"Uphill" --Picture by Stefan Jansson
Copyright © by Ralph F. Couey
Except for photo and cited quotes
I love to read. Unfortunately, my busy schedule doesn't leave me much time to delve. However, one place I can go and be guaranteed a few minutes of uninterrupted peace are the...um...facilities. I'm sure I'm far from being alone in that department.
I was at work when I found a copy of a magazine oriented towards runners -- not 3-to-5 milers like myself, but really long distance folks, half-, full-, and ultra-marathoners. Myself, I've been running regularly now for about 15 months and have gotten to the point where I feel guilty for skipping a day, even when my Achilles acts up. So, I was idly flipping through the 'zine when I came across a page full of printed tweets about running. One of them caught my eye.
"Never make a decision going uphill."
It took a bit of digging after I got home to find the source of this captivating piece of wisdom, but I was able to track it to a fellow named John Burton who is the "pacer" (no, I don't know what that is) for ultra-marathoner W. Caitlin Smith.
Anyone who has taken on the challenge of running (not on a treadmill) should immediately be able to relate to this statement. I run primarily the streets, sidewalks, and occasionally, trails in and around the delightfully sublime village of Vienna, Virginia. I've mapped out about 9 different routes, ranging from flat and easy 3 milers on the W&OD trail, to 5.5 milers through the attractive "Leave It To Beaver" neighborhoods. Vienna is a hilly town and as a result these courses tend to take on the character of a roller coaster ride. While it's nice to go downhill, at 58 years old, I find that my joints will only allow me so much speed, hence my pace tends to be a glacial 12- to 13-minute mile.
There are two hills that challenge me. One of them is a street called Tapawingo. Once I cross Park street, it slopes uphill for about 0.4 miles. It climbs about 40 feet over that distance, but coming at what is usually the last mile or so of my run, it's always a challenge. Ms. Smith & colleagues would likely not even notice such a hill, but for me, it's a victory to reach that crest. The other hard one is Sandburg Street, which is perpendicular to the W&OD trail. This is a 55 foot climb over a short 0.2 mile. Again, younger hard-core runners will find this easy, but for me, its conquering is worthy of another Rocky-like celebration at the top.
Running on the flats or coasting downhill, it becomes easy to make that decision to keep going, or go further than originally planned. But getting on those longer, steeper hills, usually sparks a vigorous, if silent dispute between the will of my mind and the complaints of various muscles and tendons. A runner's mind has to win that argument. The whole point, after all, of doing this running thing (or any athletic training endeavor) is to push through what once were barriers to achievement. This is not limited to muscular limits, but also those artificial walls that a recalcitrant body can erect in the path of one's emotional will.
But there is another truth in those words, one that goes beyond the cloistered world of a runner.
At the risk of sounding tediously pedantic, life is not a flat, easy run. It is a steady succession of downhill sprints and daunting climbs. Sometimes, it feels as if all we do is scale hills. It can be easy, perhaps too easy, to abandon the sprint in the face of a precipitous uplift. It is even easier to talk ourselves into quitting when only halfway up. Mr. Burton's piece of brilliance is related to running. But in a larger sense, it is also about our individual response to challenge.
What I take from this is when I'm standing at the base of a hill I know darn well I have to climb, I need to quit prevaricating and just climb it. If I'm halfway up and my muscles, tendons, and lungs are screaming for mercy, I need to refuse to make a decision until I get to the top.
On the job, in the home, in our relationships, we should never make decisions of a terminal nature in the middle of crisis. Keep pushing forward; find that stubborn spunk that exists within, and get to that destination we call resolution. It's hard to keep going when climbing hills. But the joy of the view from the top of the mountain is well worth the pain of the climb.
In the words of the old Nike ad, "Courage is a muscle. Exercise it."