While my initial interest in running was fueled by competition, my perpetual fascination with it has been sustained by something greater, a tough-to-describe feeling that’s been tugging at me since I first fell in love with the sport 20 years ago. I still train to race a few times a year, and I’ll jump into the occasional track workout when a fast mood strikes, but most of my running time these days is spent exploring and enjoying the trails, where I pay little to no mind to pace and instead try to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings while embracing the challenge of the naturally tough terrain that surrounds me. Despite (or perhaps because of) this evolution, running is as fun—and challenging—as it’s ever been, even if there isn't a race on my schedule.
Trail running, specifically, has become my preferred form of putting one foot in front of the other, a sort of moving meditation that provides me distraction-free solitude that’s borderline spiritual by its very nature. But it’s also opened me up to a likeminded community fueled by a culture of camaraderie and friendly competition that is better experienced than observed. Come to think of it, it reminds me a lot of surfing. “Scientists are still learning why people say they feel increased amounts of unity, reverence, and happiness in the water,” Wallace J. Nichols, author of the New York Times bestseller Blue Mind, told Jaimal Yogis recently for The Atlantic. “...First, you’re removing a lot of distractions: buzzing cell phones, traffic, written language, and even the need for language, period. Second, you get many of the perks of solitude without the side effects of pain and loneliness. Then, there’s what psychologists call the “soft focus” that water provides—meaning that watching water is stimulating, even entertaining, to the brain, but in a relaxing, rejuvenating way...What’s more, surfing—as a form of exercise that involves risk-taking and play—triggers the release of feel-good hormones that help make it so enjoyable.”
Replace “water” with “trail” and “surfing” with “running” in the above excerpt, and the same holds true. It does for me, anyway.
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