Facing Goliath: My fight with the forest

The forest in a conservation area near my home. (Photo by Raechel Bonomo/NCC staff)

The forest in a conservation area near my home. (Photo by Raechel Bonomo/NCC staff)

February 12, 2018 | by Raechel Bonomo

It was a brisk, fall morning in late September. I remember waking up and hoping that the reported rain for the previous night had held off. As the sun streamed through my bedroom window, my inner plea had been answered when I saw a dry road staring back at me. It was a perfect day for a run.

I was in the middle of training for my first race — a five-kilometre run along Toronto’s waterfront in October. As someone who has struggled with weight and cardio-intensive exercise for as long as I can remember, this was one milestone I was looking forward to achieving.

As I set out for my morning run, I began at a steady pace, making my way from my house to the neighbouring conservation area. The area consists of 20 acres (eight hectares) of trails that wind through diverse habitats, including hardwood and coniferous forests, open fields, meadows and wetlands. The area is well-known as an off-leash dog park, one that I visit frequently with my pug. An added bonus for running here is seeing a bunch of dogs along the way!

As anyone who has run in a forest knows, the terrain can be tough to negotiate. You have to be very careful, keeping an eye out for uneven ground, trees, plants and other humans. I’ve run in this forest on a number of occasions, so I was fairly confident that I knew the land well enough to take a path I had yet to explore.

Along I went, the voice of Ira Glass from the This American Life podcast in my ears, until I came upon a divot in the path. I lunged forward, trying to hop over the small pile of leaves over the divot when my foot landed on a wet rock, slippery from the blanket of brush covering it. My ankle twisted, and I hit the forest floor hard.

Running in nature (Photo from Masterfile)

Running in nature (Photo from Masterfile)

One thing came to mind as soon as I hit the ground: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In this case, I was the fallen tree and yes, it does make a sound ― a loud, horrible sound. I wailed out, hoping someone was nearby, but I was alone. I looked at my phone, praying that ― if I needed to ― I could call someone for help. No bars.

Propping myself up on my elbows, I gingerly raised my right leg and supported it on my left knee. I knew that if I saw bone, I would pass out, but I braced myself anyway. Luckily my ankle was in one piece, but the swelling had started almost immediately. I wiggled my right foot just enough to determine that my ankle wasn’t broken and whether I could walk to find help. Using a nearby tree, I hoisted myself up and began the long hobble home.

For a while afterward, I was mad at the forest ― almost as much as I was mad at myself for not being more careful. How could the forest have betrayed me when I had spent so many weekends revelling in it ― on my runs, or with my dog, or even for a quick hike when I needed to leave reality for a moment? I developed a fear of the forest, and although I still went for walks there, I couldn’t bring myself to run in it.

After my ankle healed (it was only a sprain, thankfully), I began to run again. Unfortunately, I was unable to compete in the race I had planned for, but was glad to be out again so soon after my fall. Each time I headed out, I would run by the forest, often glaring at it from a distance.

Much like the previous hang-ups, such as the fear of giving up when the going got tough that I experienced before beginning my weight-loss journey, I knew I had to get over this one, too. It was early November and snow was in the forecast, so I knew my fight with the forest needed to happen sooner rather than later.

On a morning much like the one of my fateful fall, I braced myself for the cold and headed out. For a split second, I almost didn’t make the turn where the street ends and the conservation parking lot area began. I was terrified of falling and of failing myself again. I took a deep breath and headed into the forest. It was time that David faced Goliath.

I remember seeing the exit gate when I turned the corner, and took a big sip of air and let it out. I finally let go of my grudge against this forest that I loved so much ― a forest that has served me well in so many ways. I made it out unscathed, and I never felt more alive than in that moment. It was like I won my own personal race — not against the forest, but against myself.

If you also want to get into forest running, be mindful of your surroundings, always bring a phone with you, and let others know where you are. Then, you're all set to enjoy this invigorating form of exercise in nature.

Raechel Bonomo (Photo by Chase Wastesicoot)

About the Author

Raechel Bonomo is the content creator/staff writer at the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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