Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why I Am a Trail Runner

There was such a great article in Running Times as part of the Editor's Note.  The article was part of a Trail Running edition.  I liked it so much I am posting it verbatim here:

I run track in pursuit of excellence.  I run roads in pursuit of PRs.  I run trails however, in pursuit of innocence.

I'm using innocence here the way Anni Dillard defines it in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  "What I call innocence," Dillard writes, "is the spirit's unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object.  it is at once a receptiveness and total concentration."

The key word here is "unself-conscious."  Dillard adds, "Self-consciousness . . is the once instrument that unplugs the rest."  Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, author of Flow, says much the same.  he argues that self-consciousness blocks the ability to achieve flow, for as asoon as you worry whether you'll live up to your expectations or what others think of you, you withdraw from the focus of the task to defend your ego.

Getting rid of the self, however, is far from simple.  On the run in the city, we find too many reflections - "the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people . . ." (Dillard again).  But taking these away is often inadequate:  Rarely does the self looom larger than when you have nothing else to focus on. 

No, innocence must be pursued, which is where trail running comes in.  Dillard describes it well:  "It is possible to pursue innocence as hounds pursue hares:  single-mindedly, driven by a kind of love, crashing over creeks, keening and lost in fields and forests, circling, vaulting over hedges and hills wide-eyed..."

Running trails gets me out of myself and away from my ego and expectations.  When crashing over creeks, vaulting over hills, I'm aware only of the requirements of the moment with no points of reference for how I'm doing and plenty to distract me from my usual myopia and narcissism.  I can get there - awake and in the present - through other ways, but trail running is one of the quickest and surest.

Sometimes I forget about what's important in my running and I think this article puts that into perspective.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom,

    I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

    We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other non-runners to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

    Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 250 ultra runners and received more than 60 answers.

    We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running. Please note that these questions are related to your mental state and require that you are able to explain quite specifically what is going on mentally when running.

    If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at


    All the best,