Read the first part to the series where we discuss the reasons why our mind and body benefits from going off-road. Click here.
6. Nature Supports Mental and Emotional Health
Exposure to nature has been linked to a range of physical and psychological benefits, including “improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.” (APA, 2020).
The smell of fallen leaves that screams autumn as soon as I step out my car door into the forest.
The young morning light beaming through the golden leaves on the branches. Birds chirping. Water trickling.
When I reach the overlook, sun cresting the mountain, the glowing forest. My toes through the crunchy leaf piles.
My dog freely bounding ahead of me. The way her tongue flops across her joyful smile.
My heartbeat in my chest, and the sound of my heavy breath (I get to see it in these early mornings too).
This has an effect on the spirit that I can’t explain without cheapening the experience - but emerging research shows the power of the natural world on our physical and mental health - and it certainly is contributing to my continued engagement and health (Schertz, 2019).
7. Fun Amplification
The sunset overlook begs our appreciation, the flowers demand our attention. We are forced to stop, recover, and allow the journey to revitalize us. A break from the monotony. With the whooshes of tires and wind at our backs, we can’t steer so far from playfulness when constantly rushed with the unexpected joy.
8. Detachment from the Metrics
While the pace on a flat road can haunt a segment hunter or pace fanatic - you learn to loosely attach to the pace and numbers on the trail. For those who are temporarily breaking up with the watch, trail running can support that transition.
Every day bringing new conditions, only comparing yourself to who and where you are in that very moment - not to the run in the snow or the same hill in the mud or the humid and heat.
Some days you humbly walk. We learn to be gentle with ourselves, meeting our self where we are right then and there.
A 12 min/mile on the road might leave one feeling disappointed in a run, however that pace going up a 20% rocky grade as you are hurdling fallen trees leaves you PROUD. The pace becomes irrelevant and we are forced to tune into our breath, our RPE (rate of perceived exertion), measuring ourselves by feel. This process in and of itself taught me to listen and ALIGN my actions accordingly with my body. This greater connection to signals from my body has allowed for greater consistency and self-compassion.
9. Increased Health Longevity
I don’t know about you, but I want to be swimming, biking and running until my days end.
Whole-self health looks like tending to the many aspects of ourselves beyond physical performance.
Here’s the hot tip: whole body performance = athletic performance. It’s ALL related! When we get outside in community, diversify our training regimen, and incorporate mindful practices that support our mental and physical health - we are less likely to burn out.
10. Training for LIFE
You are in it for the long-run (not just the long, run).
Often as athletes training 20+ hours, its easy to forgo “enjoyment” - the little things like grabbing a beer with friends (or N/A, if you so choose), taking a river dip, making dinner with pals, supporting projects and policy in our community, a movie night can get brushed aside for our goals. These have become CONNECTED to what I love and are usually intertwined with movement. Let's never forget the play.
I am training for LIFE, not just the next race. We got to think bigger and broaden our perspective.
11. Benefits from the Natural World
Underemphasized benefits: Vitamin D exposure, stress relief, mental fortitude (ha, the monsoon I’ve raced at Worlds’ developed this), community bonding, and of, course foraging for berries and mushrooms.
A 2011 study compared the mental well-being of participants who exercised indoors to when they exercised in the natural world. They found that “exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy” (Coon, 2011).
12. Whole-Self Resilience
My fitness, strength and athletic ability has never been stronger. I have been competitively training since the age of 6 as a swimmer. A competitive triathlete for 10 years before becoming a professional. I have my degree in Exercise Science. I’ve received Nutritional Certifications. I’ve had the privilege to train with the top coaches. I’ve checked all the “boxes” to seemingly understand precisely what it takes to reach peak performance.
Yet, it was the art and deeper connection to myself gained from exploring off-road triathlon in natural world that allowed for intuitive sense of longing for movement, for long term athletic development, fun amplification, longevity, and decreased risk in overuse injury as I listened to my mind body and soul in what modality and challenge whispered in my ear that day.
Seek New (and Renewal)
If this notion of taking to the unknown—of not controlling the interval of the steep pitch ahead, the looming weather over the mountains, the currents in the ocean, the technicality of rocks the trail—leaves you feeling uncomfortable…maybe that’s the point.
If veering from the path of training to that of trails feels intimidating and challenging in a different way - I invite you to lean into that.
I challenge to you take the uncharted path and the road unclear.
To find inspiration on the trail.
To leave your spirit recharged.
Starting new and fresh looks and feels different for all of us. A new outfit can symbolize that reminder, or it can be the intention we set as we move about our day.
Let this welcomed season be an opportunity for new and renewal. Doing something new is often a risky, unfamiliar, and challenging place where we never fully feel ready, but we sure do feel alive.
About the Author:
Amanda Presgraves uniquely integrates her expertise across food and health, business, athletics, community development and mindset as a: Professional USA Triathlete and Ultra-Endurance Off-Road Athlete, Author of “The NonRecipe Book”,, Food-Startup Entrepreneur, and Mindset Coach located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Harrisonburg, Virginia.