading west to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Trail running has been a monumental part of my life ever since. It’s not about speed or distance, it’s about consistency and listening to yourself.
I honestly don’t even look at running as a workout anymore, it’s more about having time to myself. You may have heard that running can be meditative, and I think there’s a great deal of truth in that. What I think about when I run can range immensely, but I’m always left feeling like it was exactly what I needed to focus on, and that is incredibly satisfying. Here are eight meaningful things you learn while running in the forest.
1. It’s Simply Natural
One of the greatest feelings I have while I’m running in the forest is that I’m doing something completely natural. Humans evolved to be runners and it’s how our species survived. There are still tribes around the world today who practice the art of persistence hunting, which involves chasing down an animal until it dies of exhaustion. No guns, no Nike’s, just the tribe running together as a single unit.
2. Less is More
One of the hardest lessons I learned early as a runner is that less is more, and this applies to everything. When you first start out, it can be a struggle to keep yourself from doing too much too soon. Starting with less and gradually working your way up will help you form a strong foundation on which to build your strength. In terms of gear to bring along with you, if you can’t decide if you’ll need, don’t let it weigh you down.
3. You’re Very Small
Trail running puts things in perspective. I’ve run quite a few ultra-races, which is anything 30 miles or more, and I’ve always been put in my place. Humans have a way of making themselves seem more important than they are. If this sounds like you, go for a run in the forest, mountains, or desert to get a sense of how small you and your problems really are relative to the world.
4. There’s Still Beauty Out There
When life and people get me down, trail running always brings me back up. You may think the world sucks and people are terrible, especially in light of recent political events, but there is still so much beauty and wonder left in the world. If you don’t believe me, throw on a pair of running shoes and take a jog through nature; you’ll be shown what the world truly looks like.
5. Your Body is Capable of Anything
The human body is amazing, and it can endure so much more than people give it credit for. You may have heard recently that there are some professional runners out there trying to break the two-hour marathon barrier. Not only does this mean that someone has to run 26.2 miles, but it also means each mile has to be under 5 minutes. That’s blindingly fast, but also very close to being accomplished. Don’t ever tell yourself you can’t do it.
6. Minimalizing is Fun
When I first started running, it was all about speed. Since I’ve started running ultra-distances, I’ve realized that, for me, it’s more about being able to walk the next day. Whatever allows me to run all day (and night sometimes), comfortably, is what I need to use. Instead of yanking on the newest performance sock and lacing up the newest running shoe, I use a pair of sport sandals that have yet to fail me. I’ve seen people complete some incredible distances completely barefoot. What gets you to the finish line happy is all you need, don’t let product marketing tell you how to run.
7. You Are the Best You
One of the greatest things about running is what it does to your brain, not just your body. I feel so good when I get out and go for a run, and my next day is always better than it would have been otherwise. Running and working out allows those feel-good chemicals to release in your brain and give you confidence. If you’re worried about where you are in life, go for a run in the woods, you’ll feel better about being you.
8. You Don’t Have to Grow Up
Perhaps the best aspect of trail running is that it’s like playing for adults. You’re running around the woods, scraping your knees, jumping over rocks, swinging around trees, it’s simply the best. When I go trail running, I understand what it means to be a child and play outside again. There’s no better cure to a rough day than that feeling; the feeling of an overwhelming freedom with each step.