It seems fitting to start this post from the end of my weekend, when I embarked on the most gorgeous, inspiring and relaxing trail run I think I’ve ever had. What made this run so special? It came at the tail end of a weekend that reminded me that regular time outdoors is integral to my mental and spiritual health — and reminded me why I bother with the less sexy side of running, the core exercises and the treadmills and the cross-training.
Oh — and it was my first trail run since spraining my ankle in Rock Creek Park in December, an injury that came with a few weeks off, a cortisone shot in the affected ankle and a few months of skittishness on the trails as I worried my spazzy free-for-all of a body would injure itself again.
I grew up running on the trails in Hartshorne Woods near my home in New Jersey, and ran in the Flatirons in Boulder, Colo., in college. I’d been off the trails since December, and might have stayed away for longer if not for last weekend’s backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park, where we camped by a 93-foot waterfall, cannonballed into freezing-cold swimming holes and spent large swaths of time sitting on rocks and staring into cool blue-green haze of the mountains in the distance. It’s the closest the spazzy free-for-all that is my brain comes to standing still, aside from running hard.
We got home Saturday, pleasantly sore but still wanting a workout on Sunday. So we hit the trails in Rock Creek Park. Steve led me on a great trail route our running group does frequently, but that I’ve sat out of until now.
Here’s how I got over the hump: I was careful, watching for rocks and roots with every step, slowing down considerably on the downhills and saving my energy for vigorous uphills. It hadn’t rained in a few days, so the trails were firm yet forgiving. I had one of the best runs I’ve had in weeks, and the five-ish miles flew by as I truly tuned in to everything around me. While it’s nice to let your mind wander while running, there’s something about being aware of every step that snaps your brain into the present.
The run reminded me why I slog through the leg lifts and BOSU exercises that stabilize my core and hip muscles: They keep me healthy and injury-free for adventures like trail runs and backpacking trips. I promised myself to keep up with these, to guarantee many happy trail runs in the future.
I also promised myself to get back into the woods on a regular basis, to remind myself why I bother with everything else: The weight training, the treadmill runs in nasty weather, the indoor swims on days I’d rather be lounging at an outdoor cafe. A prime example: I will swim roughly 3,500 yards indoors today, but on Saturday, I’ll tackle roughly the same distance outdoors in the 2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Va. I’ll be keeping my mind from jumping ahead to the next set my letting it jump ahead to Saturday instead.