I was 11 years old when I first began running. A complete novice, at best. (Is there anything lower than a novice? If so, that was me.) I grew up seeing my Dad lace up shoes and head out the door, only to return with his shirt pasted to his body with his sweat and holding my nose to combat the stench that he brought with him into the house. In my early years, I was a gymnast, running for no purpose seemed, well, purposeless.
But during my most awkward seventh grade year I had to join my classmates in running the dreaded mile in gym. After completing my mile, the gym teacher asked if I wanted to join the track team. Of course, my seventh grade ego couldn’t turn good ‘ole Mrs. “B” down. I mean, I was personally invited. Certainly that meant that I had an amazing measure of natural ability. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with the track team simply needing bodies to fill spots on a less than popular school sport.)
Either way, I ended up on the track team during my seventh year and, to put it mildly, I was bad. That first year I ran each lap around the track feeling as though I was running with cement blocks on my feet. My footing was awkward, my understanding of running was nil, and my confidence was as shaky as my feet on the cinder track we ran on back in the day.
During the fall of the next year, my eighth grade year, my ego continued to guide me, and I joined the cross-country team. Surrounded by a great team and coach and a little more understanding of running, I grew to love the sport. I made the decision to walk away from eight years of devotion to gymnastics and throw myself into running.
A commitment to running is a decision I will never, ever regret.
I have been running for 27 years since that first day I stood on the track as a new runner. (Go ahead and do the math on my age, I’ll wait.)
Twenty-seven years later, I am still running. Twenty seven years of running the roads. Running off-roads. Training for marathons and half marathons. Competing. Running for pleasure. Running on teams and running solo. Running through injury and even more difficult, waiting through injury.
Running is the place where the cob-webs in my head clear. The place where the puzzles become do-able. On the road, I find answers, or at least, peace where there are no answers.
Thus, Lesson’s From the Road. . .
Early this morning, before the sun even crested the horizon behind our house, Chad and I set out for a long run. The quiet of the early morning surrounded us and it seemed that only the birds were aware that morning had arrived earlier than the day before. We started out in quiet, with only our pounding feet and soft breathing accompanying the songs of the birds.
We live at the top of a hill. Surrounded by another hill. And another. In truth, there is no escaping hills where we live. The brutal hills are what make our landscapes so beautiful on a drive, but devastating during a run. As soon as we descend our hill we turn right and are met with a steep hill that makes the saying , ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger’ make complete sense. That first hill has taught us to stay pretty quiet, conserve the all important energy to make it to the top. We made it up that first hill and continued our run straight which led to yet another hill and then another long hill during the first mile of our run.
As we approached the top of that third hill I was lost in thought when I heard Chad say, I was feeling pretty good until that last hill–now I’m not feeling so good anymore.
I smiled at Chad’s statement and I shared with him what I had been thinking as we crested that third hill, I was just thinking about how we should never make a decision when we are in the middle or even at the very end of a hill. The hill is the worst part, I mused. The hill wears us down and makes us feel like we can’t go another step. It’s harder to breathe on the hill and it’s more difficult to think clearly. The hill feels devastating. But then, just a little down the road, where the road stays calm, giving us a little time to recover, we feel brand new again. The hill is a small part of the entire run.
As our run continued, I thought more about the hills (especially since we climbed no less than 10 more of them during the run) and I thought about how the hills mirror life. Living in this world brings with it so many devastating trials. “Hills” shall we say? Life is a constant walk through hills often couched between moments of calm. The hills wear us out. Sometimes, the hills even make us feel helpless or hopeless. The hills are often scary. The hills make us wonder–will I make it?
The hills have taught me much about running. The hills have taught me much about life.
1. Never make a big decision on the hill.
The hill might make us want to turn around and go back. The hill might make us want to stop. The hill might make us feel like we can’t go on. I’ve learned that making a decision on a hill or during a time of life crisis is never wise. I’ve learned that it’s better to wait until I’m at the top or on the other side. I remember after my Mom died, my Dad told me that he was not making any big decisions for a year. He had to settle in and get comfortable and get a little beyond the hill. I’ve learned it’s important to allow some time for recovery and a clear mind. Big decisions should never be made on a hill.
2. The hill does not define you.
I’ve learned that when I feel weary on a hill it doesn’t define the entire run. The hills are to be expected. (I mean, we live in Amish Country). In the same way, being human comes with the promise of pain, trials, and it’s fair share of hills. It is up to me to choose not to let the hill define the total experience, just as the hill does not have to define the entire run.
3. The hills make us stronger.
Climbing a hill in the middle of a long run is about the last thing I want to do. Or, even more, climbing a hill at mile 13 of a 13 mile run (remember, we live at the TOP of a hill) is the last thing I want to do. Still, no measure of wishing, praying, or hoping the hill away will work. It’s there and I can’t pretend it’s not. I have to get home so my only choice is to climb it. And then, without fail, before I know it I’ve reached our driveway and I turn around and look at the steps of taken and I realize it. . . I made it and I’m stronger for it.
4. One step at a time
When I run, I pay little attention to my gait, my form, or the way my feet hit the ground. Having run for a number of years, this part of running comes pretty naturally. However, when I reach a hill, I am mindful. I pay attention to the way my feet are striking the ground. I notice the way I am holding my arms. I measure my breathing. And I am careful never to look at the entire hill. My mantra on a hill goes like this. . . one step at a time.
Life is so similar isn’t it? When a trial comes my way I know it’s not the time to mindlessly walk through life. I know it’s not a time to be careless about how I am eating, sleeping, or even thinking. And I know that looking at the entire ‘hill’ will overwhelm me, so one step at a time allows me to manage the hill, until I meet the calm of the rest.
5. The perspective comes after the hill
It’s rare that we end a run at our house, at the top of our hill, without saying (or at least thinking) I HATE THAT HILL. Even on the coldest, windiest, days, we stand at the end of our driveway sweat pouring down our faces and panting as if we’d been chased by a herd of bulls and look back at the hill, curse it and wonder why we moved to this spot, and wish we could park a car at the end of the road and just drive up without looking lame. However, give us a few moments, allow our breathing to slow and the realization comes. . . we did it. . . and the pain subsided.
Let’s face it, the middle of a hill (or trial) is a really difficult place to find perspective. At that moment, my mind isn’t finding flowery language and beautiful wisdom to capture the experience. In the middle of the hill, I’m only surviving it. But later. . . sometimes shortly, but sometimes it takes awhile. . .if we look for it, perspective can be found. The wisdom comes. After the hill, if we allow, the growth is abundant.
The hills teach me. And even if I’m not thankful in the moment, usually, I can look back and feel gratitude about all they they taught me.
Have a wonderful day, Friends. . .