When I first came up with that title, the first thing that came into my mind was Led Zep – rock and rolling – it has been a long time! 6 months have passed since my last post – many miles have passed under these feet, along with 7 camps and coaching in Boulder. Winter is here, and thankfully life at this time of year slows down enough to let me stop and reflect on the year that has almost passed. It has been an amazing year for me in many many ways, but more of that later.
A few things have been on my mind just recently. I was recently contacted by a freelance journalist writing a feature about Trail Running and mindfulness, or Trail Running as the best therapy session there is! His questions took me back to ideas that have been kicking around in my head for a while. I know Trail Running is the best therapy there is – it has “fixed” me so many times, and I now have created a wonderful opportunity to turn other athletes onto Trail Running and get paid for it – but what is it about Trail Running that is different from road running, and why is it the best therapy session ever?
The answer for me is linked to play. I had my attention focused on play just recently by my next door neighbor’s gorgeous Malamut cross, Timber. Most days when we meet, she just has this look on her face that suggests she’s ready to go play; then comes the play bow, front legs close to the ground and a look of total excitement on her face that is very hard to resist. So we play – we chase each other round the trees, the bushes, the parked cars, wherever our journey takes us. Then when she has finished playing, she’s content to return to the roller coaster world of doggydom, and maybe have a nap or search out some tasty food or explore an exciting new smell. The core of her life is play – it could easily be the most important factor in her life, and she’s not afraid to show it!
Play – the core of Timber’s life – equally as important as food, love, warmth..Back in the mid 90’s I left the corporate world I had become comfortable with and spent 3 glorious years “playing” with my life. I decided to become a mature student, studying a B.Sc. (Honors) Degree in Sports Science at De Montfort University, Bedford, England. I had a blast – I was twice the average age of the rest of the students, and was one of the fittest on the course. I was like a sponge when it came to learning, eager to soak up every new fact and theory that was out there. One of the modules I took was on philosophy, with one of the module books we studied being “The Grasshopper; Games, Life and Utopia” by Bernard Suits. Suits proposes that play and games are an essential part of human existence, and also wonders why as adults, we don’t just play more? Play has intrigued me before the encounter with Suits excellent and thought provoking book, it took on a whole different light after reading it.
So, how does play fit in with Trail Running and the best therapy session ever? Well, for me, Trail Running opens the mind to opportunities to play that road running just doesn’t hold. Road Running for me was always about getting from A to B, or maybe even back to A again. The journey may look the same on a Trail Run when viewed above from a map, but what it doesn’t tell you are the encounters on the journey, and the endless opportunities to play! When we run, our senses are alert and we are processing information all the time. On Trail Runs, there are infinite numbers of chances to play, to bounce from rock to stone. One of my favorites on trails is to swing from side to side down a “chute” or drainage channel – rather than take the straight line down the middle, how does this feel to be pushing my feet and legs to their limits, as I whoop and holler my down. One of the group of runners here in Estes that I run with most weekends has come up with his own play trick for dealing with switchbacks – it has been hailed as the ‘Ernie turn” , and it’s so much fun to do. Instead of just turning with the switchback, you pivot at the apex of the turn and pirouette through 360 degrees, and then carry on running. I will also often find myself spontaneously and exaggeratedly galloping like a horse at points in my runs.
Then there’s noise – many local folks here tell me they hear me coming on a trail long before they see me – I will often whoop and shout as I jump and turn on the trails – it feels as natural as putting one foot in front of the other. As a society we learn very quickly what is appropriate behavior as adults – who says we can’t have fun? Trail Running is a release for me – an opportunity to connect with my true self. I was never even tempted to do that on road runs. I recall as a child longing for the moment when I could jump out of the car and go run and explore the trails in the New Forest, England. “Don’t get lost” came the guiding words from my mother – how could I; I was back home!
Therapy and play – we already have a wonderful example in the medical world of the importance of play as a therapy tool. Patch Adams was a great movie – the real life Doctor believes laughter, joy, and creativity are an integral part of the healing process – none of this is possible without our ability to play. For me, Trail Running parallels Patch Adams and his approach to health care – road running is great, just doesn’t have the same impact. It’s like the difference between a playgound that has a couple of slides and a merry go round, and one that has every trick and game you could possibly imagine, and then others you hadn’t even thought of yet.
Born to Run has received a lot of attention and is an amazing story and has come at a time when running needed to be shaken up. One of the fascinating things about the Tarahumara is that they treat running in a whole different way from our typical Western society. It is all about fun, spontaneity, smiling, laughter, and it can be fast, and flowing and natural! Our ancestors didn’t learn to run on roads, they were carving their own trails or on existing trails; trails carved out by generations exploring the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the seas. Trail Running, more than any other form of exercise that I know, has the ability to take us back to the very roots of our existence – the best therapy session there is? No doubt about it – get out and play!