5 reasons why trail running can make you happier

It’s the beginning of a new year. People are discussing their resolutions and goals and hoping to keep them past Feb 1. While I’m not a huge fan of resolution making, I do like the fundamental reason why we do this. Essentially, we are all looking at our life and wondering what change can we make that will make us happier.

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With this collective desire to make positive change in mind, I thought you might like to hear how one addition to my life, trail running, has made me happier, and might do the same for you.

1. The act of being in nature scientifically makes you happier

 “Science is proving what we've always known intuitively: nature does good things to the human brain—it makes us healthier, happier, and smarter”– Natural Geographic

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/

The obvious part here is that when trail running, you are in nature. The part that is harder to explain, is that trail running forces you to connect with your surroundings in a deeper way. Racing through the forest is overwhelming and all encompassing. Your stress dissipates, your mind feels free, and your body seems to work better. You’re not just standing or observing, you’re learning and growing, you’re experiencing the terrain. Each step takes focus and care. It’s a straight line to mindfulness. You leave the forest feeling euphoric.

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2. The community

Trail running is a beautiful thing, but without question it’s also a physical and mental battle.

During the race you become a tribe with your fellow racers. I’ve met some of the most amazing people on the trails. I’ve listened to their stories and told them mine. Cold, wet, exhausted, or drained, runners will still hang around the finish line to rehash the route and marvel in what they have just finished. Trail racing is guaranteed to introduce you to a new world of like-minded people.

3. The places it takes you

Race directors hand pick trails that are some of the most gorgeous places you will ever see. If you want to truly see what your province, state, or country has to offer, go sign up for a trail race. Right now.

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4. The overall health & fitness benefits

Signing up for a race gives you an immediate sense of outer accountability.  It will keep you on track and get you out the door when you need a little push.

One of the best parts of preparing for the trails is that you train like a complete athlete. Even a short race will have you climbing hills, descending steep sections, rocky sections, or leaping over logs. You’ll have flat sections for speed and tricky sections for balance. You’ll need both an aerobic and anaerobic base. Here are a few keys things you get to work on when you train for the trails:

Balance

Agility

Speed

Strength

Focus

Quickness

Pacing

Cardio

Endurance

Mental Toughness

5. The sense of adventure and accomplishment.

This one is hard to explain. It must be experienced. There is a sense of mystique taking off into the trails. It’s about the awe and wonder about starting in to a beautiful unknown territory

There are moments during almost every race where you suddenly realize you haven’t seen a little ribbon marker for a while. That you’ve probably gone the wrong way and have to find your way back to the route. You might find you are running alone, have no idea where you are and seem to wish you had more food or water. That’s as raw as it gets for some of us these days. It’s just you, out there in the most beautiful places, trying to go as fast as you can. It’s a real adventure and will leave you glowing.

 

Sounds interesting?

Step One:

Choose your race. You don’t need to make any commitments today. Start with researching races around you. Trails come in all shapes and sizes. 5km to 100km and beyond, flat or mountains, just start daydreaming. See what catches your attention.

And always remember, any distance is doable if you decide you want to do it.

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Define Your Why: My Story

I remember the first time I signed up for a race that scared me to the core. I was sitting on a ferry with a knot in my stomach that had been there since the day I left my fiancé, just two months before our wedding.

On this day I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed a challenge. I needed something to work towards and focus on.

I needed to feel like I was strong, and that I could get through anything I put my mind to. 
I opened my computer to get some work done and randomly saw an ad for an Ironman triathlon. I signed up on the spot. I didn’t know what the distances were, how triathlon worked, or if I could still swim. I was immediately excited. Then I thought I’d throw up.

This would mark the beginning of an 8 month journey that would forever change my perspective on fitness, mindset, and accomplishment. 

Calling off my wedding was the single hardest thing I had done to date. There is the obvious heart break that goes along with the break up, but it’s amplified by the loss of what could have been. Deciding to forgo your big day in hopes of finding something better is both sad and scary. What if this is the person I am supposed to marry and I just have cold feet? I was so sure at one point, am I wrong again?

I had hoped that once I made the decision things would start to get easier. Ultimatley I decided that when I got married it would be with someone I had no doubts with. I made the choice, I called it off, but the pain didn’t stop as abruptly as I’d hoped.

The problem with having planned a wedding is you can’t just forget about the person. You have to spend time explaining the change to your guests. You have to call the caterers, the DJ, the venue. Worst of all, you have to try and get some money back for your cancelled honeymoon. As much as you want to just move on, logistically you can’t start the process yet.

I knew I needed something else to focus my energy on. The allure of the Ironman was a perfect.

The first thing I did was get a coach. I knew I was in over my head and needed guidance. He set me up with a plan and I began my journey to become an Ironman. 

Each day I had a workout to focus on. In the evenings I spent time researching outfits, race strategies, bike gear, running gear, swim technique, the list goes on.

Having a race that was so daunting rejuvenated me. Each day I was able to prove to myself that I had courage, strength, and the ability to do whatever I put my mind to. It was a constant reminder that life has unlimited gifts to offer. 

After 8 months of training I was ready for the race. My goal was 13 hours, and I crossed the finish line in 12 hours and 59 minutes. It was absolutely one of the most magical, tough, and life changing days of my life. 

Nearly four years later I’m still reaping the benefits. I no longer live in fear of change or unworthiness. I feel ready for whatever the world might throw in my direction. I know I’m strong, and I’ll never forget that because I proved it to myself.