The Joy of Exploration

Becoming and staying fit outdoors

Ian MacNairn
Ian McNairn runs through Larch Valley in Banff National Park. Photo: Brian Buchsdruecker

Opportunity to participate in health-building activity, as is the case with all sport or fitness pursuits, is a wonderful privilege.

We build a stronger, more capable body; we gain mental clarity and contentment; and find greater confidence in new ability while engaging in playful movement. These benefits can be found in all settings of motion. However, when we move our pursuit of being fit outdoors, we access a world of exploration and joy not available in the constructed spaces of the gym, track, pitch or arena.

I can build (and have in the past) an incredibly fit and strong body indoors. It performs well, to be sure. Yet, the outcome of paces run, distances covered or one-rep maxes don’t hold enough sway to be continually fulfilling in my hopes of remaining healthy and fit. Exploration fills our practice in those ways that transcend the physical or mental reinforcements of indoor training and competing.

I have found that exploring and following joy has been the strongest motivator and support in becoming fit and maintaining performance and health. I find and seek out joy, most intimately and resoundingly, in travelling the world underfoot. The joy of exploring my own mind and body through movement and the world I traverse, is opened to me when I step outside.

Getting out and being active — bolstering health and fitness — is always an act of joy.

No two days are the same. Infinite trails, paths and roads fill more than my lifetime with opportunities for adventure and exploration. No two kilometres are the same. Even the most gruelling, painful or technically difficult stretches are no more than that. They are steps to test myself and build strong. They become cairns in memory to fully appreciate the feeling of effortlessness of the miles that flow easily.

No two seasons are the same. The sounds, sights, smells, and feeling of the seasons make me feel alive. Outdoors, I experience life around me: the transition of colours, sky, winds; spring’s new life, summer’s abundance, autumn’s maturity and winter’s dormancy; the calls of birds I  recognize from childhood as well as those unfamiliar; the prints and markings of the animals that share the same trails; and the omnipresence of the land — the mountains, forests and plains I move through.

The treadmill, track, and squat rack are constants — unchanging. They help, as tools, build consistency in measured fitness. Yet, their uniformity also limits our ability to experience the entirety of fitness and well-being in movement. The undulations of seasons and landscapes in being active outdoors are not solely a path to fitness, health, and improved performance but also a mainline to joyfully inspired movement.

In Canada, we are phenomenally lucky to have access, freely, to the outdoors. We are equally lucky to have such immense variety and magnitude of outdoor space all across our nation. Getting out and being active — bolstering health and fitness — is always an act of joy. In each step on that path of exploring, I strengthen my heart and find it filled with gratitude and joy. I invite you to come along for the run.