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Trail running: an essential life skill

When Einstein said "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" he was almost certainly referring to trail running

Trail running continues to grow in popularity among adults, as ever more of us discover its utility and benefits. Though perhaps more than anyone, it is our youth who need trail running the most. Nature deficit disorder has become ubiquitous among the young. Kids are increasingly confined to pre-ordained schedules and drab urban sprawl. The outdoors are a forbidden fruit for the modern youth. Yet, trail running is a safe, affordable way for our kids to “go and do something outside”, offering a source of freedom that previous generations took for granted.

youth of Canada trail running
Canadian youth trail running on the foothills of Vancouver Island

For active souls, trail running is an excellent way to cross-train for any other athletic discipline. Co-ordination, reflexes, endurance, and strength are all improved with practice. Trail running and hiking offer invaluable time for families to spend together in nature. Teaching children how to appreciate and explore nature is something that might just save our civilization from itself. Kids who experience their local native plant and animal species up close are far more likely to care about and steward those creatures.

What about adults? We’re stuck with these meat skeletons from beginning to end. Cardiovascular diseases kill roughly as many people as all other causes of death combined. Really? Yes.

We’ve clearly evolved for a long-abandoned way of life, but don’t fret, because we can cheat death and have fun along the way. Trail running is a relatively low-impact activity that offers innumerable health benefits for all ages. Beyond fundamental health, trail running provides us with the physical intelligence and peace of mind required to navigate through life’s everyday challenges.

Move it or Lose it
Move it or Lose it


What of our minds, and spirits? “Diseases of despair” are spiraling out of control, so much so that overdoses and suicides are lowering the average life expectancy of Canadians. This is a complex crisis with multiple overlapping causes, but this author humbly believes that trail running offers a pathway toward meaning and connection. Trail running is an egalitarian sport, bringing people of all means together in a good way. Belonging and connection within our natural world, and within community of like-minded individuals, are essential for human well-being. Deep breaths, an outlet for strong emotions, and a practice of total presence (while trying not to trip and fall), are all recipes for better mental and spiritual health.

Ask someone why they trail run, and you’ll get some interesting answers: “The forest keeps me sane,” or “I love to eat, so I need to run,” or maybe even “my dog makes me do it”–all fine reasons in and of themselves. We could add: the satisfaction of wanderlust, the thrill of the downhill, escape from the noise, the fresh air, the challenge, the presence of mind, and connection to nature. Yet our list would still be tragically incomplete.


We are stuck on this planet, after all. Complete with gravity, harsh terrain, and vast expanses of wilderness, our hard world becomes the trail runner’s oyster.

We can run on the beach and along the ocean’s rugged shoreline. We can run up the hills and into the endless mountains. Every dry creek bed is a highway. We can explore any community’s most beautiful scenes with such intimacy and freedom, yielding perspectives and moments that elude the less inclined. All for the low, low price of practice.

As a parent, coach, professional, and athlete, it is evident that trail running rises to the level of an essential life skill.

We all have different reasons to love and practice trail running. With any luck, we can enjoy and employ this life skill long into our years, with our friends and families and co-workers, in wild places and communities all over the world.