Monday, May 5, 2014

On Trail Running and Maybe Meditation

I've mulled all sorts of ways to write about my love affair with trail running.

I have bits of writing about my transition from a shin-splinted sidewalk sprinter to the river-side runner I am today. I have bits down about how trail running is more spiritual than physical or mental. I've written about the added challenges of navigating tree roots, rocks, puddles, narrow passages between trees, steep banks, various depths of mud and how they make me love running even more. 

Some day I'll share some of those with you. Today is about the mental benefits of trail running. You can read all about how nature is a good stress reliever and how activities like camping and hiking, visiting state and national parks, and enjoying a good campfire are some of the greatest pleasures in life. It's all true - and that's why I run in it.

I'm a really bad meditate-er (I'm OK with illegally hyphenating a word if I'm making up the work to begin with). Like probably at least a few of you, I have tried to meditate a handful of times and I suck at it. I can't sit still. I can't clear my mind. Thinking about my breathing is one of the few ways I can actually bore myself. I like to think it's because I'm imaginative. When I manage to stop thinking about all the stressors in my life, I fill it right back up with something new. I could probably do it with some practice and instruction, but I haven't figured it out yet.

When I'm running the trails however, I'm forced to put everything away. The challenge of navigating the path and the cardio effort require intense focus. I'm pretty good at worrying about all kinds of things at once, but out there it's not physically possible. If you zone out into thinking about a conversation from work or with your spouse you will trip over a tree root and roll down the bank into the river. If you think about your bank account you will stumble on a rock and drive your shoulder into a tree. If you think about chores that need to be done in the house you will miss your turn and find yourself stranded on the end of a long peninsula with a the flooded river around you.

Like the stories that I have heard about from my mediating friends, I reach a point of emptiness in my thoughts that doesn't really feel empty. It feels peaceful. It feels clear. It happens naturally because I've put myself in a place where my stressors can't follow. Whether or not it's the same, I guess it's taught me about the importance of taking time to do something, to go somewhere, for yourself once in a while. I think more people need to take that seriously be it on a mat in a quiet room of the house, on a trail in the woods, or anywhere in between.