Something that always makes me groan inwardly when I see an article about trail or ultra running are the photos that accompany it. Without fail, these photos are on some crisp mountainside at the peak of summer or desert mountains in Arizona or some cool forest in the Pacific Northwest. As a midwesterner my entire life, I long to live somewhere with daily views like those photos, but my reality is quite different. They call where I live a flyover state for a reason. There are about two weeks out of the year when our surroundings get to shine in the spotlight of autumnal glory, but other than that, no one is rushing to Missouri for the scenic views.
My reality is, however, that with four kids and a full-time job, I’m not signing up for races or doing adventure trips to other places on a regular basis. I’m in a season of life and running that I am forced to enjoy where I’m at. At first, I’ll admit this made me a little bitter. It doesn’t take more than a minute of scrolling through social media to see where others in my community are jetting off to or where other trail runners get to enjoy the scenery on their daily five mile run. Jealousy is not a great motivating factor though. In fact, it is a rather destructive one. I’ve decided that I need to learn to enjoy where I’m at in the season of life I’m in, which leads me to the punch line: I genuinely love Missouri trails.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle to find contentment with where I am at, both in literal geographic sense and the metaphorical life awareness sense. This ultimately is why I love trail and ultrarunning though: it reflects back to me many parallels in life that are needed to grow who I am as a person. For me, practicing being present and not longing for the next thing (whether it be a vacation, new job, new race, new stage of life) is a golden key to unlocking joy in my own life. In running, we liken this to enjoying the process of training for the race, knowing the race itself is the cherry on top. In this struggle, here are some practical ways I shifted my mindset and reframed the dullness that can be midwestern trail running.
- Be present in the moment: So much of running is being completely aware and surrendered to the present moment. I cannot focus on what was or what might be in the middle of a run. I must draw my mind and attention to the feedback my body is giving me and my surroundings. When I am fully engaged in the present, I see beauty in abundance all around me. It could be an opera the birds are singing back and forth to each other or the way the wind rustles through the trees. I assure you there is natural beauty everywhere. You simply have to be looking for it.
- Run with a group: This is more than a plug for joining up with your local Trail Sisters group. Running with others is just plain fun. You know what? When I run with other people, I rarely care about the terrain or my surroundings. In fact, last week I ran the same trail three times in five days. It wasn’t boring. You know why? Twice I ran with other people, and that always makes the repetition of surroundings melt away.
- Become a regular: Speaking of running the same trails over and over again, it can be one of the downfalls of not living somewhere with a solid trail system. You want to know one of the best things about running the same trails on repeat though? You start to become aware and committed to the well-being of the wildlife there. For example, there is an albino deer in our area. Every time I see it, the thrill inside of me is equal to the joy and excitement a child feels on Christmas morning. I have countless photos of it, and it truly makes my day knowing it’s out there with me.
- Chase the sunrise or sunset: No matter where you live, the sun rises and sets every day. Man, it is a thing of beauty. Even if I just do a quick run on the road, I always try to do it so I can see the sunrise or sunset. It reminds me why running, especially outdoors, makes my heart come alive.
- Do some research: I will admit, before I started running trails I thought I knew a decent amount about the trail options around me. It turns out, I knew just a fraction of what was available to me in my metro area. There are multiple ways to learn about and explore your local trails. Here are some ways I have used: local Department of Conservation, joining local group running pages to see where they run (and joining them sometimes), the All Trails app, and looking beyond my normal radius. A note on that last one: If you are anything like me, there is about a 10-15 mile radius of your area that you usually are around for work, social stuff, etc. I was floored at all the other places I was missing out on by simply expanding my radius just a little bit.
- Plan a fun destination nearby: Sadly, I am not in a position to go to Utah or Colorado for a race or just a fun running trip anytime soon for a variety of reasons. What I was surprised to figure out though, is that there are some really cool destinations within the Midwest that are much more approachable from a money, family trip, and time standpoint. Don’t be surprised to find amazing destinations to explore in Tennessee, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, and even my own state of Missouri. It doesn’t have to drain my vacation days and bank account to be beautiful and fun.
All my midwestern girls, tell me how you make running where you are something exciting and beautiful too?
I can relate to this. As I live in the Netherlands, I have to go abroad for real mountains. But, 3km running and I am entering a Forrest, a small one but still beautiful, with some little hills, sand, all I need actually. I keep to think about all the people living in cities and I know I am blessed.
100% agree with all you’ve said. I live in Indiana, and I know your disappointment to not get to see some of the more grand areas to run in. I’m an empty nester, so I’m in a different phase of life, but still can’t really afford to travel the country finding cool places to run. My spouse and I have been making more trips to state parks here, which have awesome trail systems. Someday I do hope to see some of those beautiful sights in person, but yes, for now I need to be content where I am. 🙂
Yes, yes, yes to all of this!!! I try to make sure to stop and look around at some point during every run to just appreciate where I am at the moment. It may not be the mountains, but it’s still stinkin’ beautiful!