On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.

Playfulness is Mindfulness is Enchantment

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I play every day. I like unstructured play–no particular rules or strategies, nothing to win or lose, no set goal except to play and see what happens and allow my playfulness to evolve. Play = motion + discovery, for me. Summer always reminds me again & offers a chance to regain any playfulness I’ve lost or forgotten.

The forest is an essential playmate since it’s always changing, yet always there. Not only does it change for the seasonal shifts, but changes happen every day in the forest to offer a different type of play. As if a hot blanket were thrown over me during humid days, I stumble and fall and wrestle with the trails until I’m a puddle of sweat. I’m reminded of wrestling with my brother as a child, of trying to slip away and falling in spite of thinking I had the advantage.
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Slipping on shiny stones and splashing up the mud, I dance out a rhythm and partner perfectly with the bird song and drumming of the branches. I’m reminded of dancing in the yard in the sunshine with wild abandon as my mother’s radio blared the Rolling Stones or Huey Lewis & the News from the windows of the house.
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The rain splashes down through the tree canopy and running is like swimming and flying and freeing all at once, like when an aunt or grandmother or some relative we begged would drive us to the pool or the lake in the summer and we lost track of time and dove and floated in the water until it felt like we swam in our sleep.

As I was running last week, two young brothers (maybe 8 and 6 years old) began following me on the trails after I passed their family. They laughed and ran behind me. They giggled and bounded, and I felt a pang of nostalgia for the trails from my childhood.

When I run in the forest, on trails, I play the most. It doesn’t feel difficult to my body when I approach it as play–jumping over roots, slowing when necessary, gaining momentum downhill and bounding through the creek, across a bridge, sometimes leaping and other times tip toeing. I get lost in this playfulness. I start writing stories in my head, making up scenarios, laughing aloud as the story plays like a movie for me. When a character does something I don’t like, I rewrite it, try another scene, another lover, give her a different bicycle to ride to work.

For me, writing and running create the perfect mixture of playfulness. The summertime intensifies the combination with enchantment.

Don’t be Afraid–No one is Chasing You: You are Free to Run

Almost Springtime. Everyone who used to be a runner, wants to be a runner again or from a fresh start, and/or who made a resolution to do the couch to 5K or more is out trying to run. Some of you are on the trails. You are getting beat up. I hear you say, “I hate the trails,” to your friends who agreed to help you run again or to run anew. I heard one friend respond, “Just pretend like someone is chasing you. That will help you keep running.”

Ah! As a person who has suffered from various anxiety issues since the age of 13 (panic attacks, hyperventilating, vomiting in stressful social situations–all PTSD-related reactions), I definitely do not need to imagine someone chasing me through the forest. I’ve worked relentlessly to overcome my anxiety, but it never completely goes away (so I run). And as a person who feels at home in the forest, I want others to love the trails as much as I do. I want new runners to continue running the trails. I’ve been on them for 6 years. I lost 70+ pounds after my first child was born. I completely changed my diet. Running trails freed me, but I needed the correct thoughts to guide me.

Running is peaceful to me–alleviating all my stresses. I practice mantras while running and put myself in a meditative state so that I can run up to 25K on the trails if I feel like it. I learn from nature’s never ending classroom.

My best friend suggested I record videos about the meditations and mantras I use when I run. She also wanted to hear the sounds of the birds, the snow crunching under my feet in the winter, my breath, the creaking of the trees–all the sounds I describe to her (obviously, I don’t listen to music when I run). Even though Christy is a yogi, and she doesn’t run trails, she wanted to know what that meditative state could be like–she wanted to see and hear as if she were running with me. She also thought these could be helpful to others who want to run and need good thoughts to guide them.

These are the first videos I recorded for her and for my husband. I needed a specific audience to begin. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy.

These are the first good thoughts you should tell yourself when you run:
I am safe. I am free to run.