This weekend, with the sun in the sky, I ventured back into the state forest and park near our house for my weekly long run. It had been quite some time since I had gone trail running and I had forgotten how wonderful it was to get out under the trees and enjoy nature. I wasn’t alone in my venture; I ran into a few groups of hikers and a few fellow runners too. There’s something special about a run around a crystal blue shimmering lake on a warm sunny spring day when the sun shines through the leaves like light hitting an ornate chandelier. I came back feeling better than when I started and know I’ll be hitting the trails more this summer.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir
After what felt like an eternal winter of running on the treadmill, getting outside for a run was long overdue. Over the winter, it wasn’t often the weather than kept me inside as we had a mild winter, but my own schedule. With the twins, it was often hard to get outside so I’d end up on the treadmill with the baby monitor on while they napped. Often their naps didn’t last quite long enough. During the week, since I had to wake up so early to get them ready for school anyway, I got in the habit of hitting the gym at work, meaning the treadmill during the week consistently. Only my weekend runs were ever outside and those were rare as well.
With the temperature rising and the sun finally out, I had an opportunity to get outside this weekend finally, but rather than repeat the same old route I always take and have been taking for the last 3 years, I decided it was time to get back into the woods. I was a bit worried about the ground being super muddy after a gray and damp week, but found the ground solid except for a few easily avoidable puddles. I also worried about ticks as reports of large numbers of them had come out following the mild and warm winter which apparently never got cold enough to kill them off below ground. A quick spray of bug spray alleviated that concern.
Running through the woods, though slower than a road run can be a spiritual and meditative experience. Even with music on, I find myself zoning out and reaching clarity that I don’t otherwise get during my week. I nearly felt the need to bring a notebook the next time because I thought of so many things to do and remember. Part of getting out into the woods is letting this all wash over you and not worrying about it, so I embraced the fact I wouldn’t remember it all.
Scrambling over loose rocks and up and down terrain is tougher on muscles I haven’t engaged much recently than pounding the pavement, but even after 10 miles I didn’t feel the same level of exhaustion I normally do after a run. My legs were tired, but not stressed or sore and my mind felt freer. I almost felt ready to go out for another run, or at least to get a bunch done at home.
Now I remember why I enjoy running outside and on trails so much. Reconnecting with nature restores something essential to the soul. The fresh air and sun are restorative and can keep me going longer and further. It’s been a long winter but there’s reason to believe I’ll be hitting the trails more often over the next several months as I train up for the Chicago Marathon.