My last series of posts have been dark, I admit. Part of it is just my style (I wrote a book about the creative zombie apocalypse after all) but part of it is this season. Every year the gloom of January eclipses my spirit. Is it just me?
When I get down, one of the things that pulls my head back above water is running. If snow blocks me from the trails, the cabin fever sucks the life out of me. The following is something I wrote after a particular good run from a warmer season. If you are in the winter doldrums like me, I hope this shines a little light on your day.
At the top of the ridge I pause to take in the view and catch my breath. Miles of history expand in every direction like years unfolding behind me. The city sleeps below as I gaze into the distance. I cast a shadow, a reflection that doesn’t remember the journey that brought me to this mountain top.
I take a deep breath of Colorado air and let the weight of my body pull me back down to town. My shadow gives chase.
A good run alters your mind, transforming you into a different person than when you started. Today’s run is a time machine, and each stride strips years away. My 35 year-old body is flanked by a teenager. The cocky shadow matches my pace stride for stride as my footing slips in the loose gravel.
My darker partner pulls ahead as I fly down the ravine. I try to study him, to remember how this stranger became me. How far have I come?
He never dreamed of the distances I cover today. That kid was defeated by a mere five kilometers. What did he expect? One season of cross country isn’t enough to put you at the front of the pack. He didn’t realize that not winning isn’t the same as failing.
I want to tell him not to give up. I wonder if there is anything I could say that could persuade him to put in more hours, to train harder, to not give up.
As I run with my teenage shadow, I see how little he understood. His muscles are sharp, they respond to the terrain instantly, but he never plans more than a few paces ahead. When his body met the limitations of his fitness, he didn’t believe that he could push through. His running career ended quietly without fanfare, and his energy shifted to activities that required less endurance. Will I ever feel that free again? Am I ever to feel so light?*
My time machine doesn’t linger in the 90’s, it zooms out to show the years and miles that separate me from that boy. It is only when you run on trails that you realize how arbitrarily a mile really is. On pavement, each mile is a milestone, clearly marked, proudly celebrated, and carefully recorded. A mile on the side of a mountain can mean a lung-crushing ascent, a calm winding path, blind corners, or an infinite variety of terrain. At this altitude, the miles disappear. It’s just you, the trail and an unanswered question about what you are capable of.
At first, without mile markers the trail can be disorienting. How do you measure progress? Is an uphill mile more valuable than a difficult descent? Time fails when you discover that an hour in the hills is not the same as an hour on the road. But once you become accustomed to the trails you begin to find clarity. Running isn’t about miles or years. Those are just convenient ways to organize your experiences into arbitrary folders. The important thing is to keep moving. Some distances will feel long, some time will pass too quickly.
Today’s run comes to an end and I am exhausted but renewed. That boy never really quit running. His miles are mine, and for as long as my legs allow, I will keep working. I will run with perseverance the race marked out for me.
Thanks for reading. If you are new to my words, consider giving me a follow, recommendation, or tweet @ade3. Stay creative.