In the spirit of this monumental week (bookending the days with a mountain writing retreat and probably the death of me by trail marathon on Saturday) I give you a short and sweet look at what trail running will do for a soul and what we can learn from a steady state of being present. Enjoy.
Nothing about trail running is easy. I mean, sure for some skinny running-all-his-life-young-mountain-goat type it’s probably a walk in the park. But for me, aging-used-to-flat streets-and-shady-neighborhoods, its one of the most challenging things I’ve done. I like running. I like hiking. I hate combining the two. Not just because it is difficult but it takes the worst parts of both and combines them.
Running down a sidewalk in the cool and quiet morning is a practice in meditation for me. My mind can wander; it can go over plot lines or character traits, dialogues and settings. It can breeze over life’s complicated spider webs of responsibilities and desires. Hiking up a rocky and single-tract trail, in the middle of the beautiful and chaotic dance of nature, stopping to smell the sun soaked dirt and hear the clicking of bugs as they dodge past your ear is good for the primal soul within.
But when you combine the two, your mind cannot wander. It must remain focused, because the speed of your journey is encumbered and dangerous, riddled with rocks and snakes and jagged-reaching branches. You cannot look around beyond the future path of your feet because you will surely falter. Your feet are twisted and tripped and if you aren’t living solely in that specific moment of forward motion, you could end up rolling down a yucca spiked hill and planting face-first in the delicate sharp tear-drops of cactus.
Trail running is hard, not just because of the altitude, or the climbing, or the sheer terror of descending down rocky terrain at a speed that threatens my control. It’s hard because it forces me to live in a specific moment. I can only look ahead briefly, I cannot plan the next mile, only the next footfall. It is hard. But it’s also a brilliant lesson in staying focused in the moment you are in.
Very often I get ahead of myself, even more so, I falter back into the past. It’s comforting to go back in my mind to the places I’ve been and the people I knew. Its exciting to imagine where I will go in the future, and easy to build it into much bigger dream than attainable. But to live in the now, with what I have to work with and what lies directly on my path makes me get out of my head and truly live. And that, my friends, is hard.