The beauty and silence of the forest in winter is unparalleled.  On really cold days you can hear the trees pop and crack as the moisture in them freezes.  They creak and moan as they rub against each other in the wind.  You’ll see animal tracks.  Rabbit, squirrel, coyote, and the occasional poof mark where a ruffed grouse had snuggled into the snow for the night and then lifted out at sunrise.  Trail running offers the same experiences if you look and listen closely.  I think this is why I can’t wrap my head around people who wear ear buds with music when trail running.  Experiencing nature with all your senses is cathartic.  It will release something in you if you pay attention.

Some of you may recall that I’m an avid cross country skier. Both classic and skate skiing.  Cross country ski races are actually more common in winter where I live than trail running races in the summer.  There is at least one ski race event per month and usually it’s a weekend event with 2 days of racing.  I love to go watch the gracefulness and speed of ski racers.  But compete with them?   No, thank you.  For me, it would ruin why I love to ski. I want to be in nature and going at my own speed and experiencing new forests and environments.  Racing means you’re competing and for the most part, ignoring the scenery around you because you need to be focused on the end goal.  I want to stop and be in awe of what is around me.  Glance down and see the seeds of the birch tree on the fresh snow or see evidence where a pileated wood pecker has been finding meals in a tree.

When I ran the Walking Tall 25K at Big Hill Pond (BHP) State Park in SW Tennessee last October, I reveled in the beauty of a forest ecosystem I had rarely seen before.  Forests are vastly different all over the US and the world and taking time to notice that is part of who I am. I run trail races just to easily experience a new forest and not have to worry about getting lost on trails that are often poorly marked (not BHP, though!).  Ski trails are easy… just follow the groomed tracks and eventually you’ll find the ski lodge again.  Plus, at trail races I get to meet cool people.  Ski raciers are mostly men in very intense Lycra full body suits.  They have little desire to chat out there.  I’ll honestly talk your ear off on the trail if you want to stop or slow down with me for a short stretch!

So, if you’re an urban road runner, try some trails.  Leave the ear buds in your pocket.  Slow down, look around.  Be more curious about what you see.  Take a nature identification class if you can.  Learn about tracks, trees, plants, and all that nature offers out there.  It’s a beautiful world out there – get out and notice it.

(photo credit goes to my son, Tate, for his picture at the top)