Retreating to the trails

By Blair Stewig, Staff Writer

Distance runners seem to have a relationship with the outdoors that many other athletes do not have. Why is this, you may ask? It is likely because of the hours spent running on leaf-covered trails, feet packing down leaves, crunching them into a fine powder. It could also be the meditative sound of a cadence that lulls you into a state of peace that can only be achieved by the sound steady, heavy breathing and the reliable sound of feet on the ground.

These sounds connect you so much to your surroundings. Around Augsburg, that peace and solitude can be found on the River Road, but not up above the banks by the cars. As you run along the cracked bike and running paths and you gaze to the left, you notice an opening. Most distance runners cannot leave such an opening unexplored.

This is an opportunity to reconnect with your creative and wild spirit. As you enter the trail, your cadence varies with the slopes of the hills; you experience the occasional scare of running so fast you slip slightly, and here you catch a glimpse of the rocks below the ledge. The tree roots in the path add an obstacle that you enjoy, a skip added to change up your cadence. If a tree is down on the trail, you simply find a way over or around it; the tree belongs here just as much as you do.

As you continue down the trail, you see squirrels and rabbits, sometimes a turkey. None of these animals seem to pay much attention to you; they seem comfortable with your presence. As you continue to run up and down the hills, around both tight and wide curves, you notice the sparkling of the river. It is as wild as you feel, the water flowing with the direction you are running. This is a place of peace for runners, a place where you feel human and truly alive.

It is no wonder that experiences like this stir a protective spirit in runners towards the environment. Who would want this place of peace and solitude to be tainted or taken away? The area next to the river has offered me a place to escape the stress of college courses, to feel free and unchained from responsibilities. All it takes are those one to two hours of running to remind me that I am alive with purpose and living in a beautiful world.

Running on trails in the middle of the woods, on a mountain or next to a body of water reminds me of how small I am. However, while running on trails next to the Mississippi River in the spring I often see piles of garbage wrapped around trees from when the water was high and had carried the garbage downstream. This garbage reminds me that regardless of how small each of us are, we all have the power to choose how we treat the world that hosts. The garbage that has accumulated on the banks of the river remind me of the work that we need to do to protect our places of peace, solitude, and escape.

I think that distance runners tend to be environmentalists because we want our place of solitude to be clean, safe and unharmed.

This article first appeared in the Friday, December 1, 2017, Edition of The Echo.