We are similar, you and me. We run trails, probably for some of the same reasons. There are just so many benefits. Trail running makes your feet and ankles stronger, your reflexes and decision making quicker, and deepens your courage and sense of adventure.
Perhaps, like me, you wear old shorts, take little and get lost. But maybe you choose to colour co-ordinate, calculate carbs and consult a compact computer, and I don't. However similar we are, we’re not exactly the same. No-one is the same as you. And I’m not referring to that Africa-shaped mole on your bum.
When we run trails, our inner voices sound themselves – and those sounds are quite unique to each of us. Our inner voices tell our story back to us when we’re out there on narrow tracks dodging rocks, jumping logs and being rumbled by ramblers when we stop behind the perfect bush to do a wee. And there is no one who has an inner narrative just like yours. You have distinct memories and hopes, highs and lows, joys and fears.
This is one of the things that differentiates real trail runners. A lot of roadies use disassociation to not think about the tar turning underfoot. In their club buses they tell stories to distract each other. In this way they conquer the distance while cut off from the environment they are overcoming.
But if you are a true tillerman of the trail, you run fully aware of where you are and how you are – you engage the stuff you are on. You are deeply present. Not only because nature is kinder than tar, and invites you to listen, but also because if you aren’t mindful, you trip over that root over there and eat the trail you forgot to notice.
Perhaps, like me, you sometimes listen too carefully to the dark sounds of shame and anger. I hope, like me, you often listen to the warm sounds of imagination and possibility too.
Simon Wheatcroft is similar to you and me. He also likes to run trails to get stronger feet and ankles, quicker reflexes and decision making, and a deeper courage and sense of adventure. But however similar he may be, he is not exactly the same as you or me. You see, Simon does not see. He does all of the things that we love about trail running while being blind.
Simon runs far on trails with no sight, no dog, and no friend on a rope. He has developed a smartphone app that beeps when he goes off track. It beeps high for left and low for right, and beeps faster the further he goes off track. To test his ability to run by listening to the app, Simon decided to run the NYC Marathon. And to get there, he ran to The Big Apple from Boston. Alone. Blind. This year he set out to do the 250km Desert Ultra in Namibia but wasn’t able to complete it. He says he’ll be back. I believe him. After all, he’s a trail runner. And he’s getting better at listening to the beeps.
Maybe getting better at the self-talk we listen to is one of the real possible benefits of trail running. So, Friend, how well is your inner app developed? What inner sounds do you listen to?
One of my executive coaching clients (I like to run with my clients – it’s a great way to think together) had been pushing aside a deep discomfort about his role at work until we went on a long run and he stopped ignoring it. The next day he changed what he was asking for at work - and his boss agreed! He’s happier now because he listened to his inner discomfort.
Nelson Mandela said, "There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere." I think he was right. The things that really set us free as individuals, families, businesses and nations require that we listen to our own stories, talk through them with ourselves, and keep going.
Listen to your beeps as you run, Friend. Keep running and listening. As you do, I hope that Dereck Walcott’s poem will come true for you:
Love After Love
The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was yourself. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.