This post is a short essay and story that provides my answer to the question “Why trail run?”
Watch the mini-film (6-7 minutes) embedded below from my YouTube channel, Trail Running for Life:
The following section is the script from the video above – if you prefer reading to watching, then feel free to read on further…
Why Trail Run – Introduction
As someone who runs a lot, I often find myself being asked the question, “why do you run?” Many don’t understand my fanatical obsession over running, or the draw that it has on me.
I think the answers as to why we all run differ from person to person. Each of us have our reasons, many of them shared, some of them specific. Over time, I have found an immense passion for running. It continually brings me joy, and along with that a multitude of benefits.
I don’t think there is any doubt that running provides us with many advantages, both physically and mentally. I personally like to think that the benefits which trail running provide transcend those of running in an urban setting. Each to their own though – and some may argue the opposite.
When I’m out on the trail, it is easier for my mind to disconnect from reality. There are less distractions, less human movements around me, and less noise. Given time, I naturally find my own head space.
At first, starting out on the trail, my mind might still be buzzing with thoughts, a busy network of ideas, worries, memories and more bouncing around in my head. Once I start running, it’s only a matter of time before those thoughts begin to fade away.
Getting out into nature and just running allows the questions and conversations in my head to cycle, over and over again, until they’ve done their time and begin to dissipate. It is in this moment that I find myself entering a meditative state. There are simply no more thoughts to think.
There is a quote I really like, by Kristin Armstrong which I think encompasses this feeling. It goes:
There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.Kristin Armstrong
Side note: see more trail running quotes here.
It takes me roughly two hours of running solo out in nature before I enter this meditative state. When it happens, it is usually accompanied by a euphoric sense of freedom. It doesn’t matter how bad the day or week has been, this feeling combined with the endorphins being released by physical exercise will remedy just about any bad situation.
I’m sure the time this feeling takes to arrive is different for everyone. If you are new to running, and have yet to find this state, I emplore you to keep going. It will come with time.
Variety and Interest
Running trails, mountains, and other off-road paths provide us with an ever changing environment. No surface is even. The trail constantly evolves, from tiny undulations below your feet to huge rocks and crevices. You’ll encounter all kinds of surfaces; roots, fallen debris, stones, gravel, and creatures large and small across snow, water, ice, mud, and more. The elevation goes up, and it goes down. There is constant variety in what we run. Not only from the biomes we pass through, but from the seasons and changing weather. This variety and ever-changing landscape keeps things fresh and interesting.
Trail running doesn’t get old for me. From the beauty of nature and the outdoors, to the way it keeps me constantly engaged. My focus is always razor sharp on the trail ahead, feet working quickly to navigate the oncoming obstacles and terrain. This focus is also responsible for keeping those thoughts and worries at bay.
Running on trails is physically different to running the road. The firmness of the surface is always changing. The terrain is uneven and your ankles will go through different ranges of motion. At times you’ll find yourself leaping, dodging, climbing, and crouching.
However, there are many commonalities. Cardiovascular strength and endurance improve. Your legs and feet find a natural cadence, ticking over with certainty, just like a metronome. The process can almost become hypnotic at times.
As we exert ourselves, our muscles engaging and releasing from the synapses in our nervous system firing, the physical effects on our bodies are there to remind us of the hard work we put in. Sweating, muscles aching, and sometimes a bit of cramp for good measure. These are not bad things. They serve as a reminder of the effort we have put in, providing us with that feeling of satisfaction.
The inner workings of our bodies are simply amazing to think about. Everything is a connected system, painstakingly evolved over time to adapt us to the way we as humans have lived. In a way we can look at these systems as a record of our history. I personally like to imagine humans thousands of years ago running across the savannah, plains, or mountains in pursuit of prey – a basic survival instinct in play. This is a part of our roots. Running trains and exercises this trait, which is encoded in our DNA. Isn’t it amazing? We were born to run!
Why Trail Run? Conclusion
These are all reasons I love running, and specifically trail running. If you’re new to running, experienced, or haven’t yet found a love for it, get out there and surface that instinct deep down in your genes. Remember, deep down, we’re all runners!