How trail running has changed me

#Run1000Miles ambassador Jessica Guth on the power of off-road running

I am not in love with running at the moment. A post-marathon slump has lasted a long time, I’ve gained a pound or five and am generally feeling sluggish, tired and slow. This has prompted some reflections on what trail running and has given me.

Obviously running makes me fitter and healthier. Road running does that too, so I was particularly interested in what was pulling me back to the trails and why I feel done with running on the road.

I started running to lose weight, but soon that gave way to simply running to get fitter. I started running on the road or on well-defined towpaths and tracks. My running was about getting faster and going further, about beating the clock. A good run was a fast for me run.

The terrain I run on now hasn’t changed as much has my mindset has. Adding what I call proper trails into the mix has changed my running and it has changed me. I run more mud, more tricky tracks, more grass, more paths with tree roots and streams, more rocks. 

Changes to my running
Trail running has made me a stronger runner. I am more flexible, my ankles and feet are stronger, my knees more resilient and I am more aware of my core. I am far less focused on speed or distance and much more focused on simply being out, being able to breathe in the air and watch the wildlife.

Running has become as much about stopping to look and listen as it has about the beauty of forward motion and the exhilaration of a nifty side-step. I am no longer dictated to by time, pace, miles, speed or distance but by being in the moment. I remind myself not to overcomplicate something so simple, to enjoy running for the sheer joy of it - and when, like now, I am not really enjoying it, to remember the small pleasures of being outside.

For example, I am on holiday at the moment at Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, USA. I ran 3.5 miles around the hotel grounds on a trail and I was fairly miserable in the humidity and grumpy about how hard I was finding it until I saw a heron, then another, then an Osprey, then a whole host of small birds as well as other birds of prey overhead. Suddenly it didn’t matter what my pace was, what mattered was that because I run I get to see some amazing things. But it’s more than that, trail running has also changed me.

Jess Guth hiking up Turk Mountain recently - something which trail running has given her the confidence to do

Jess Guth hiking up Turk Mountain recently - something which trail running has given her the confidence to do

Trail running and me
I am not adventurous. I am a wimp and scared of everything. I never thought of having adventures myself. However, that changed when I discovered “tourist running”. Tourist runs require stopping to look at sights, take photos and have fun. It’s a great way to see a place and I have been so lucky to tourist run in some amazing places, including Washington DC just a few days ago.

Trail running has given me tremendous confidence and with that confidence comes a sense of adventure I never knew I had. Trail running has helped me to embrace that fear and just go with it anyway. There is something about trail running which taps into the part of my brain that is playful, less concerned with “adulting”, more prepared to take a risk and more interested in finding out my own limits.

Before trail running there is no way I would have hiked the trails in Shenandoah National Park as I did last week. Trail running makes me want to do other things because the trails are teaching me to just go with it, adjust to the terrain, slow down and feel my way – and that’s a great way to approach life.

 I don’t think trail running is about where you run. It’s about how you run and how you think about running. That’s not to say that it can’t be really competitive – with others or with yourself. It just means that running is more about the act of running, the being in the moment, being at one with your body and with the world around you than it is about winning, going further or going faster. Trail running is teaching me to do less and be more and as much as I don’t love the actual running right now, I am loving the way it makes me slow down and think differently in everything I do.