How Running Has Helped Post Thru-Hike
It’s been a year to the day since I started walking north to Maine. A lot changed during those five-and-a-half months of hiking. I ate whatever and whenever I wanted and I lost 26 pounds. I felt the feeling of no real responsibility for the first time in my adult life. I endured really uncomfortable situations and I cried a lot. I pooped in the woods every day and my home was in a different place every night. I witnessed the kindness of complete strangers almost daily. I saw something completely different and new every day and I made and felt my progress daily.
Finishing my hike was great at first. I showered every day! I ate fresh foods. I got hugs from my favorite people. And my body finally felt rested. Although I did still have the hiker stiffs – getting out of bed and walking like a zombie – three weeks after I summited Katahdin.
When I was hiking every day I daydreamed a lot. Mostly about food and my boyfriend but also about post-trail life. I decided that after I was finished walking 2,190 miles, I needed another physical goal. Something that felt attainable but also would be hard work. I decided I’d run a half marathon.
I ran for the first time post thru-hike just two days after climbing Katahdin. It was only two miles but it was really hard. My legs and my butt felt like Jell-O. It was such a crazy and sort of disappointing feeling. The muscles I used to hike up and down mountains were different than the muscles I used to run. I also wasn’t carrying 20 pounds on my back. It was just a really odd sensation. I guess I felt like it was going to be pretty easy and fun to run – so that was a little discouraging.
I soon realized that starting small was the best route. With the help of my partner, Duane, doing the research and building a schedule, I started with an intermediate 5k training plan. We made a spreadsheet with daily and weekly goals. I needed to have a plan and see the plan laid out. I did the same thing for my thru-hike; I made a spreadsheet with daily and weekly mileage goals and adjusted them as needed. Having a schedule has helped me plan my day and make running a priority in my life.
After my thru-hike, I felt sad. Very sad. I didn’t have a job and I honestly didn’t really want one. But I didn’t really want to hike, either. I was just really confused and exhausted. There were a lot of ups and downs daily. Running is now something I look forward to. I enjoy the feeling after a run and the satisfaction, accomplishment, and pride when I hit my goals each week. Sitting all day at my desk is tough after walking every day for months but now I look forward to my run as a release from the nine-to-five work life.
I find myself researching different races, watching documentaries on trail running, and even considering signing up for an ultramarathon next year. Running long distances has given me a new continuous and larger physical and mental goal. It’s an aggressive goal and is a somewhat relative goal to thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. Since completing the trail, running has allowed me to maintain a healthy weight while still indulging on some of the junk food I enjoyed on the trail (especially after a long run).
The Appalachian Trail taught me a lot. It taught me to never give up when times get uncomfortable and unbearable. It taught me I can survive off the 25 pounds of food and gear that I carried on my back and be perfectly happy. It taught me to care a lot less about certain things and more about the things that really matter. It taught me I don’t need things to make me happy. And it taught me that my body is capable of so much more.
I’m running the half marathon in Indianapolis May 5 and another half marathon in the Smoky Mountains in September.
I’m hoping this blog post helps to encourage others after their thru-hike to take on new physical and mental challenges.
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