Lately, I have heard a great deal about the healing powers of nature. I have even heard stories of doctors prescribing nature walks for individuals suffering from depression. I am not a doctor, but can attest to how trail running helps me both mentally and physically.
1: Overall easier on the body. When I was in school, I ran track and as I got older, I often took to the roads. I always had issues with shin splints and felt like my body was taking a beating when I ran. It was not until my mid 30s when a friend asked me to go for a hike that I discovered trails. The impact of running on the trails is not as hard as hitting the pavement. Because trails are rocky and uneven, your body benefits from increased core strength, balance, and stronger ankles. You get a full body workout with the terrain changes and hills you are bound to come upon. I feel like the chances of injury are lower when trail running versus road running, but again, I am no doctor!
2: Sounds of nature. When I run the road, I always put on the headphones, cranked up the music, and hit the streets. Running the trails, I leave the music at home. Instead of hearing traffic, I enjoy hearing the sounds of nature. Sometimes that means I hear nothing. I soak up all the silence I can get. Have you ever stopped and realized how much noise goes on around you? All day long. Whether I am at work where the phones are ringing, people are asking questions, or in the car where my kids are talking; there is rarely a moment of silence. For me, the trails allow me the time to be quiet and really think.
3: Shift in focus. When road running, you must watch for cars, people, stop signs, etc. On the trails, your focus shifts to rocks and tree limbs. You can allow yourself to focus on the trail while falling deep into the trance of the woods. I can’t explain how this feels, you just know when you hit it. You’re in it. You are flying down the side of a mountain, watching about 15 feet ahead for any trail obstructions, breathing the fresh air in and out, and your body is full of energy. It’s a feeling I never experienced on the road due to being interrupted by the focus of trying to stay aware.
4: Less harassment. I am not sure how often men get harassed on runs, but I can say as women, it happens almost every time I head out on a road run, alone. It does not matter the time of day or the area I choose to run. I remember getting a quick run in over my lunch break, down town, along our riverbank. Two men chased me until I got off the dike, and ran up the main street back to my office. I just do not understand why people can’t leave other people alone. Sorry, that is a whole other topic for a separate post. My experience on the trails is different. I find most people are there for the same reasons and just want to run and be alone. I have not met too many people willing to follow someone to the top of a mountain just to harass them. This is not to say the trail is danger free; my personal experience has been less harassment on the trails, and for me that is a huge benefit! It makes for an overall better run.
5: Spiritual connection. I try to get my long runs in over the weekend. This often times means Sunday morning. For me, I am happy to spend my time connecting spiritually on the top of a mountain. I love getting to the top, looking out over the view, and giving thanks for the ability to do what I can and appreciate the body with which I have been blessed. I am not a top finisher in trail races, but I do not do it for that. I do it because it feels good to reconnect with nature and myself in those moments. To remember to take a minute and be grateful for the life I get to live. I do it because sometimes when I am in the midst of climbing that mountain, the struggle is comparable to situations I am struggling to work through in other areas of my life. Just getting to the top gives me the strength to continue pushing through in my daily life. It reminds me: I am worthy. I am strong. I am not alone.