By: Cheyenne Knight
When I signed up for my first half marathon, I vowed to train entirely outdoors. I knew that climbing on a treadmill day after day to stare at the same patch of grass, the same residence hall, and the same students walking to class for four months of training would take all the fun out of it.
So I vowed to train outdoors, even if that meant enduring weather that I never ran in and exploring parts of Pittsburgh that I never saw before. I took it as an opportunity to challenge myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. I also took it as an opportunity to rediscover my love for the outdoors. After spending almost every day sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen for hours, I was ready for a reason to get outdoors and reconnect with nature.
Over the past four months of training, I have learned a lot about the outdoors during my runs.
I learned that nature doesn’t take in the consideration of anyone. Regardless of what your training schedule calls for on a particular day, the weather is going to do as it pleases. It snowed today? Put on your ear warmers and gloves, slip an extra pair of socks on, and put those dorky shoe spikes your grandmother got you for Christmas over your sneakers to prevent slipping. (If you don’t wear them, I can almost guarantee you’re going to slip. I learned that the hard way.) It’s currently raining? Find a waterproof jacket and a baseball cap. It’s 80 degrees in March? Please don’t forget your sunscreen. This is Pittsburgh, remember. You are bound to experience all four seasons within your few months of training.
I learned that there are places in the city that you can really only experience on foot, and if you haven’t been there before, you are missing out. While training, I finally found the rest of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that I hadn’t seen before, and was blown away by the views that this trail had to offer. I was able to experience Pittsburgh through the woods, near the road, along the river, and across the bridges just by running one path.
I learned that running without music or a friend to talk to really allows you to immerse yourself in your surroundings. I used to not be able to run without music, finding it difficult to really focus on the task at hand and using music as a way to distract myself from how much I didn’t enjoy running. After I started running longer distances through the woods, however, I decided to put my headphones away and really pay attention to what was going on around me—I hadn’t realized how much I was missing. I heard different wildlife, smelled different flowers, saw different trees I hadn’t noticed before. Even the air felt different. I felt more present, and it made for much more enjoyable runs.
I learned that my exercise does not have to be confined to four walls and gym equipment. As a fitness minor and aspiring personal trainer, much of what I enjoy doing involves working out in a gym atmosphere. As a nature lover, however, it is hard for me to stay indoors on beautiful summer days. I now appreciate that I can adapt my exercise to outdoor spaces and really utilize the parks and trails around me.
I learned that I never regret facing my fears and stepping outside of my comfort zone. Since I’m usually stuck in Oakland during the school year, I don’t know many of the other neighborhoods and parks in Pittsburgh. Prior to training, I stuck to running the same few trails in Schenley Park. I was wary about adventuring somewhere new, on foot, alone. But I did it, and now I am thankful that I can navigate so many different trails in Pittsburgh and have the confidence in myself to embark on new paths.
If you are looking to sign up for a race or a trail ride, or just want to spend more time outdoors, lace up your sneakers and hit the trails around Pittsburgh. Keep your headphones at home and really listen to the world around you. Be mindful of the path before you, but don’t forget to take a few moments to look around and take the scenery in. I promise that you won’t regret it.