Trail Running and the Christian Walk

Trail Running and the Christian Walk

This year, I started running on trails as part of my training for a race on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island. I had never run on trails prior to this and my closest experience to trail running was hiking along trails at a casual pace.
Three months ago, my first attempt at running on the trails ago was an unpleasant experience: The uneven ground, the hills, the many small almost-tripping experiences was a nasty change from my usual concrete-pounding running routine. I was used to zoning out while running at a consistent pace on flat ground… not having to watch my footing and to adjust my pace according to the terrain. I honestly hated my first few trail runs because I was so stressed out by the uncertainty of each step and how the terrain seemed to change each week.
Unexpectedly, a few runs in, I found myself enjoying the run and finally discovered the beauty of trail running for myself. As I ran (struggled) through the trails, I realised there were so many lessons from trail running that could be related to life and the Christian walk.


Lessons from Trail Running

It’s beautiful… but you need to look up.

I was so engrossed in watching my steps that I spent the entire run staring at the ground instead of looking up at the nature that surrounded me. When I finally looked up, I realised how serene and calming the environment was, a complete contrast to the unpleasant trail experience I was choosing to focus on. It was a good reminder not to focus too much on each step and to look up to appreciate what was around me.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:1-2

In many ways, we sometimes get so caught up in the challenge of each step of life that we forget to look up and appreciate the beauty around us. It also made me reflect on the importance of the simple act of looking up (from our phones, laptops, work, responsibilities) to be more aware of the people around us and their needs. For me, the lesson to look up also took on a more spiritual/figurative sense of turning my focus upward to God who looks after us and cares for us, instead of being overly focused and reliant on my own ability to ‘watch my step’ and keep up in the race of life.

Everyone is on their own journey…so don’t compare.

When running, and even in life, it’s tempting to compare your speed to someone else and to try to pace others who are faster. But I was reminded that we’re all on different journeys and we shouldn’t be trying to run someone else’s race. Some of us are running a longer race and face more difficult terrain, others might have a relatively ‘easier’ route laid out for them. Beyond the differences in our paths, each of us have been blessed with different abilities and capacities; it is just as important to remember that the same route may be more difficult for some as compared to others, and that we shouldn’t impose our expectations of ourselves/society on others.

On the trails, you don’t always know how long someone has been running or what route they are on. Some run faster because they have a greater ability to go fast or perhaps they’ve just been training for a longer period of time. Sometimes, you see that same fast runner walking because they are having a tough day. Perhaps you see someone running faster than you and you wish you could too. But maybe that person sees you walking/jogging and wishes they could slow down instead. It’s not too different from how we sometimes find ourselves comparing our lives to each others.

We don’t always have the privilege of knowing everyone’s full story: The struggles they’ve been through, the circumstances they are in or the reasons for their decisions/behaviour. I was reminded not to compare and to remember that everyone has a unique path laid out for them with its own set of difficulties and successes. We can’t expect everyone to be running at the same pace through their different seasons nor can we expect to be running at someone else’s pace when we’re on a different journey. We can trust that God has a unique plan for each of us and in each season of difficulty and rejoicing, we can find peace knowing that we don’t have to strive to be like someone else but that God is pleased as long as we continue to seek His direction and keep going on the path He sets out for us.

It isn’t always easy…but challenges help us to grow.

The hardest part of adjusting to trail running was the terrain. In some sections, we were faced with rocky terrain on a long stretch of flat ground, while other sections greeted us with steep climbs and narrow pathways. It was a struggle to get through the tougher sections of the trail but I learnt to just keep going. As cliche as it sounds, the difficult sections really do make you stronger, even if they aren’t always pleasant to endure in the moment. I’ve slowly been able to run up hills without feeling like I’m going to die once I reach the top and I’ve even learnt to appreciate the challenge of running through rocky terrain.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

When we go through struggles and challenging situations in life, it’s tempting to want to give up or to be bitter at the difficulty that lies ahead. I pray that you will press on and rely on God’s strength to pull you through this season, and for Him to transform you through the difficult experience. Life isn’t a straight and flat path, and in some ways that’s nice because the ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns make it more interesting. We’d be such boring people if life were like running on a treadmill. Often, it is our hardest moments in life that shape us to be who we are today. Take hope in knowing that a season of difficulty is also a season of training and transformation.

When things go downhill… let go of control. 

My first experience running downhill nearly killed me… not literally, but my heart skipped a few beats. I was so afraid of running freely like the other runners did as they flew down the hill, instead I tried to maintain control and ended up running at a slow and awkward pace against gravity. The first time I forced myself to let go of control as I ran down the hill, I experienced that thrill of running freely and learning to react quickly as I navigated the steps. It was terrifying but also liberating.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Just as I tend to be too controlling when I run downhill, I am guilty of trying to take control of my life. especially when things go downhill. But I’ve learnt that all the more, we need to let go and trust God instead of relying on our own abilities. It’s scary, but our attempts to try to keep things under control aren’t necessarily going to make it better. Will you let go and trust God to carry you through instead?

Things don’t always go as planned… but we can trust in God’s greater plan.

I’m a rather obsessive planner and often plan my schedule at least a month in advance (not my greatest trait). But I’m learning to be more spontaneous and to be comfortable with uncertainty and deviations to my plans. As expected, someone who loves to plan doesn’t fit in well with the ever-changing nature of trail running.

I’ve nearly sprained my ankle on loose rocks, tripped over a tree root, ran in the rain and faced more monkeys than I would have liked (shoutout to my running buddy for protecting me from monkeys even though I’m 1.5x her size). But we don’t beat ourselves up for these things that happen on the trails, because nobody can plan for these little misadventures. Although these unexpected occurrences seem small, and even laughable, perhaps we can apply the same mindset to our lives. We don’t always have answers for why certain things happen but we can learn to accept it as part of the journey rather than viewing all ‘bad things’ as punishments, poor luck or our faults.

I’ve also learnt that not all detours are bad. Sometimes we make the wrong turn and find ourselves faced with a crazy climb at the peak of our exhaustion. But sometimes it leads us to a beautiful, hidden trail. It is also comforting to remember that a little detour in the route doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. It might mean that your journey might take a little longer but a wrong turn isn’t going to change God’s plan for you!

“…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 

Ultimately, our life (and running) journeys will never be perfect… but learning to embrace the little detours and surprises along the way might make the process more enjoyable. When the journey gets tough, it’s okay to slow down or even stop for a break. But always remember to look up: Look for the beauty in every circumstance, realise there are people who want to walk with you and most importantly, know there is a God who loves you and can carry you through any situation. When the race seems arduous, find peace knowing that you can rest in Him. When you’re lost, trust Him to guide you because He cares and He sees far more than we can see.

I’m not perfect, and I’m far from running the race as I should be: With my eyes set on God alone; relying on Him and running for Him. But I hope that these lessons I’ve learnt while running on trails might speak to you just as they have served as reminders for me in my life.

(Featured Image Credits: Saalbach)


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