How trail running helped me cope with crisis
Co-founder of Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats Emma Bodkin was buried alive in an avalanche just before COVID-19 hit and the global pandemic which threatened the survival of her business. Here she explains how trail running has helped her cope.
If you had told me the trajectory for 2020 would be to be buried alive in an avalanche for 5 minutes and then 5 weeks later lose your business as part of a global pandemic I would have predicted my own breakdown. But bizarrely I found a way to cope with the internal chaos. A method so simple and primordial that it is available to all.
The avalanche brought me face to face with death. It was acute, obliterating my senses, and led to flash backs, night terrors and surges of adrenaline through my veins that lasted for weeks. Covid-19 was slightly different; lingering both metaphorically and literally. A public detention. A prisoner in my own home. A blast to my travel business. An uncertain sentence with release in a distant future.
All of which led to despair, panic, anxiety, disbelief, insomnia – on repeat. I woke intermittently through the night with panic. I choked on my tears with fear of the dying, fear for the old people alone, fear of when or if I could see my parents again, fear of the unknown. Then I felt my fear was unjustified, so I swallowed it and replaced it with guilt knowing I should feel grateful to be alive and well.
‘I took inspiration from the eagles – the only birds that fly into a storm, and who use a storm to rise. If you want to face your demons, don’t hide from the storm. Run right into it.’
Each morning I collapsed onto the mat; not for yoga but for some type of disjointed prayer interrupted with crying interludes. A strong coffee momentarily washed away the sadness. Death seemed very real to me. The fragility of humanity had been highlighted in neon.
I grabbed my trainers and headed out into nature, for trail running for me is the most efficacious way to deal with anxiety. I took inspiration from the eagles – the only birds that fly into a storm, and who use a storm to rise. If you want to face your demons, don’t hide from the storm. Run right into it.
Running makes you resilient. It’s a cathartic process. It’s not about the km or the time on the clock, but about entering into the deepest darkest crevasses of your mind. It’s about accessing a wild sinew of the human spirit that you never even knew existed. It’s about finding inner resilience and fighting to overcome not only physical pain but also your darkest demons.
The mind can be both your purest nirvana and your worst nemesis. Whether you prosper or plummet from the pain depends on the perception, for all things are relative. The discomfort of running comes in waves, and when you understand the nature of nature and continuous change you can ride the waves and even start to enjoy the ride.
In this way, trail running in the mountains saved me from myself. The topography of any run at altitude is enough to generate nausea. When you run at night, as I also did, your consciousness is magnified and alert, each km invoking some higher awareness. Such ultra running encouraged a profound pivotal change in my inner world, and allowed me to reignite my spirit.
I ran for those stuck in hospitals unable to breathe, I ran for the workers facing this horror, I ran for the grieved, I run because I had been blessed with the strength to do so. You don’t have to run long distances through mountains to feel the benefits. All movement has the potential to transform emotion – give it a go.
Plan Ahead for a post-pandemic retreat
Mountain Beach Fitness Retreats, Switzerland
Switzerland has been declared the world’s safest country by WHO, and the Swiss government has relaxed border restrictions to UK and EU travellers. So from 13 July, Mountain Beach Fitness is offering both six day and weekend fitness retreats. Outdoor fitness, small group sizes, and the privacy and flexibility of your own choice of accommodation will ensure your COVID-19 safety while you boost your wellbeing against a backdrop of remote mountain trails, fresh alpine air and refreshing glacial lakes. Retreats run July 13-18 , August 2-9, 16-23, Sept 5-12 2020. Contact them for weekend options.