Rooted In Wonder:
Nurturing Your Family's Faith Through God's Creation
Master Naturalist, Bible teacher, author, wife, and mama of four! Join our adventures of discovering God while adventuring in creation.
Last night I went on a trail run. I guess I should preface this with a confession–I don’t trail run.
It all began when my husband came up with a brilliant plan for celebrating our upcoming 5th wedding anniversary. He wants us to run a 10k race together, that’s 6.2 miles. Of course I was all game; although I had not planned on racing my first 10k until September, I knew I was ready, and I love racing! But the problem was with the specific race he wanted us to run.
A trail race.
Not only a trail race, but one at night–like, in the dark. With flashlights.
As he described the race I saw a familiar glow in his eyes, the one that first attracted me to him–his love for adventure.
And so I agreed, although a bit hesitant in my mind as to whether I could actually finish this race. I have run the distance on pavement, but trail running is a whole different creature.
This is what brought me to our local nature preserve last night as the sun was just beginning its descent to the horizon. I had run this trail just once before–months ago–and had walked away slightly defeated. At that time I had no trouble running 3-4 miles on pavement, but had managed only 1.5 miles that day on the trail, walking most of the hills.
A few months and many, many miles of training have transpired since that initial trail run, and on this night I had a goal in mind. I knew if I could manage running 4 miles of trail, then I could at least survive this Friday’s race, even if it wasn’t pretty.
With that four-mile goal hanging lofty in my mind, I did a few lunges next to my car, plugged in my earphones to Mumford and Sons, and set off down the trail at a comfortable pace. Not thirty feet into the trail I noticed some movement in the brush beside me, and turned to see two baby fawns pouncing through the woods together. They stopped to bid me hello, or possibly good luck, then continued on their way. This run was off to a pleasant start.
There is a reason I am not a trail runner. You see–trails have hills–of which I am not a big fan. I like running non-stop, and I like running fast; hills mess that up. My mom used to refer to them as the dreaded “brown lines” when we went on family hikes growing up, because brown lines on topography maps always indicate hills.
One and a half miles into the trail I began a 1-mile ascent up the bluff. I did what most runners find helpful when running gets tough, I set small goals, telling myself, “Just get to the top of this one hill.” But then I would peak the hill, and turn the corner to find that the hill just kept climbing; only today was different from my previous experience trail running, because I kept climbing, too.
Just over two miles into my run I was about to peak the very top of the bluff when another runner came bounding down the hill I was ascending. She stopped and motioned for me to remove my headphones. “Have you seen a large group of runners?” I hadn’t. She had lost her group. And then she asked me to run with her back off the trail to see if she could find them. Why not?
I am not used to running with someone, and so it was a whole new experience to take my headphones off, and actually hold a coherent conversation between my tired breaths. And although it took a little getting used to, I actually found it empowering, and distracting from the pain and hardship of running.
We eventually came across a couple of guys from her running group, and I decided to keep running with them for the duration of their course. When they broke off at the end of the trail, I bid my farewell and glanced at my phone. Without even noticing it, I had run 3.6 miles, only .4 away from my goal of four miles;
I felt strong and inspired after running with this group, and set off down the trail again.
My second time around the preserve was eerily serene. The sun was dipping low below the horizon, casting a fluorescent yellow glow across the treeline in the woods. Not another soul was on the trail. And for the first time ever, I ran purely for the enjoyment of it.
With surprisingly more ease than my first time around, I bounded–and then walked a bit–up the bluff, around each curve, over fallen trees and up wooden block stairs, and then on the downhill I ran. Fast.
And I did something I have never before done in my short running career–I took off my headphones, and I listened. I listened to my feet hitting the dirt path, and to my breathing in rhythm with them; I listened to my heartbeat, and to the baby dear bounding through the trees to my right. I listened to the woods. And I prayed.
And then I remembered a prayer I had spoken in my car on the way to the trail, just an hour before: “May I just enjoy running, and be comfortable enough to think and pray.” It’s something I’ve always wanted from running, and had not noticed that the pavement and my headphones had been preventing me from experiencing.
Alone in the woods I found that: running for the pure enjoyment of running; this primitive notion of exertive movement that helps us to tap into our innermost places, and helps us to see ourselves and the world in a whole new way.
It has taken 8 months and 296 miles of running to get here, but last night in the middle of the woods I found it, what I have been running after since I began: a certain clarity of mind that I’ve never experienced before; one that comes when the body is awakened and senses heightened through such a physical feat such as running a long distance. A lucidity reached only when you have exerted yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, and still feel strong. And a humility recognized only when you acknowledge that a body able of such great things is a gift given in grace, one to not be taken for granted, but used for good.
Last night my run through the woods taught me three very important things about myself:
1. I love running on trails.
2. I love having someone to run with.
3. I love taking my headphones off and listening–really listening, to all that is around and within me.
By the time I wound my way back out of the woods and to my car, I had covered 5.75 miles, just short of the distance we will race this Friday. There is something else that running has taught me over the past 8 months: It’s healthy to be proud of yourself! And that is certainly what I felt as I ended my run last night.
Running offers a humble sort of pride, one that celebrates when you achieve something you thought you were incapable of, but also acknowledges that the victory is only possible through Christ, who has given us strength and bodies able to do far more than we thought we were able to do.
What about you? Whether you are a new runner like me, or are a veteran runner with race medals to speak of your hard work and victories; what lessons is running teaching you lately?
Or what might you need to do to remove the barriers to those lessons that running wants to teach you? For me it meant braving the hills of a trail, and more importantly, taking my headphones off.
I challenge you: take your headphones off, whether that means literally or figuratively. Never let running stop teaching you about yourself or the world around you. Wherever you are in your running, just keep placing one foot in front of the other, and let it take you where you never thought possible!
Raising kids stirs something deep in our souls — an innate knowing that our time is finite. Taking my kids outside in creation, I’m discovering how to stretch our time and pack it to the brim with meaning. God’s creativity provides the riches of resources for teaching the next generation who He is and how He loves us. Join our adventure and discover inspiration and resources for refusing rush, creating habits of rest, living intentionally, and making the most of this beautiful life!