by Kristina Randrup, Geographic Information System (GIS) intern; UW Class of ‘19
I’m at my happiest when I’m running. Or, more specifically, I’m at my happiest when I’m running on a trail, preferably in a forest. I grew up hiking and backpacking, mostly in the regional parks around the San Francisco Bay Area in California, complemented by trips to Yosemite National Park. I didn’t start running consistently until my freshman year of high school, and I began running competitively in my junior year.
Learning to run in the Bay Area naturally pushed me to trail running because of the extensive park system in my backyard. As an undergrad at the University of Washington, my sneakers primarily pounded the pavement, but I still found success racing on the trail. Since January, I have made the conscious effort to focus primarily on trail running, and I haven’t regretted this decision once.
Trail running is hard – like, really hard – but it’s among the most beneficial exercises both physically and mentally. The mental benefits are two-fold: 1) As running and exercise can slow mental degeneration, it follows that the constant changing terrain and technicality of trails will increase these effects and 2) Spending time outdoors is known to improve mental health. Even just brief exposure to nature and the outdoors can improve mental health, but getting farther away from urban distractions increases the benefits immensely. And, speaking from experience, I know I’ve been at my happiest since getting the chance to play around on trails and explore new places more frequently. Trail running has taken me to many places, beautiful beyond words, in and out of Washington. I realize this is a privilege and that not all people enjoy the same access.
My education has taught me the ecological functions behind these places. Now, my internship with The Nature Conservancy is an exciting way to bridge my personal and professional passions, to build a career in protecting these places I love. I chose to study environmental science and resource management because I want to protect and maintain ecosystems and wildlife populations. This desire for conservation would not be as strong if it were it not for my exposure to incredible trails in incredible places. For example, the Marin Headlands is one of my favorite areas in the Bay Area, and now, I get to work for the organization responsible for preventing development of the Marin Headlands and preserving them permanently in partnership with the National Park Service!
I’m not the only one who has made the connection between conservation and trail running. Clare Gallagher, 2019 winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, works with the nonprofit Protect Our Winters (POW). POW mobilizes outdoor sports enthusiasts as advocates for action on climate change. Before the Western States competition, which spans the Sierra Nevadas, Clare spent two weeks in the Arctic Refuge to advocate for its protection.
Trail runners sometimes get a bad rap, but I feel certain that the broad majority of us are eager to protect and maintain the wild places we love. For me, that’s anywhere with a trail and trees. For Clare, that’s coral reefs and snowy mountaintops. I don’t yet know what I’ll be doing in a few months when my internship is over, but I am certain it will involve as much time as possible outdoors, zooming along trails, and finding a way to ensure that our forests stay healthy for generations to enjoy well into the future.
Banner photo: Kristina competes in the 2018 Skyline 50k near the Bay Area in California.
She won the race in 2019! Photo by Let’s Wander Photography