Trail running and challenging ourselves

I like to run on trails. I am not a particularly accomplished, fast, or hardcore trail runner, but I am one. And often while I’m out and about, between worrying about not tripping over roots and stones and logs or my own feet, I find myself wondering, why do I do this?

And besides the endorphins, which kick in soon enough, I know the answer: because it’s hard, and I like to prove to myself that I can do hard things. It would be much easier to sit on the couch. It would be easier to run on the treadmill or a flat, paved road. But there’s something about putting yourself on a path filled with obstacles and deciding to see what you can do, and with how much grace you can do it.

I am not the only one who likes running on trails. Ultra running, a form of crazy I have thus far only aspired to on my vision board and in my wildest dreams, has grown in popularity as of late. And I think it makes great sense. More and more, we live lives that are kind of boring. We work on computers. We sit at desks. We go home and watch TV. We have day to day existences that leave something to be desired.

Part of that something is nature. Another part of it is the element of challenge I spoke to earlier. We live in an instant culture. Do you know anyone without a smartphone? I can count on one hand the number of people I know without one. And with that smartphone, we have instant access to any info we want. If we’re feeling bored, we can find some funny cat videos to watch. If we are experience some kind of discomfort, we’re only a text away from distracting ourselves from that feeling.

It’s not surprising that we want things to work overnight. But they don’t. One coaching session might be groundbreaking—but it won’t fix your entire life. One veggie-ful, balanced meal doesn’t make your diet healthy. One workout won’t make you fit once and for all. That’s not how things work—even if we might wish it could.

Trail running, with its ups and downs and the way it challenges us on purpose, represents an affront to that way of instant living. It’s an opportunity to struggle a bit. We trip and fall. Maybe we get injured. We get tired, muddy and discouraged. But then we find ourselves on top of the world—or at least the trail. We see things we might never otherwise notice. We learn things about ourselves and what we’re capable of. On the trails, it’s quiet. One thing I’ve noticed is the way that recreational runners who choose the roads almost invariably wear headphones to tune out the world around them. Trail runners do it differently and I believe take a great opportunity to tune into themselves. Running amongst nature, there’s no choice but to be with yourself and the beauty around you, in the moment.

I still remember my first trail run--and the moment I fell in love with it. I was visiting with my family and we took a trip to Vancouver Island. I joined in with a running group and ended up running one of the most challenging--but beautiful routes--I've ever run. I vividly remember seeing a big ol' pile of poop and thinking, there's no way that came from a dog. I am a very nervous person, to be honest, so the fact that I was brave enough to race through the woods with a bunch of strangers, not stopping even a beat when I realized there were bears out and about, made me feel like quite the champ. It's that feeling of knowing I've pushed myself beyond what's comfortable that I've been chasing ever since. 

What activity challenges you? 
Do you have a sport or hobby? What do you love about it?