How the Trails Saved Me

Jen has ran 1 marathon & over 50 half marathons. The half-marathon is her favorite. Jen works in the medical field in occupational health. She loves trail running and her little girl Andrea. Jen loves watching sports and biking with her hubby Jeff.

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I grew up in St Louis County and I had gained about 25 pounds in college and I needed to lose weight. I started to do a walk/job on the trails by my mom’s house. I felt the trails weren’t judging me, like the snobby toned people at the gym. I felt powerful and stronger every time I went on those trails. I wasn’t beating myself for my poor lifestyle choices, I was giving myself some love and compassion. 

The trails were nice and shady during the hot summer months, the branches gave me shelter when I got caught in a rain shower or two. Hearing the birds chirp, the rustle of the leaves, and the softness of the pavement on my joints, put me in a Zen-like state.  

Two years later my little sister passed away on June 23rd due to a drug overdose and that caused her to fall at the tender age of 21. The walking and running intervals on the trails gave me some sanity and ways to channel my anger and grief. I was in so much pain, I lost my only sibling and she was such a beautiful free spirit. I ended up feeling some peace on the trails during a very tumultuous and sad time during my life. 

Fast forward to getting married and there was another trail system in West St Louis County called Queeny Park and after falling down 2-3 times in one day, I wasn’t watching where I was going and there were a ton of tree roots. My husband at the time said,” we don’t have very good health insurance, you should stay away from the trails.”

I was married to him for about six years after that event and I stayed away from the trails and stuck to running on the road. I avoided the trails, and I reasoned with myself, that he was right, our health insurance was bad, and I was clumsy, uncoordinated. Those lies stayed in my head and they were my inner dialogue during our marriage.

Fast forward again to January 2013, and my husband at the time decides he doesn’t want to be married anymore to me. So I needed to get rid of the anger, the disappointment and the failure of my marriage ending. I started working out more, taking boxing classes, running etc.

I started to slowly get on the trails, one bit at a time, I would go to Forest Park and do a mile or so on their trail system. One of the big changes in my life is my new boyfriend and I went to Fall creek Falls, Tennessee and I hiked on the trails. The boyfriend congratulated me and said I did a good job and the voices of being clumsy, cruddy and uncoordinated… started to mute.

In 2014 I started to walk the Queeny Trail system again… I didn’t feel comfortable running the trails because I had found out that I was pregnant again. I had miscarried before so I was being super cautious while I was pregnant with my second little one. I ended having my little girl in 2015. 

I moved to Minnesota in 2017 and right behind my townhome was a trail system called the Douglas Trail. The trail provided so much comfort, here I was in a new town and new surroundings and the trail became a nice haven during this time of new beginnings.

The Douglas Trail was separated by 2 different systems one for walking, running and biking and then one for snowmobiling. The people on the snowmobiles were so agile on these tough technical trails and I would stare at them in wonder and say one day I am going to be more courageous on these trails. 

In 2020 we moved back to St Louis and my friend Melanie recommended we run at Queeny Park. Thoughts of I can’t do this, I am clumsy, I am not good enough still were in the back of my head… but I heard myself tell Melanie yes, sounds great. Melanie and I ran those trails and I didn’t feel and I made it back to my car in one piece.

In January of 2022 my friend Sarah said let’s do a Ragnar in Michigan… and I said it sounds like a great idea. I started to study the course and these trails were technical and most of them were very narrow and covered by trees… but I went.

The whole time I ran the trails I took little steps, and looked down a lot. I didn’t take pictures like my other team mates, I focused on my breathing and listened to nature and tried to enjoy every single second of the beautiful trails in Michigan. The voices in my head were loud at first. You can’t do this… you aren’t strong enough and after each mile the voices simmered down and they eventually shut up. I went to Michigan on June 23rd the anniversary of my little sister’s passing and I came back to St Louis on June 26th a changed person.

In fact a couple of weeks ago I did a trail run meet up and the voices said be on time!

About the Author

Jen has ran 1 marathon & over 50 half marathons. The half-marathon is her favorite. Jen works in the medical field in occupational health. She loves trail running and her little girl Andrea. Jen loves watching sports and biking with her hubby Jeff.

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