It’s not much of a secret that I
enjoy traveling long distances on
foot—I’ve through-hiked the Pacific
Crest Trail twice. I love the way
miles accumulate and push you forward,
the way the sheer volume inspires
you to press on for just a few more
miles or hours.
It is a strange phenomenon that
when I am traveling and I step onto
a treadmill, I run for what seems like
forever until my brain has reached
the limit of tedium. I look down at
the monitor and see the distance
elapsed—it usually says something
along the lines of 1.7 miles.
Somehow, though, even on rainy,
cold Pacific Northwest winter mornings
I can log 10 times that many miles
in the Chuckanuts or on Blanchard
without hardly a thought—that is the
magic of running on trail.
When summer rolls around (and we
all forget the “r” word for 3 months)
the mountains open like sacred playgrounds.
Ten times the rainy morning
miles can pass in bliss.
There is something enticing about
setting shoe to dirt. About moving up
and away from exhaust, noise, and
human development. It is healing to
leave civilization behind for a while
and breathe clean air, and give the ears
a reprieve from noise, the eyes a break
from constant stimulus. It is akin to
the meditation following an intensive
I am the first to admit that I am terrible
at meditating. In Savasana I am
already planning dinner and making a
mental list of chores to complete. Yet,
in the rhythmic motion of hiking and
running on sinuous trail I find a sense
of kinetic meditation that I can sustain
for hours and even days.
It sounds like a paradox, I know.
Yet the concept of moving meditation
is well established in Buddhism. The
serenity I find from a day (or even a
few hours) of running along quiet trails
is enough to convince me that there is
indeed validity to it.
The connection between a wellbalanced
life and a trail run is not
immediately obvious, but there is clarity
of mind and a freshness that comes
from it. Trail running allows you to refocus,
re-prioritize, and make decisions
governing your return to reality. It is
grounding. I find my most productive
hours are those that immediately follow
my time running on the trails. The
mind-clutter is gone and I know exactly
what needs to be done. I return home
dirty, but with a plan of action. Hungry,
but focused on what comes next.
Daily life has a way of bogging us
down. Of circling our minds back to
mistakes and to the past. It hounds us
with worry about the future. Yet it is
the ability to focus on the present that
is our best guide. When you look only
at what is happening now you can find
control over the emotions and let go of
the anxiety in order to embrace what
is truly necessary–like where your next
footfall will be, or taking in the stupendous
view. Running trails give me perspective,
renewal, and vitality to move
forward in life.