Trail Brain

Do we spend too much time thinking about the “whys” and the “hows” of trail running?

Can there be certain times throughout our trail running lives when it makes sense to slow down, take a step backwards and re-asses how we mentally approach the sport that we love?

Over time it’s perfectly normal to experience the highs and lows of this sport. Loss of running mojo, injury and bad patches can collide haphazardly with explosive enthusiasm, good form, and those perfect trail running days out in nature. And especially after a number of years, one gets used to the normality of fluctuating motivation and also becomes familiar with the many physical and emotional levels associated with running.

We take it in our stride and push on – regardless.

But how much time we spend thinking about our own trail running capabilities, will serve as an indicator (which should come with big flashing warning lights) that it may make sense for some of us, at some point, to liberate our brains of an overload of ‘trail running thoughts’.

Warning lights thought overload

Let’s put this into perspective and explore a concrete example of how this could be a harmful procedure at certain times in our trail running lifetime.

Do you often feel you have to attain faster running speeds on the trails?

Lets take a moment to look at this:

Speed isn’t really the key issue anymore. But ‘have to attain’, is really the chunk of words that gets those alarm bells ringing. Lets see why this could be…

Oppressive Trail Thought

By repeatedly thinking that we ‘have to attain’ faster speeds, we automatically place ourselves in a ‘slow’ category. Hence: we are ‘slow’ therefore we have to get faster on the trails.
So we start to perceive ourselves as slow runners. The risk here being that the word ‘slow’ – in this precise case – can become akin to ‘inferior’.

Get the idea…? We are slow/inferior in comparison to the fast/superior runners.

And you can see where this is leading… without doing anything, we’ve attached an ‘inferior’ label to our trail running selves. Which may not help all of us, and can leave some of us in not such a good headspace.

Let’s look at ‘Slow’… Even just thinking of ourselves as ‘slower’ instead of ‘slow’, we’ll start by doing ourselves less harm.

In a trail race, ‘slower’ will be everyone who finished after the first person across the line. And yes, that includes Kilian Jornet at 2017 UTMB.
Now that doesn’t mean that everyone should be content with their speed. But there are times when it makes sense to just accept who we are and where we are at. Ease off the pressure and remove all labels which in any way class us as ‘inferior’. As we are all familiar with that blurred line that often accompanies these sort of thoughts, one that can pump up negative perceptions that we may inadvertently let spread across other areas of our life.

Stop that overthinking thought process!
Stop that overthinking thought process!

Re-dimensioning the trail thought process

So what can we do, if we find ourselves overthinking our trail life, with the perilous results of entering a circular thought process, whereby we hold ourselves accountable as persons for those less than perfect days on the trails?

We can ask ourselves why we need to go faster, and why is it so important to us. What will change when and if we become a faster runner?

It’s handy to remember that just a really tiny number of elite runners make up that small tip of the massive iceberg made of thousands of just ordinary trail runners. If we can’t really come up with good reasons, for why we ‘have to’ get faster, well then we should perhaps consider that we may be overthinking this issue.

And sometimes, it just makes more sense to accept what and who we are, and make the best of it, without stressing too much if we can’t knock off those seconds to the mile.

Maria E. BelliniMaria Elisabetta Bellini is’s founder, born in the U.K, she came to running whilst living in Italy, where she still lives and trains. Never ceasing to marvel at what’s at the summit of a hill, or around the bend along the trail, she loves using trail running as a means to explore nature, contemplation and Italy.