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Home again – the therapeutic power of trail running

By Marc Lehman, Gazelle Sports Grand Rapids

Another long day. Work was hectic, there’s never enough coffee, and the dog is still sick. A little red car pulls into a small, unmarked dirt parking lot. It’s empty this morning, at least that’s nice. Keys are pulled out of the ignition and stashed away. The door opens and two weary legs swing out. Two beat, dusty shoes sink into the loose gravel and take their first tentative steps into the forest. The world seems silent, heavy and slow like the dying days of winter refusing to give up. But my mind is racing. Bills. Deadlines. Unfulfilled expectations. A sick dog. Debt. Relapses. Friendships wasted away, and the promise of more to come. Feet crunch, gravel shifts, miles go by, and slowly the worries drift away as everything fades to black.

Edge of the parking lot

The darkness fades as I begin to notice the trees dancing in the breeze. I fly down a hill, remembering the hundreds of times I’ve run down it before, and some of the weight falls off my shoulders. Two squirrels chase each other up a tree and out of sight, and I think of the time Matt and I fartleked until we were so loopy we couldn’t even laugh right.

I run on, memories of faster and more motivated past selves urging me on, faster and faster. Breathing is getting hard, my head is getting foggy. Thankfully my feet know these trails better than I do- they dance across rocks and roots as if they’ve rehearsed it.

But then, a sound off to my right. My heart jumps out of my chest. There’s a bear hidden in the brush, and I didn’t even notice it and now I’m next to it and I can’t remember what you’re supposed to do when you see a bear and what if it has cubs and it’s going to eat me and I’m going to die but at least I died running but what will my mother think.

Oh, no. It’s just a chipmunk. But now my instincts are screaming and my heart is pounding, and I feel like I just won a big race, all because I didn’t get eaten by a bear/chipmunk. It’s too much for my tired body to handle, so I slow to a walk.

Gradually, the rushing in my ears slows. I start to notice the subtle sounds of the forest. Wind rustling in the trees, ducks smacking as they eat duckweed in the pond, a bee buzzing in the wildflowers. Even though it stormed yesterday, the forest is calm. And despite everything that happened today, I am too. After a time I start to run again, slowly. One foot goes in front of the other, and on and on. I fall back into a well-worn rhythm, and the rest of the run goes by quickly.

The pair of well-loved shoes spring into the little gravel parking lot. Birds aren’t singing, but the clouds have parted and the sun is bright and warm. The car door opens, two strong legs climb in, and the little red car rolls out of the little cozy parking lot, back into the real world

What is it about your home trail? In some sports, people talk about home court advantages, but things are a little different when your home court is an entire forest. Where you can run with your eyes closed because your legs know where you are better than your brain ever could. Where you’ve left more sweat, blood, and tears than you have in your own house. But every drop is an investment in memories and in the future. And so we put one foot in front of the other, and life moves forward- even when we feel like we aren’t. Because our home is always there to ground us when we get too arrogant, and to help us up when we’re down. And so through the sunrises, the storms, the laughter, the black flies, the sunsets, and the monstrous chipmunks, our trails take us as we are. And we run.