Since March of this year, I’ve been walking outdoors, mostly hiking in the local wooded areas around State College. I got a Fitbit and I made a commitment to myself to get healthy. Depression was overwhelming me. No, not overwhelming. Drowning. I knew if I didn’t do something things were going to get ugly for me. My first walk with the Fitbit I did just over a mile and I couldn’t believe it. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of walking a mile — I consider myself an experienced hiker: from glaciers and fjords in Norway to crumbling sandstone arches in Utah. But it was a mile weighted with heavy, dark clouds of negativity and self-loathing. So when I finished, I couldn’t believe it.
Then I started walking with a friend on his dog walks. I enjoyed the company. It was nice to have a friend to talk with while wrangling dogs off leashes and on leashes. I learned a lot about my friend and a lot about dogs in that time. My love for these four-legged creatures expanded more than I expected it to. I became a dog-aunt: a role I thoroughly enjoy. Those walks came and went, just as phases do in our lives. I used to be bitter about those phases. It used to eat me up inside that you could put your emotional energy into a phase, only to have it leave quickly thereafter. But that’s what life is about. And recently I’ve come to appreciate these phases for what they are/were, and not hold them in a place of resentment. Enjoy the moments while they exist and feel good about having had them at all.
I also started hiking more frequently on my own. I would discover new areas of the local forests that I had never cared to explore before. It didn’t make sense: I am an outdoorsman. Or woman. When my husband and I vacation, we don’t go to the beach, we go hiking and camping. We backcountry canoe in the Canadian wilderness. I am not an urbanite. Give me green and lots of lands to explore. So it was a surprise to me that this was all (mostly) uncharted territory. But depression is a hole that easily sucks you in, creating new and unhealthy ways to escape everyday life, and allows you to forget what you love and enjoy. That’s where I’ve been for over two years.
And now my wooded excursions have taken a new twist: I’ve started running. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me before, in all of my hiking experiences, to pick up the pace a little and run. Well, I guess I do know why: I’ve never considered myself to be a “runner.”I’ve tried to get into road running off and on over the years. I’ve always said: I like the idea of running, just not the actual doing it. When I’m listening to a particularly moving song, I close my eyes and I see myself running. I can feel my heart pounding and the satisfying ache in my calves. But that’s as far as I get. I open my eyes and I look at my body and say, “Ugh. You can’t do that.” But recently I’ve been inspired by a friend’s trail running journey. And I thought: maybe I can do that, too? If I love being in the woods, why torture myself on pavement?
I’m starting small… if you’re measuring distance. But actually, it’s not such a small start for me. It’s monumental. I could never have done it six months ago. Six months ago I didn’t believe I could make it another six months. Sometimes I didn’t want to. Now I have self-worth and self-love. I believe I’m capable of anything – even running up and down mountains. It’s hard to describe the pleasure of trail running. There’s something sacred about sharing that space with nature. Although, “sharing” might not be the word I’m looking for. There’s a feeling of spiritual connection when I’m immersed in nature, and trail running allows me to experience that with a more heightened sensation. I’m placing my trust in nature to guide me along the path, which for me is more metaphorical than anything. In thinking of a way to describe the experience of trail running (and just being in the forest at all) I keep coming back to the word allow. I’m still a bit shocked that nature allows me to experience all that it has to offer and that I get so much pleasure out of it.
On a recent trail run, I thought, I never thought I could have this kind of relationship with running. It’s only the beginning for me, but already I can’t imagine not having it.