My hiking buddy and I look forward to our regular walks through local preserves and trails. We take in the seasonal air, sights and sounds, noticing how our surroundings change every couple of weeks due to the time of year. On the first day of fall, we hit up one of our favorite trails, and many others had the same idea in mind for the start of the cooler season. When we get on the trail, we sort of exhale and get into our lives a bit, moving beyond the “My week was terribly busy and the rain was intense and oh did I tell you how I left my sunroof open….” and into “My doctor called with my test results and I need to make some changes. Here is how I am dealing with it, and how do you think I can manage it differently to keep an even head and low stress?” We put it all out there, with a humble voice looking for a way to improve the quality of our lives. We call it “getting younger.” Since we train a couple times a week in martial arts, it is cathartic to let down our guard, talk about something with meaning and help one another recalibrate to our “true north.”
On this particular day, the first day of fall, neither of us was carrying any sort of burden, unless you count my 25 pound toddler hoisted in my backpack:). He’ll be a wise man someday if he is absorbing all of these conversations! As we conversed, we would pause to greet the people passing by us. Aside from the families with kids and or dogs, the runners offer us an unofficial litmus test of happiness, enjoyment and loathing. It was obvious that the beautiful day invited many runners outdoors, and some were truly enjoying their runs while others appeared to be in a world of torture. How could we tell? Their faces told the story as did their general awareness. Call it a hunch. When a runner was approaching us, we’d turn up the corners of our mouths and say, “Hello,” or “Good afternoon,” or “How’s it going?” Some smiled back and responded with some greeting. This group of greeters continued to breathe and were acknowledging their path and presence. We noticed that others who were not smiling or greeting us seemed too distracted or in some obvious discomfort to acknowledge their surroundings and to make eye contact; the looks on their faces said it all: when is this going to end already?
Jogging and running are vigorous activities. Maybe you have heard of the talk test. If you can speak aloud while working out, you are probably exercising at a moderate intensity to improve both your health and fitness. Thirty minutes of this type of exercise per day is ideal for most people. However, if you are in training for an event and attempting to improve endurance, then barely holding a conversation is preferred, so the intensity of the workout would need to be increased. This basic measure of fitness is helpful to know to test where on the spectrum you are and where you want to be.
Back to the faces. it is revealing what a person’s face says about his workout. You may say that the latter group (seemingly uncomfortable) was in their zone; and it could be true that they were exerting such focus that they had shut out everything around them. And there lies the issue: shutting out everything around them results in a numbing of the senses and potentially putting themselves at risk when checking out of their environmental surroundings. The terrain is usually not consistent, the scenery changes, and wildlife can make an appearance, potentially putting the runner in danger. In a complete open space, sometimes sparsely populated, one needs to aware of what’s going on around him on the trail. Know where you are going. Look at the trail map if unfamiliar with the space. Have a plan to escape in case you need to get out fast. Know the people you pass on the trail. Observe a couple things about them – the color of their clothes, what they are carrying. Being in the zone means having a comprehension about all of these things in addition to measuring the “talk test.”
In the recent Hannah Anderson kidnapping case, horseback riders who encountered the teenage girl and her kidnapper on an Idaho trail said the girl appeared “pretty wore out.” When the riders tried to engage Hannah and her kidnapper in conversation, “Neither one of them wanted to talk.” Lastly, one of the riders heard Hannah say, “Looks like we’re all in trouble now.” It was an unusual statement to hear after a fairly mundane encounter. Later that day, the riders saw Hannah’s picture on the news and called authorities, which ultimately led to Hannah’s rescue. It pays to look at people’s faces and offer a greeting. The information one receives can also be revealing.
You never know what or who you are going to encounter on the trail, so be prepared! Watch your surroundings, have an out, be observant. Greet others. Enjoy this time you have created for yourself; focus on building strength, endurance and your body and mind will respond by releasing endorphins, creating the “runners high” and build a “muscle memory” for physical awareness at the same time. And smile…As my yoga teacher says, “The most advanced poses are those that include a smile!”