Rediscovering Nature beneath the Soles of My Sneakers

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.Trail Run 1

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 doingSchenley Trail 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.Trail Run 2

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.

Marathon Medal

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  • The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!

    March 20, 2018

    By: Josh Doty of Foto-Foraging

    Spring is here. If you have been hiding from the snow and cold temperatures, it is now time to venture outdoors again. There is so much to see, even if you only have a chance to go to your local park or even your own backyard.

    The Nature Treasure Hunt

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     » Read more about: The Nature Treasure Hunt is Here – Join Now!  »

  • Winter Tree ID

    March 13, 2018

    By: Iris Marzolf

    My favorite Venture Outdoors program I’ve attended thus far is the Winter Tree ID hike in January at Frick Park.

    It was an educational hike, so participants got a two-for-one deal—exercising while learning how to identify trees without leaves. Winter tree identification is a lot easier and more engaging than one would think. My opinion of trees in winter is generally negative; they look like dull brown skeletons. They’re all the same. Ugly.

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  • Youth Mental Health First Aid

    March 6, 2018

    By: Maggie Zangara

    On November 20, 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in an interesting training hosted by Venture Outdoors. The name of the training was Youth Mental Health First Aid, and it took place at Venture Outdoors through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. A fun fact is that Lady GaGa, who is a first aider herself and an advocate of the program, has set a goal of getting 150,000 people trained this year.

    Youth Mental Health First Aid ActivityThe intent of the training was to teach family members, teachers, school staff, health and human services workers and other caring citizens how to help adolescents who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

     » Read more about: Youth Mental Health First Aid  »

  • Rachel Carson Trails

    February 27, 2018

    By: Amy Nelson, Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, Member and Volunteer 

    In 2015, three friends and I did the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge  for the first time. We were avid road runners, bored with the monotony of pavement.  A 34-mile trek through the woods seemed like a great way to mix things up. Cut to the day of the event. Twenty miles into it, we experienced a torrential downpour which caused mud slides on some of the steepest hills. Mother Nature can be cruel.  By the time the last five miles rolled around our spirits were broken and we prayed for it to be over.

     » Read more about: Rachel Carson Trails  »

  • Leaving No Trace

    February 20, 2018

    By: Sara Cardamone

    At the Annual Volunteer Meeting, I had the opportunity to attend the Leave No Trace breakout session. Led by Joel Johnston, the interactive gathering was focused on educating participants on what Leave No Trace is truly about. Here are some of the things that I learned!

    Leave No Trace was launched when attendance at parks started to increase, so much so that it was taking a toll on the environment. The mission of the organization is to “protect the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly”. This comes in the form of seven principles that one should keep in mind when enjoying the outdoors.

     » Read more about: Leaving No Trace  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Sunset Paddle

Thank you for another great season!
We’ll see you on the water in 2018!


Featured Outing


About Boating Safely
Saturday, March 24
9 AM – 5 PM

Join Venture Outdoors and members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary for About Boating Safely. This course gives participants the knowledge needed to obtain a boat license or safety certification in Pennsylvania.