The first time I went for a trail run, it was like I had been placed on a whole new planet and I really, really liked it. But probably not for the same reasons that many others before me have liked it. See, I fell in love with trail running not just for the beauty of the wilderness and the challenge of the constantly changing footstep, all of which are incredibly awesome, but because of what there wasn’t.
As a hard of hearing person (not deaf, there are days where I wish I was deaf because then at least I would have an excuse for not understanding what people are saying) running on streets is extremely difficult because of what you can hear. You can hear the sound of a car, the sound of traffic, the sounds of ambulances and even sometimes the sound of a biker or runner coming up behind you. The problem is twofold, though.
First, you have no idea where that sound is coming from. It could be right beside you, on the street over or two blocks in front of you. As a hard of hearing person running on the streets, the sounds get all mixed up and actually at times even get irritating at worse and distracting at best.
You can try wearing headphones and listening to music but in a way that is even worse because now you can’t stay in tune with the sounds your body makes (for me I know when I am off stride because I feel it in my feet and sometimes hear it as a slap on the pavement instead of a stride on the pavement) or how you are breathing (sometimes I get out of sync and am mouth breathing instead of sucking in oxygen through my nose) and then you never really get into that beautiful rhythm of running.
The second thing that is difficult for hard of hearing runners running the streets of your town or city is the mental exhaustion that happens because you literally have to work twice as hard as somebody else to define what that sound is and where it is coming from and whether it is a danger or normal. I never ran as a normal hearing person, so I don’t really know what it is, but I do know as a hard of hearing person often times the hardest part of the run is all these sounds mixing in my head and constantly trying to figure out what they mean and whether I need to be aware.
I also cannot tell you how many times I have been on a sidewalk and thought I heard a car right on me and then tripped over the crack in the sidewalk because I’m swiveling my head to try and figure out if a car is backing out of a driveway, will he see me and then blammo there I am laying on the grass with my feeling severely embarrassed.
So imagine my first time out on a trail, there is no sound but the sights, and the feelings were just phenomenal. It was like a new world opening up that I had never experienced before. It was almost like my eyes being opened for the very first time, and I was seeing things that I know I probably had seen my whole life, especially having grown up in the mountains but here I am running a trail in the Big Horn Mountains outside Sheridan, WY and I literally felt like I was alive for the very first time. What I really began to experience can only be described as Open Eyed Running.
This is where your eyes are continually opened to the possibilities and beauty around you, where you fall in love with your world and dream of the days that were simpler. The only time in my life that can even compare is the day I realized that God was real and that He wanted to be part of my life, not just part of a religious ceremony on Sunday mornings. Living becomes different because you are seeing everything in a different light and from a different perspective. That is how it is with trail running. I can run the same trail three weekends in a row, and it never gets boring, it’s never the same trail twice in a row. And that is so similar to life also.
I cannot even begin to imagine what I would do if life were vanilla and the same all the time. It would be so frustrating to me, and that is what running has become to me also. Every trail run opens up new possibilities and most of my runs I am not even aware of what is going on around me (that is why my wife makes me wear a bell on my pack) or what time it is (only once have I come back to a trailhead in the dark but that was more because I stink at reading maps than anything else, all for a different story) and I find myself on the trail thinking about ways to challenge myself to dig deeper and to reach for more.
And what I see!!!!! I cannot even begin to describe the beauty that surrounds me out in the wilderness. I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I have literally had to stop in my tracks to look at the beauty stretching before me.
Like this time there was this dead tree that I could see as I ran up a hill, but it sort of looked like a twig until I got up next to it and then the crooked beauty, the way it just stood there through time slightly moving in the breeze reminded me that the spiritual part of my journey often reminds me of that dead tree. Sometimes I feel as if my faith is dead but then I can look down and see that it’s not dead, it’s still firmly planted in the soil and that over the next hill or through the bog I find myself in I’m going to find a flourishing tree, full of life and vigor. Not having to strain to identify sounds has done all these things for me.
Now when I am out running a trail, my route may be wet, snowy, muddy, dry or any other adjective you can possibly imagine but I always can find the proper place to plant my foot because I am not having to figure out the sounds around me, I’m just running and enjoying life going on around me, feeling the soft breeze, the warm sun or the whipping, chilly wind trying to push through my layers of clothing. I can hear my breathing, feel my muscles and even when in the middle of the forest running in snow I can hear the crunch of the snow and the slide of the little ice balls running under the sole of my foot.
I guess this is what I love about running trails the most, the open eyed running and awareness of all the beauty that surrounds me, even when I’m stressed out about work and wondering if I’m being a good enough husband the trail keeps me grounded because running them alleviates a stress point in my life which allows me to be more than I could be running the streets around me.
So the next time you say something to a runner, and he/she doesn’t say something back consider that just maybe they’re hearing challenged and every sense is working so hard that they can’t even acknowledge that you are around.