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Have you ever been trail running before? Laced up some shoes, checked out a map or trail sign, and jogged off into the woods on a single track trail, or through a field, or into the foothills at the base of the mountains? You don’t have to be a great runner to do this, and in fact, you can even walk up all the hills if you want to. Running through scenery that makes the Runner’s World “Rave Run” page is awesome, but certainly not required for a successful experience – you can just jog through the city park or a local nature preserve if that’s your best access to a bit of wilderness. The point is to move your body outside over terrain that causes you to take notice, terrain that’s not man-made, and terrain that invites you to take on a challenge and drink in the surroundings at the same time. It’s a great workout, sure, but even more so, it’s a way to connect with the wild and free parts of yourself that sometimes get left behind in a modern life. And it can teach you some things.

Lesson One: Trail Running teaches you to be present

The other day I was running along on my favorite trail at a local wilderness park, a trail that I’ve probably run 50 times. It was a gorgeous early autumn day, perfect for running, no bugs, sunlight filtering through the trees. I was running steadily up a slight incline through some glowing newly yellowed maple trees, and after the terrain leveled out, I started speeding up to fly over the flat section. And all of a sudden I found myself on the ground, leg bleeding, wrist throbbing, cursing myself for tripping over a root. I had been thinking about work, stewing about some issue that needed my attention. I was a million miles away until suddenly I wasn’t. Up until tripping over that root, I wasn’t present to what was going on right in front of my face, and the trail caught me.

Be Present, or something will force you to be eventually.

Lesson Two: Trail Running teaches you to be humble

Tripping over roots and falling on your face? Very humbling. And so is the day when you figure out that no matter how hard you try to beat the trail, the trail will always win. And then you’ll figure out that it actually isn’t a competition, and that the trail wants you to succeed. And then you’ll figure out that you and the trail are actually not separate, and then things get really interesting. Once I was running along a river next to some sandstone cliffs and stopped to take a little water break, leaning one hand onto the cool rock next to the trail. It was vibrating, almost humming under my hand. Sounds new-agey right? But it’s true. I could feel the energy of the earth in that rock, and once you feel that, you can’t unfeel it.

Be humble, because there’s always something astonishing to find out when you spend time with the natural world and really take time to feel it.

Lesson Three: Trail Running teaches you to trust yourself

So, even though we know that the trail will usually win in a fight, when we can surrender to the flow of what’s happening, we can learn to trust that flow. We can learn to trust that we are part of this incredible planet, not just a person who uses the earth as a resource to stay alive. When first learning to run downhill on a trail, I would stop my momentum and pick my way down over whatever obstacles were in the way. This lead to several months of very sore quads and knees. And then someone reminded me to stop looking at my feet (unless absolutely necessary on very technical or rocky areas) and look a few feet ahead to where I wanted my foot to land. I learned to trust that I could get my feet where they needed to be to support me on the way down.

Give yourself a little credit, and trust that you’ll land where you need to, at least most of the time.

These are simply a few of the lessons that trail running has taught me over the years, and I’m sure there are more lessons yet to be learned.

What has trail running taught you? Tell us in the comments below!

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (due out in January 2021) as well as four other works of non-fiction. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Despite working for an app-based tech start up, she plans to put off getting a smartphone as long as possible. Learn more about her work at