I had the opportunity to run my local natural surface trails twice this weekend with members of my running group.  I don’t think that’s ever happened before but I could totally get used to it because I absolutely LOVE trail running.

Our Saturday Group in Little Bennett Regional Park
Our Extra-Adventurous Sunday Group
 in Sugarloaf Mountain Natural Area
(Note: Cecilia in the aqua top on the left 
just started running earlier this month-

I didn’t use to like it because well, it’s “hard”, but now I love it. In the beginning, trails can be very intimidating even to the most-seasoned road runners. The pace is much slower so it takes longer to cover the same distance. There’s a high probability that you could trip on a tree root, roll your ankle or get lost. Your feet may get wet and your shoes will probably get muddy. Some stretches of trail are too precarious to run so you’ll have to stop and walk a bit. So many things could go wrong and the slower pace coupled with more technically-difficult terrain can make you feel kinda weak and cause you to doubt your abilities as a runner. That’s where we tend to lose a ton of runners- I mean, let’s face it, who wants to keep doing something that makes them feel bad about themselves and their abilities. However, I don’t think it has to be this way.

There is one universal truth in trail running: If you want to enjoy running trails, you have to be willing to let go A LOT; uptight runners will not have a pleasant experience.

Here I am
pulling grass out of my pants
after Saturday’s run.

So, yes, your pace WILL be slow, you WILL have to walk some stretches, you WILL get muddy and wet, you WILL have to pay attention to every step you take, you MAY not get back home in time to get to your hair appointment, and although you go out armed with a trail map and a plan, the odds are that NOTHING will go according to that plan.

It’s a fact folks. But if you know all of this going in to the woods, surrender to it and know that the only certainties out on the trails are uncertainty and adventure, then I promise you this: you will have the best time ever and learn a lot of life lessons in the process.

Don’t believe me?? Allow me to share what I’ve learned on my trail running adventures:

1. You have to take the trails as they come. There may be a log in your way, loose rocks under your feet, or a stream running through your path. The trick with trails is to prepare yourself to face challenges and enjoy the ride. It’s not about pace or distance, it’s about taking whatever terrain or obstacle it throws at you in stride. Kinda sounds like a successful life strategy doesn’t it?

We don’t control the variables in life (traffic, in-laws, burnt toast, crazy TP-shredding cats, polar vortexes, etc.).  On the trails, as in life, you don’t control the obstacles in your way but your experience hinges solely on how you react to those obstacles. We live most of our days on the rocky, mountainous trails of life not on the smooth and open highways. Trail runs are training for life- practice for the daily grind- they make you more adaptable and resilient. You learn that the only thing you control on these trails is your attitude and it can operate completely independently of everything else.

2. You have to surrender your bravado. Whatever image you project about yourself to the world is irrelevant, only what you truly are matters and you’ll find it all out on the trails. There is no hiding or denying who you are on the trails. If you have any weaknesses, they will be exposed out here- weak ankles, inability to be alone, difficulty staying strong when you’re struggling, lack of focus, tendency to get frustrated easily, arrogance- any flaw in your armor will not be a secret for very long. You’ll have to walk, you’ll be slower, and it will test you in all new ways but it doesn’t stop there. When you do learn who you are, you can accept it, release the expectations and enjoy the ride or you can fight it, feel inadequate and frustrated. Your choice. It requires the same amount of energy to do either, but one option will make you miserable and the other will not.

So much time is spent, from our youth to adulthood, trying to squeeze into the mold of what we think we should be, rather than being proud of and projecting who we actually are. What would happen if we took a real look at ourselves and embraced everything we see- all our strengths and all our weaknesses- and recognize that each piece (good, bad, and ugly) adds up to the sum of who we are? Rather than hide or fight the bits we’d rather not admit to the world, maybe we’d be less anxious and stressed all the time if we stopped pretending to be perfect and simply acknowledge that we’re human and there’s room for improvement. Authenticity is the key to inner peace and you will learn this quickly on the trails or you will hate trail running.

3. It’s about the journey, not the destination.  Many of us have a tendency, when the going gets rough, to put our heads down, trudge along and just pray for it to be over soon. This behavior closes our eyes to the positive things that surround us and exacerbates the feeling that the world is crashing down around us. But on the particularly difficult trails, if you were to you look up, you’d see that you’re surrounded by breath-taking sights that often cannot be described. These moments serve as a reminder that, despite the treacherous roads ahead, the world is full of quiet beauty and even in your darkest moments, there truly is light all around you if you are willing to look up and find it.

Don’t be so busy surviving that you forget to live.
4. The really good views are at the end of the most difficult roads. Sunday’s run was a hard road with steep ups, insane downs, and we never felt like we had our footing for longer than 30 seconds but we pushed on and were rewarded with a view that many will never see and an experience that built incredibly strong bonds of friendship in only a few short hours.

We almost lost Mel over the White Rocks. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone.

In a world where everything always seems to be out of our control, we still continuously struggle to regain control rather than letting go and taking life as it comes. We believe that getting off our plan is bad and a successful day ends exactly the way we’d predicted it would.  But, looking back, all the good things in my life have come about when the plan had gone out the window. If I had stayed on the course I’d laid out for my life, I would’ve missed so many wonderful things that enriched my world. Without letting go of the course we’ve set for ourselves, we may never stumble on gorgeous places, unexpected friendships, eye-opening moments of self-discovery, or very unlikely bonds.

At the end of the day, just because you THINK you know what’s best for you, doesn’t mean you actually do. The universe may have other (better) plans in mind for you. But if you don’t let go and get a little lost every once in a while, you may end up at your pre-planned destination but you may have missed the right path for you. I mean, c’mon, who at the age of 19 or 20 had it figured out already. Sometimes, you just have to let it all go and have faith that you’ll end up exactly where you are supposed to be and, who knows, the view may be even more breath-taking than you could’ve imagined.

Our lives should grow richer with each passing day, a process that only happens when we’re willing to let go and allow ourselves to get lost.

And may you never lose your sense of adventure.

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