I used to hate running. I have been dabbling for years anyway because, after all, it’s great exercise, and I can basically do it anywhere I happen to be. The only equipment I need is sneakers and a play list with good beats. But in those days even the music didn’t drive the sensation of boredom from my muscles, or the voice from my head telling me to take the shorter route back.
I prefer a loop rather than an out and back route when I run. In my search for good loops, one day shortly after my husband and I and our two girls moved into our new house, I found myself in the woods, the fresh green of the new spring carpet in stark contrast to the brown meandering trail. My aversion to running started to fade as I navigated the curves and undulations of the trail, ducking under branches and hopping fallen logs.
Trail running feels like meditation, only better. From the first time I ran the trails in Rock Creek Park, it was cathartic. My overloaded brain quieted as I let my mind roam. Even with my eclectic mix of pop, hip hop, jazz, rock, and oldies playing, I found myself able to drift and sift through my thoughts to arrive at a heightened level of attention, like peeling off the leafy layers of an artichoke to find the heart. In spite of this drifting, I felt very aware and alert–-you have to be to run in the woods. The roots will trip you, the branches will scratch, and the mud needs to be traversed carefully or you will find yourself up to your laces. By the time the end of the trail appeared in front of me that first time, I had become a runner.
The more time I have spent in the woods, the more exhilarating the contradiction of alertness and freeness has become. It is like every neuron in my body is firing, but in slow motion. My body is slogging while my mind is soaring. Every time I return from a trail run I am ready to re-engage and focus on what’s next. I feel strong and am overflowing with insights about myself and my life. If I can feel strong when I’m running–if I can go farther than I think I can–imagine what I can do in the rest of my life.