During Mental Health Awareness Month this year we wanted to talk about how time spent outdoors, and specifically trail running, can have positive mental health effects. We asked several of our Merrell Test Lab professional athletes to tell us how trail running has helped them improve their own mental health.
Rachel Tomajczyk – USA
Trail running has huge benefits for my mental health. Although the culture is changing, having run track and cross country in college, it was very easy to believe what a lot of college track athletes believe: “lighter equals faster.” This led to an eating disorder through half of my college career that I eventually fought myself out of. Trail running helped me overcome the thought that “lighter is faster” because I have to be strong to run up and down mountains. If I’m light and weak, the trails and mountains will tear me apart! Running on the trails makes me feel grateful for the body I have, and when I’m standing on top of a mountain I just ran up, I feel strong and powerful.
The beauty of nature also boosts my mental health. I’ve run in tremendously different types of terrain, including forests of golden aspen trees in Flagstaff, lush mountains in the Bosque country of Spain, green Thai jungles teeming with life, and the stunning red rock wilderness of Sedona, just to name a few. My faith is very important to me, and I feel most spiritually connected when I’m in such awe-inspiring landscapes. This, in turn, makes me more grateful for this life and earth that I get to explore. Running in the vastness of the Grand Canyon or looking up at a giant mountain I’m about to climb gives me perspective on life as well. It makes me feel small, which humbles me and molds me into a more compassionate and empathetic person, and it places my heart in a position of gratitude that I’m able to live my life out.
Aum Gandhi – USA
Mental health is an ongoing struggle that so many people deal with in silence. I believe that everyone deals with it to some degree, no matter what walk of life you come from. Being able to have a platform with Merrell so that I can convey how running saved my life has been an experience that I can barely put into words. Endurance sports aren’t just about who is the fastest or who is the strongest; they’re about the battle within. It’s right within the name, through the word “endure.” Life makes us endure many trials and tribulations that affect our mental health, and it’s my honor to show through action how the trails can help you prepare for life.
Reid Burrows – North America
I’ve struggled with my mental health for my entire adult life. When I was struggling the most with depression and my identity, I stumbled upon the trails in my backyard. The more time I spent in nature, the better I felt, and I was instantly hooked. The trails have created a safe space for me to quiet that side of my brain. Now, Merrell has given me the ability to run on the trails full time, which means I can protect my mental well-being for a living. While I am now a professional, I was introduced to this sport because of how much nature has helped my mental health. I continue to use trail running and exploring as a part of my toolkit for my overall well-being. The mental clarity and stress relief you’ll feel after spending time in nature are incredible. The sense of accomplishment after conquering a mountain, a race, a trail, or an FKT is equally empowering. So, get outside, lace up your Merrell trail shoes, and explore your local trails.
Brandon Miller – Canada
Trail running has been a huge benefit to my overall mental health. Before getting back into running post-university, I worked in a stressful field engineering job that consumed a significant portion of my life, leaving me with no work-life balance. As I rediscovered my love for running and took it a step further by jumping into trail running, I found that being out in nature really helped to quiet my mind. The varied terrain and beautiful scenery provide so many wonderful distractions that you wouldn’t typically find even when road running. When I saw the positive changes, I made it a priority to strive for a better work-life balance, which further improved my mental health. It has been a journey, and day-to-day life can still be a bit of a roller coaster. However, year over year, the improvement in my mental health is clear.
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