Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Life Lessons From Hill Running

I adore hill running. I could go run a 5K hill run no problem. Stick me on a flat ground, 5K feels challenging. I think I get bored. I feel stagnant, even when I change up my pace. Hill running brings me a great big high that I struggle to find many other places in life. I love the burning of my muscles. I live for the mental grit it takes to get through a giant hill. I seriously train my mind just as much (if not MORE) than my body on those hills. One of my BFFs always asks for a check-in after a hill run. She knows I always learn something out there. It's a deep meditation for me in that I gain clarity, awareness and poignant understanding of human nature and what constitutes a purpose driven life.

I thought I'd share a (long) reflective writing piece I wrote many months back after a strong and enlightening hill run while I was going through a tough time. When you're done reading, tell me - where do you find your high in life?


Grief. It’s something I’ve had to deal with many times. From death, to miscarriage, to the dissolutions of lengthy relationships that had held me together through difficult times. One of the best ways I have used the overwhelm from grief has been to push my body outside its comfort zone, providing a temporary recluse from intense pain.

My legs effortlessly carry me toward the hill as the breeze reminds me that my body is still moving. This run feels eerily easily. I guess in comparison to the trials and challenges my heart has been through lately, it is. I’m mostly unaware how I’ve managed to find myself a mile from my parked car. One step at a time I suppose. One foot robotically in front of the other while the clock inevitably passes time.
My chest is heavy, my heart buckling under the pressure of the past week. I slow down my pace to maintain control as I descend the hill, goosebumps exploding over my body as adrenaline kicks in, preparing me for the challenge ahead. For that I am grateful. I haven’t eaten enough to provide my body the energy to tackle this monstrosity, I have to rely on the hormones secreted through massive amounts of stress and heart ache to get me through this one.

Why that hill, my friends ask me. They are worried about my well-being, about the lack of self-care I’ve been showing myself lately. They worry I will collapse under the pressure of the demands I’ve been loading myself with, both physically and emotionally. I can’t explain it to them. I can’t go for just a regular run. It’s not enough. It’s not enough of a push. I am acutely aware of the fact that I need a big challenge right now. Because it is there that I will grow the most, will learn the most and it is there I am forced to dig deeper than normal in an effort to find pieces of me I don’t normally recognize in the passing of day to day life – a strength I cannot typically conceive of, determination that outweighs my lack of ability, motivation that is driven by my aching spirit.

I need the hills. It is there I am able to see who I am…stripped of comfort. Strip me bare, and only then can I recognize who I am.
My legs effortlessly carry me toward The Hill as the breeze reminds me that my body is still moving.

What goes down must come up. And at the bottom of the hill, I turn and look up; a sight that could potentially defeat anyone. But I’m not anyone. I can do hard. And as I feel my jaw set, I am aware of the fiery determination in my soul that not a hill, a situation, a setback, nor a person, can touch. Will ever touch. My brows knit together as I whisper aloud, "you got this."

For the past couple weeks the hill has been whispering to me:

1. Notice where you are
On this particular day I ran slow but I didn’t stop. I recognized my pace wasn’t where it normally was and I allowed that to be ok. Was it really a fluke that my watch died on the way to my run? No, because neither my time nor pace were important. I needed to let go of the end result so my focus could inevitably shift to experiencing the lessons along the way.

2. You are OK
Katy Perry’s lyrics “This is the part of me that you’re never gonna ever take away from me” got me through The Hill today. There is a part of everyone that cannot be taken. Cannot be broken. It’s the center to which I ground myself when the world is feeling shaky. This is where the foundation needs to be built. This needs to maintain my focus. Here I am okay.

3. Stop looking at the long haul
I look down at my feet a lot when I run The Hill. When I glance to the top of the hill I am acutely aware of how lengthy the journey still is. It can be a defeating view from down below, only the climb visible, knowing the struggle to come and unable to see beyond. When grieving, sometimes all you can do is look down and know that you are moving. One step at a time.

4. Speed doesn’t matter. Effort matters
One step at a time I was moving, and I needed to accept that for today, that’s all I had in me. And that had to be okay. Who gave a shit if I felt I could be lapped by a snail? I was still doing it. If I were to measure my success by my speed, I would be a failure. I choose to see my effort as a success and honour my body’s need to slow down today (much to my silent annoyance)

5. Keep faith
What keeps my feet moving when I struggle? Hope. Hope that over the top a better landscape will replace my current one. Hope that over the top I will see a beauty that lacks in the current place on that hill. Faith that as I approach the top I will find my worth along the journey. Sometimes it’s about letting go and holding onto nothing other than the invisible thread of faith

6. Move with the hurt
The Hill hurts. It hurts so much some days that my mind tells me I cannot do it. I often need to tell my mind to take a hike and that yes, I can do it. I WILL do it. My feet keep moving. Somehow. Someway. They keep trudging along. With the hurt, not from it. And that’s how I make it – IN it, not shrinking from it.

7. Evolution happens along the journey
Once I get to the top of The Hill, my lungs are burning, my legs are on fire and I can barely breathe. But I celebrate the victory. I came out a different person that I was on, and before The Hill.

More confident
Aware of the power I possess.
Knowing I can do whatever the fuck I want. Despite the obstacles in front of me.

An evolution occurs that never could have, had I not been granted this opportunity to tackle The Hill.

We never know our strength and our power until we are forced to dig deeper than we ever have before. I should consciously do this more often. I need reminders of my power in this world sometimes.

8. Find Gratitude
I hate The Hill but I am also so grateful for it. On that hill I am capable of learning so much. In the space of pain and fear I am forced to face myself and question what matters. I am forced to look within, and find strength that nobody else can give me. Only me. During difficult times you have to be open to feel it for it, accept it, and use it to propel you forward.

Had that Hill not been there I would still believe I’m only capable of running short distances. I wouldn’t know the strength that lies within me. I wouldn’t know the expansion and growth that exist outside of my comfort zone.

So while the process of grief is anything but pleasant, exist with the awareness that you are evolving and find gratitude in whatever you can. Gratitude makes the journey worth something.

9. Be Gentle With You
There are times you want to quit. There are times you fall apart, as I did many times in the middle of The Hill. There will be times you quit, and that’s ok. Quitting is not the same as failing. Failing is not trying. These days need to be okay, because there will be days you DO find the strength to get up that Hill. And only then can you truly appreciate what you have and who you are. Only through loss can you truly be stripped clean, with the clear ability to see what really matters. Be gentle with you through the struggle, and be gentle with you through the triumphs.

10. Stay open & compassionate. Despite the hurt

Your love to others
Your kindness to strangers
Your gifts to the world
Your respect and appreciation to yourself
Give, and never stop:
Not when fear shows up, telling you there’s nothing better
Not when doubt creeps in, whispering “you’re not enough”
Not when rejection slams you to the ground, shaking your sense of self
Just keep moving. And loving. And giving.

11. Post-traumatic Growth
Why do some people flourish after setbacks while others wallow and self-destruct? In Psychology there is a concept of post traumatic growth which we don’t often hear about. We only hear about post-traumatic stress. But what if you could take your hurts and fears and bundle them into something that can serve the world in a good way? What if you could use those hurts to evolve yourself into a better, kinder, softer, gentler, more compassionate human being? This is what the Hill does to me while my feet move along its spine; it gently molds me into someone better.

For all these reasons and so many more - thank you Hill.
For all that you teach me about life, love, loss & resiliency. Sometimes I hate you with all that I am, but every day I will approach you with gratitude and respect for all that you teach me.


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