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 yoga practice.
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 well-balanced 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 re-focus, 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.