How trail-running helped me ‘lose my mind and find my soul’

Miranda Phipps and her father after completing the Rough Trail 25k, organized by Next Opportunity Events.

Miranda Phipps

I spent five months of 2018 in treatment for an eating disorder. Now, almost two years to the date of when I left to go to treatment, I will be running my first ultramarathon. I could never have imagined that this was a possibility back then. Yet here I am in recovery, healthy and happy, and I owe a lot of that to the healing I’ve found on the trails.

I have run off and on since I was about 12, but at the height of my eating disorder my relationship with exercise wasn’t so healthy. I had to give it up in my early recovery, but eventually I was able to lace up my shoes again. My runs started out short and on sidewalks — nothing like they are now. I didn’t ever want them to turn into a compulsion or part of an eating disorder, and through them I found trail running.

Something about trail running just made sense to me. I study environmental science and love hiking and hanging out with trees. The more I learned about the people who sometimes ran for days at a time, the more I realized I had found my tribe. They were average people who didn’t push for weight loss or restrictive diets. They just ran for the love of the run. So, I did too. (We all might be just a bit crazy, too.)

I found that after the first few miles everything else faded away. I was too busy trying not to trip on roots and running away from snakes to think about anything else. I started listening to my body, because I had no other choice if I wanted to stay injury free. I got to spend my time in the middle of the woods bumping into other hikers, trail-runners and all kinds of wildlife. I could finally run away from the world without running away from my problems or my demons anymore.

Over time, I started adding more miles, and I found my “why.” Why do I run for hours at a time? Why do I spend my free time making my legs turn to jelly? Because I can! Because I respect my body, love what it allows me to do, and am making peace with it. Because I get to explore. Because I get to do it with my dad. Because I love it, and because it makes me feel free.

I’m not super-fast, and I’ll never be competitive. And that’s okay with me, because I do it for me. I run for the love of the run. And I run because it keeps me sane and reminds me just how great recovery is.

Things look different with COVID-19. My race is going to be virtual and verified by the organization, but that’s okay. No matter what is going on in this world, I’ve still got my trail shoes and a world I can explore… on the trails and staying isolated from anyone else.

In the words of the great John Muir, “Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” I’ve found who I was always meant to be somewhere in those countless miles through the woods of Kentucky.