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Trail running and stress management

By Angie Yan

What gets you out of bed every morning? Do you ever feel stressed about embracing the challenges of a new day? If you feel hesitant in answering these questions, please consider giving trail running in the early morning a shot.

At the age of 24, in early-2016 I was diagnosed with stage-2 lymph cancer – a lucky discovery from a morning run when I was training hard for my 1st half marathon and pushing at sub-5min/km, which got me into a car accident. It was 2 years after I graduated with a law degree from the University of Cambridge, and right at the start of my legal career in Hong Kong. Completely surprised, as I’ve always been known as athletic and health conscious, even my oncologist couldn’t identify any particular cause nor family history. Nevertheless, he suggested a generic cause which gave me a wake-up call: Stress.

It goes without saying – and I believe everyone would agree – being in nature and enjoying some fresh air is a great way to relieve stress. As a cancer survivor and lawyer working in a fast-paced city like Hong Kong, I say from the bottom of my heart that trail running is a great way to relieve stress because (to name a few):

1. Breathing in the arms of Mother Nature – Air is fresher and crisper in the early morning, and did I mention birds singing?

2. Focusing on one simple goal – Placing one foot in front of the other, finding your balance and avoiding rocks and roots on the trail. Going at your own pace so long as you feel safe. Focusing on the simple objective of not tripping over blocks any other stressful thoughts from your brain. Oh, there’s simply no room for stress.

3. Time away from phone / prolonged screen time – Feeling stressed-out from the numerous notifications on your phone? Why not take a break from them and enjoy quietly observing the natural surroundings around you?

4. “Me time” for decluttering your mind and self-reflection at the beginning of the day – Once you get into your own zone of focusing on your steps and quietly observing the natural surroundings, wouldn’t you feel you’re freeing your mind from stressful external thoughts and circumstances that are outside your control?

5. Being minimalistic – Physically, you’d like to carry minimal weight so that you can run as freely as possible. Mentally, being in your own zone and thinking about what your body, mind and soul really need. Do you need any (or any more) stress? A healthy dose of pressure may be good for self-motivation but has that crossed the tipping point to create unnecessary stress? If you’re to think like a minimalist and look for an efficient and effective solution, does stressing out help achieve that objective? Ask yourself, do you need that stress? No.

Just as most things in life, adequate planning for a trail run session may be helpful in reducing any avoidable stress. Simple things like checking the weather forecast, planning your route and estimating completion time, and packing before you go to bed – so that you can treat yourself to a well-deserved fun run first thing in the morning!

Having said all of the above – and despite being an early bird – I also believe trail running is awesome at any time of the day, as long as weather, body condition and time allows. Also, if you aren’t sure about routes and your estimated completion time – why not pick a day when you have more spare time for a stress-free run or join Asia Trail Girls’ running events to get a taste of trail running? Looking forward to meeting you on the trails soon!

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