Trail Therapy

I love this time of year. I’m done with hibernation and I’m ready to face the world again. The trees are starting to come alive, the grass is finally turning bright green. Wild flowers are popping up everywhere beneath my feet and around my lawn. Purples, deep reds, blues and yellows everywhere! Spring in New England is a beautiful time. I’m usually back to trail running long before now, but it’s been a strange winter for me. I seemed to get caught up in internal struggles and couldn’t get out the door. My Easter hike kicked off my season; got me out there and reminded me of what I’d been missing camped out in my chair staring at Facebook every morning for the past eight months.

I am a record keeper. I keep a diary.  I keep logs of all my hikes and runs for the past three years. I keep a log of my weight and measurements for the past ten years. I like to look back and see how I’m doing now. I like to see improvement! I knew I’d be sorely disappointed in my performance over the last year and I wasn’t wrong.

January:   18 workouts
February: 31 workouts
March:       41 workouts
April:         30 workouts
May:           24 workouts
June:         11 workouts
July:          15 workouts
….and then it turns to shit. It isn’t until April 2013 that I get over 3 workouts in a month. How can I go from 41 workouts in March 2012 to 1 in March 2013? Life. Somewhere along the way I got lost. I know I had excuses at the time, and they probably seemed like good ones. August was “too hot”. September through December hunters are in the woods…always an excuse. I couldn’t afford to go to yoga four times a week anymore. I just gave it all up and became a chair-potato addicted to memes on Facebook.

Recently I realized I’m going through another bout of depression. I haven’t been “happy” for quite sometime, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. My job? My marriage? Money (or lack of)? Sure, they all have their ups and downs, but no more than before. Something isn’t working for me and I need to fix it. So I returned to yoga. It’s one day a week, but it’s something. That lead to being aware…aware of my need to eat healthy and most important, to be outside. I started shutting down my computer and heading out the door in the mornings. I head back out at night after a stressful day of work.

I won’t lie; it’s only been since the beginning of April that I’ve been getting out there again. But with that simple decision to “just do it”,  I worked out 11 times in April, despite traveling to LA for work. I surprised even myself and worked out everyday in the hotel gym! Something I’d never done before. And I loved every minute of it. It was the kick start I needed as well. I proved to myself that I was in this for good.  I was back.   While machines in a gym are great and I love the elliptical machine sitting in my living room and the treadmill in my garage when weather is bad, there is nothing, nothing like being out on the trail.  The smells, the feel of the ground beneath my well-worn (and well-torn) sneakers.  Fresh animal tracks (and scat) beneath my feet reminding me I’m not alone out here.  I may have been inside for the past 8 months, but the woods were still very much alive without me.  It was I who wasn’t alive.

When I’m hiking or trail running I tend to think but never dwell.  Thoughts come and I try to work out problems, but somehow they don’t seem like problems anymore.  It’s easier to “let things be” when I’m more worried about where my next step needs to fall. I don’t play music; instead I listen to the sound of my feet hitting the ground or the labored breathing of my old dog. The chirping of birds is the only other sound that fill the woods; even the distant rumbles of the real world can’t make it all the way out here. I’m in a cocoon of quiet and calm.   My focus quickly changes to where I am in my hike or run, how my body feels, how the trees have changed, how cute my dogs are 🙂  My mind rushes with creative thoughts; I’ve probably had a dozen book ideas or written a hundred blogs out on the trail, only to have them erase from my mind the moment my foot hits the stairs.  And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s because I’m not only doing something good for my body, but because I’m taking charge of my thoughts that makes being out there so important.  When I trail run I feel more alive than when I do anything else (even hike).  I immediately feel stronger, more in control.  I love the way my muscles react when my foot hits the ground.  I’m proud of myself for doing it.  I’m hot and sweaty and tired and strong. I get muddy and scraped up and my feet hurt when I’m done.  I’m bleeding and bruised from branches hitting my legs– and I bloody love it!  My feet are cracked and rough looking, but they are strong.  It’s better than any therapy session in the world! I’m alone with all the voices in my head and I let them work it out in the background. I know what I need; I just have to drown out the negativity.  I don’t have to talk to anyone except my dogs; I don’t have to look good or prove anything to anyone but myself.  If I need to slow down and walk, I do.  If I almost trip and look like an idiot, no one is there to see it 😉  If I twist an ankle and need to limp along for a little while, that’s okay…but I usually keep on running and it works itself out.  Out here I am me, for me, by me.  I have no one to answer to.  I am in control and I am strong.  I may have a stressful day at work or I may go negative in my checkbook…I may get annoyed at being ignored.  But that world seems to matter less when I know I have the woods to retreat to.  And slowly and surely, that strength and control will soon follow me out of the woods.  It will allow me to make it through the tough times without letting it get to me as much.  I’ll make decisions that are best for ME.  I’ll reconnect my body and soul and be happier for it.

Post Script:

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t given up the infamous Facebook.  I have beloved girlfriends that I couldn’t live without on there.  It’s my social network and I love touching base with my friends and family. I’m not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  But I have changed its role in my life. I fill my newsfeeds with positive posts from inspirational people.  I follow trail runners and hiking groups. I share my clean eating recipes and tips and I try to make it a help, not a hindrance to what I want to become.  I may be on there less, but I still count on the friendships I’ve made to make me whole!