Mirna Valerio Finds Body Autonomy On The Trail

Photo: Michelle Craig

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Body Autonomy is a term that has been tossed around quite a bit as of late. In spheres as public as the supreme court and as private as what you’re doing with your body right now as you sit and read this on your couch in your place of residence.

So, what, in fact does it mean, why is it even a thing, and what implications does it have for this increasingly non-niche sport of trail running? According to various sources, Body Autonomy is the notion that we have the right to govern ourselves without external interference or coercion.

I tend to lean more towards the idea of defining body autonomy as a subset of self-reliance.  Not to get too Burning Man here, but what happens when we consider ourselves as mostly self-reliant, self-responsible, and mostly autonomous beings? I think our individual sojourns on the trail explain a lot.

Imagine yourself out on a run in a quiet forest, or on a busy county road, or on the treadmill. You suddenly you have a thought, a question, burning in your throat, dry as the air in the whipping cold wind (or the fan from the machine) desperately trying to knock you over. But somehow your body prevails and remains upright, strong, and still moving through space.

Do you have the right to exist in that space, in your body, as you are?

I’ve been thinking about this question as I travel the world, running across soft sand dunes in the Sahara, over the technical, rooty, and rocky trails of the Appalachians, the undulating, alpine footpaths of the west, and the wet, lava-etched trails of the Azores. Do I have a right to inhabit these spaces? Does my body belong here and there, on these trails, moving as it is wont to do?

I think about this a lot on the trail. My body does, in fact, belong in the condition, shape, and size that it is, and I am responsible for what I do to it, for it, and with it.

When I’m out in the forest, my brain and body are responsible for how my foot responds to the small, shaky boulder it has landed on. I’m in charge of how I respond to it and forge ahead. I am in charge of the twists and turns my body makes along the trail, and I am responsible for respecting nature as she gives me the opportunity to run on the pathways formed by humans and animals alike.

I am responsible for what happens to my body, and therefore I will take precautions to keep mine, and others’ safe. I will keep the land safe, I will act and behave in the best interest of all on the trail and the trail itself.  With this sense of empowerment, responsibility, and strength comes a radical reliance on myself–and my ability to propel myself forward, to the heed the warnings of my body, and the warnings that nature has so graciously offered about the health of her orb.

I gain mental and physical fortitude while out participating in nature, as I was intended, as an animal that inhabits and embodies the earth. I gain knowledge that my body can and will do a range of things, from moving forward, to helping me quickly bend at a moment’s notice to avoid a low-hanging branch poised to impale me in the eye, to warning me of imminent danger when it senses its presence. It is with this incredible sense of being that I myself flourish in this world, knowing the unique power and responsibility I hold, and that it connects me intimately with the world around me. I’ve seen this in my own running circles, but much more than anything, in the folks I know that have adapted trail running as their main source of running activity, their knowledge of self, their ability to depend on themselves in challenging conditions (and therefore, other areas of life), and the knowledge that they belong on the trail in their bodies right now.

Mirna Valerio, also known as the Mirnavator, is a trail runner, writer and motivational speaker. You can find her @themirnavator on Instagram or find her book, A Beautiful Work in Progress, here.

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