Monday, January 6, 2014

Running "Unplugged"

You've seen them. Those 50-something dudes trekking solo through the woods with nothing but a bandana, some short-shorts and a smile. Those "unplugged" runners who don't need an iPod or a $200 GPS watch to tell them how far they've gone or how their calorie burn is looking. No headphones, no pedometer, no agenda; those guys are also known as my "zen running" heroes. They are among the friendliest people I've met on the trail and also the most mysterious.  
How far are they running? 
Where is their water? 
Katy Perry playlist? 
How is it possible to run long distances without these things? 
Judging by their bulging quads (they're hard NOT to notice), leathery skin and well-worn trail shoes, they are running long distances. They run happily and with very few supplies, it seems. Unless, of course, they have giant pockets full of energy bars, Gatorade and a well-concealed boombox (in which case, never-mind this whole post). 

I feel very 2014 when I come across these guys; geared-out, plugged-in and un-zen. Nevertheless, on a regular day, I'm loaded down with my hydration pack, iPhone, gels/snacks, car keys and small ninja weapon, ready for any hiccup along the way. I wish I didn't feel like I needed all that crap, but when I'm out on the trail solo (with a questionable sense of direction), I want to be prepared. I've seen Dateline NBC, folks. Bad stuff does happen. 

Of course, my favorite (if fictional) "unplugged," "zen-ish" runner is Forrest Gump. I make my husband watch that movie with me at least once a year; this is no small feat due to the fact that he also has to listen as I recite almost every word. Not sure why, but he finds this slightly annoying (?!). 

Anyway, its hard to choose a favorite Forrest Gump scene, but the running scene gets me every time (I'm also a sucker for the shrimp-boat part, but that's not exactly relevant here). I think most runners can relate to his journey. It's about finding yourself, defining your life, staying grounded and, in Forrest's case, moving on (damn you, Jenny!). Running is therapy; for your mind, body, soul and quads. Periodically removing all the extra gear/baggage aids in the therapy-area of the running routine, for me, anyway. 

To truly un-plug from the rest of the high-speed world is to plug-in to your body, to quietly focus on your blessings and to enjoy the beauty of the trail and the world around you.

So, I make it a point every now and then to go for a run totally solo; no devices, no distractions. Just me & the trail, for as long as I feel like it, sans agenda or goal. I try to do my "zen-running" in an area that's well-traveled, safe and usually with a loop trail, so I'm never too far from my car. I'm not gonna go totally backwoods, ya'll. 

Yesterday I ran for about an hour at Robious Landing Park in Midlothian. This is a nice little spot right on the James River. I ran 4 laps around their 1.5 mile loop trail. If I were a truly unplugged runner, I wouldn't have been counting laps, but we all have our quirks. The mostly-flat trail is hard-packed gravel and dirt, with some pretty serious mud in certain spots, especially close to the river. I would have snapped a photo, but I that would have been a very un-Forrest Gump thing to do.

It was so quiet; the only sounds were the river rushing, my feet hitting the ground (or slipping in the mud) and the squirrels throwing acorns at me. Every now and then, I'd hear a dog barking or a kid laughing. After 6ish miles, I figured that was far enough; I headed home to hang with my little family, refreshed and feeling pretty dang zen.