When people ask me what I like about trail running, I usually tell them that I love running in nature, the varied terrain, and that the conditions are always changing. This is what makes running trails so fun, surprising and challenging.
But, here’s a little secret I don’t often mention to people.
I hated trail running when I first tried it exactly because it was so varied and unpredictable. Yes, I seriously hated it!
I remember heading out with a couple friends, trying to keep up as I struggled to get used to the ups and downs of the hills, trying to keep my eyes on my feet so I wouldn’t stumble, feeling like I could never catch my breath. Honestly, I felt like I had NEVER run a step in my life. My calves were immediately sore and I was exhausted after 5 miles. I tried to hide my serious trail distaste as my friends glowed with woodsie runner’s high.
The Predictability Problem
I was a fraud. What was wrong with me? I loved being in the wild, I loved listening to the birds. I loved running. I had run roads for years by then, I had run races, even a marathon. I didn’t feel like a runner that day.
It took me a while to understand that most of my mindset about running came from running on roads. This is what I knew for sure:
- I was used to the predictability of my routes.
- I knew where the hills were and could avoid them unless I was doing a hill workout
- I could manage my pace exactly how I wanted to
- Using my watch or Garmin worked perfectly for training
- Except for rain or temperature considerations, I didn’t have much planning to do before heading out the door
None of these things “worked” on my trail runs. Road running was my comfort zone. The predictability was my mindset.
Well, we all know what happens when you get out of your comfort zone
Yeah, yeah, the magic. The MAGIC! It wasn’t that trail running was too hard for me; it was all in my head. The first thing I needed was a new perspective, a new mindset.
The biggest challenge to a new trail runner is getting out of her comfort zone! Here’s how to jump that hurdle if it gets in front of you, too.
A New Mindset: Relearn to play!
Trail runners run, but they also walk. They hike. They look at the view. They stop to listen to a bird, or snap a photo. They wait for their friends to catch up. They play! It’s more about the adventure and less about the watch, mile splits, and even counting miles at all.
Once I figured out that trail running was a different animal, I let go of all the things that kept me in my predictable road perspective. I locked in my new, playful mindset and began to feel like a kid again; playing all day outside, not coming in until my mom called me. Sure, I train and race and do specific trail running workouts to improve. But, I try not to lose sight of the playfulness.
The Biggest Benefits of a New Mindset
There are too many to list, but here’s a few:
- Every run is a win: Because each time I head out on the trail is different (even the same trails on a different day), I get a new adventure every time. Sometimes it feels hard, sometimes easy, sometimes muddy. Sometimes the sun rays light my way the whole time and it’s like a fairy world. And, honestly, sometimes it’s a slog if I’m tired. But I can never be totally unhappy in nature.
- I’m way more tough-a$$: Hard business meeting? Bring it on. Kids whining? No sweat. Laundry basket weighs 127 pounds? I got this. Ok, I might be embellishing slightly, but really, the trails keep me strong inside and out.
- Hanging in Nature is Soul Work: I don’t have a ton of time to read the ol’ self-help books much. Having trail running adventures does the trick. We need the outside. We always have. There is so much beauty to cherish. And the beauty never changes. A tree is still as gorgeous as a tree that lived 500 years ago. You get to tap into all of history’s beauty on every run.
There’s nothing like tackling a busy work day on Monday, negotiating your big family to-do list, or managing kids’ activities and homework with the smell of pine still lingering in your nose, the recent view of the city from a high butte in your mind’s eye, or the new-found strength in your heart and legs that carry you confidently through your day. And you can play at any age, right?
Question: What is your running mindset? How can you get out of your comfort zone in the coming year?