Vicki Woolley, NZ editor’s column from the latest edition of Trail Run Mag.
The other day I picked up a crappy cheap canvas board from The Warehouse, plain black with blue writing: “ONE DAY CAN BEND YOUR LIFE”. It’s not hanging on the wall yet, oddly, I move it around the house every few days. Even now as I glance at it propped up against my computer table, I am simultaneously empowered and humbled.
The course of my life bent dramatically two months ago when Malcolm Law published the story of my battle with mental health issues on the Partners Life High50 Challenge blog page. Within four minutes of it going online, Facebook Messenger began pinging crazily and at the same time, texts came flooding in. Not the sugary messages of sympathy I was dreading, thank god, but empathy for our shared experience. My people – our people – pouring out their own tales of abuse, neglect, obsession, addiction and ultimately – anxiety, depression… finally suicide. Words gushing out, crowding each other on the page, needing to be said, desperate to be heard. So much pain. So many tears. So wrong.
I had always suspected that borderline mental health disorders were over-represented in the trail and ultra running communities, but until Malcolm and Sally Law created a safe platform for the conversations to start, I had not realised how rampant dis-ease in our community is. And I can’t help but suspect it is no accident that so many of us have stumbled into trail running as a strategy for our emotional survival: trail running gives us a huge raft of benefits, possibly more than any other single sport I can think of. Obviously flooding our system with endorphins and adrenaline is a double bonus in that it reduces negativity AND gives us that indomitable ‘runners high’. The physical benefits are obvious: feel strong, feel fit, look good, feel good. Running in wild and beautiful places feeds our souls, our sense of adventure, achievement: it is impossible not to have your spirit touched when running beside thundering West Coast surf, climbing an exposed rocky ridgeline, or cruising silently through a stand of majestic ancient Kauri. And trail running has become a social sport, a way of connecting with like-minded souls.
And now we are at the crux of things. Connecting. Connection. We wonder often – individually and in groups – about the unusual nature of bonds formed on trail. We bond quickly and we bond deeply. Is it because trail runners have a unique interest that is common to all – we love the outdoors? Is it because the boundaries of competition are less clearly delineated than that of flat, fast road running: speed over terrain is subject to so many more variables; gender differences are narrower and vary over distance? Is it because you must have a sense of humility if you run trail – at some point in the game you ARE going to end up face down in mud or gorse with your butt stuck in the air while your mates roar with laughter? Is it because a great number of us run trail to quiet the noise in our heads – and we get that about our companions? Is it a combination of all these, and more?
Whatever: the point is that as we connect on trail, we talk about stuff that matters to us: sport, politics and religion, a shitty week at work, difficult kids and troublesome partners. It’s just a little step further to be more open about ourselves: the things we are struggling with, the areas we need help. Mal, Sal and the Partners High50 Challenge have cracked the door. It’s up to us to start the conversation.
Your thankfully connected editor, Vicki Woolley, NZ