Go natural: Spring is (almost) here!

Have you been training mostly inside a gym or at home the past few months? Way back in November, did you stash your outdoor training gear, and haven’t seen it since?

Even if you welcome the challenge of a long hard slog through sleet, snow and ice, by the time spring’s here officially, you’ll be just as psyched at rising temps as those who don’t know the wonders of nose icicles. 

Yesterday, morning rush hour in Northern Illinois, we were still sitting in the 30s. But by noon we were fast approaching 60F with a strong sun. As much as I love wintertime running and hiking, once the mercury climbs that high, it’s over. Bring on the green, the dew and the warming glow of spring.

Spring fever is your body telling you what it needs for good health: open air.

Last year, a review (using data gained from numerous previous studies) found a real improvement in mental well-being for those who take it outside:

[C]ompared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.

Your outdoor runs, hikes, or cycles are probably increasing as the temps rise, anyway. But, here are a few more ways to go natural this spring:

Winter bridge

Plan to run on your local rails-to-trails pathyway. The closest one to me is Long Prairie Trail, which becomes the scenic and historic 1850′s Stone Bridge Trail, a crushed limestone piece of heavenly real estate. They don’t clear these lanes in the winter, so it’s hit-or-miss until spring arrives.


Revisit a favorite park you used to haunt as a kid. Just a few days ago, my sister and I (my teenage niece tagged along, too) went to what was once Chicagoland’s famous public toboggan run, Swallow Cliff. As kids, my dad would pile us up in the car and take us for an afternoon of snowy shushing fun. Now, the slides are silent. But, people still come out to walk up (and down … and up and down again) the 125 steps of its towering hillside stairway, and to run the hilltop trails.


Check to see if  your state offers a Master Naturalist program, and tend to your local natural spaces. Last fall, I completed the University of Illinois-Extension’s training and have been having a ball. So far, I’ve driven a water truck on a prescribed prairie burn; taken photos of a park’s annual holiday walk; worked as a guide at a wetlands preserve event; cleared invasive brush from two different remnant prairies with Boone County Conservation District (join us for volunteer Tuesdays if you can); and sorted seeds. This may not be running, but it’s definitely moving (on many levels)!

Go trail running in a park with a new friend. Last week I revisited a park that I’ve been to (and even raced a half marathon in). What was different this time? I was running alongside a new running friend. Sometimes that’s all you need to make an old park seem like new again. That, and some killer coyote tracks.

coyote tracking

Take a hike and bring a camera. I rarely leave home without my mini Nikon (and most of you have a smartphone always at the ready). While I don’t journal anymore, I do make collages of certain hikes or runs or cycles and share it with friends online. My fav hike so far this year was organized by a running friend who I met through dailymile. We had a terrific day among the frozen waterfalls of Starved Rock. It was cold that day, not very springlike at all, but the bright sunshine and outdoorsy fun sure made it feel like spring was poking its head around the corner at us.


Run with gratitude, breathe in awareness, stop to smell the flowers and dedicate your run to someone other than yourself. Just a few weeks ago, on February 11, on a sunny but sub-zero morning, I joined my local running club (thousands of others across the world virtually) in running for Sherry Arnold.

Arnold was a Montana mom of five who went missing (and was later found dead) after going out for her usual morning jog. If I was running alone that morning, I’m not sure how easy it would have been to gear up and head out into the cold. Running with someone else in mind makes it easier to show up fully, body, mind and spirit. The effort seems to raise the value and experience of each stride set down for them.

virtual run for Sherry Arnold

Last week, I got to experience this again when our local running group ‘ran for two‘, dedicating each mile run to a member who was in ICU at the hospital. My run for Army was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, probably because it got me out of my own thoughts on my training or form or what the weather was like (and believe me, it was nothing if not inclement during those eight miles.)

running for brother Coyote Armando : 'running for two'

Make working outdoors a social thing. I used to generally be a solitary runner. While I still enjoy lacing up and connecting with nature on my own, hearing about incidents like Sherry Arnold makes me appreciate having the option to run with a local group. Mine are the energetic trail runners that call themselves the Coyotes, mentioned above. Lots of bonds, connections, and magic happen when you join others for a run in the sun (or snow).


When traveling, pack your runners and get out and explore a new environment. Slip one of the lighter, slimmer styles popular right now into your bag; they don’t take up too much space. You’ll be glad you did. Running somewhere new, be it in an urban setting like San Diego here, or farther out on a national park trail, nothing does more for your emotional and physical health than a new place to explore, romp and run in.

dailymilers have a way of squeezing out the very best of each season. Ready, set, spring!


What gets you away from a machine and into the natural world for your workout? Where have you had some of your best outdoor moments? How do you go natural?

About Ilona M.

A Midwest-based digital journalist, author and 2011 dailymile team ambassador, Ilona loves trail running, forest hiking, road biking, open water swimming, free weights, meditation and yoga. Aiming to balance her love of motion with the sedentary and still pursuits of research and writing, she hearts dailymile because it keeps her moving, laughing, learning and growing.
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