When the Trail Says: Slow Down

It’s no secret that the trail is my teacher. I learn countless truths about myself, life, and the human condition as I traverse her many miles of lessons. The trail is my church and my therapist, my mentor and my friend. We have a routine. I hike locally every morning and on the weekends, I ask her my meta-questions on the AT during 20 to 30 mile days. While this all started in prep for my Long Trail thru-hike, it has become my saving grace. But what happens when trail time becomes as much about learning as it is about escape?

Trail Injuries

When life threw me some really rotten lemons, I made the best damn compost-lemon-aid I could. I found the trail and the trail found me. Now, as weeks have turned into months, we have a good thing going. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. I do 55 to 75 miles a week on trail, which is understandable when training up for a thru-hike. However, in those miles I’ve developed a tunnel vision of sorts. I’ve become dependent on my trail time for my body and my mind.

I’ve had a few injuries along the way: a sprained ankle early on, cranky knees (forever), and now, a pulled calf muscle. It started innocently enough. You know the feeling, a tight calf after a long run or hike. No big deal, right? Well, that started two weeks ago and yesterday, that tight calf muscle reared her ugly head. I was nearly two miles into my morning hike when I found myself struggling to walk. So I listened to my body (as hard as that is sometimes) and hobbled back to my car.

Trail Goals

Holy crap, did I need to stop. I could barely walk for the rest of the day. I am using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) and can feel the effects. But it’s tossing me quite the mental lemon. How can this happen two weeks before my Long Trail thru-hike? I’m going to lose all the fitness I’ve built up! What if I can’t do the Long Trail? I’m going to lose my mind without my trail time!

Woah, girl. Breathe. This is yet another teaching moment from the trail. Goals are great. But values based on goals, rather than growth, are misdirected. If my values are goal-based, it’s a dead-end road whether or not I hit them. Growth-based values always have a path forward. So what is the trail trying to teach me now?

Slow Down, Scrappy

Yup, I did it again. By throwing myself headfirst into a goal, I lost sight of the journey. It is fantastic that I found so much meaning through the trail, but it can’t be my only source of meaning. I put so much focus and effort into my miles that I forgot what I do without them. Sometimes I throw myself (aggressively) into the woods for growth as much as an escape. And perhaps recently, it’s been too much of the latter. Thank you for the lesson, trail. You are teaching me by keeping me away, and I hear you loud and clear.

So now, I slow down. I’m looking at the small things that bring me happiness and I’m taking care of my body. As someone told me, rest takes discipline, too. It takes more discipline than the miles, in my opinion. I’m grateful to learn this lesson now. There is still time to heal up before the Long Trail, and now I’ll be focusing on the journey rather than the goal. Happy 4th and happy trails, my friend.

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