I set off for my run in the cool morning air. I planned to run an out-and-back route which, from where we were staying, meant uphill on the way out and downhill back. It’s hard to go into an uphill without having had the chance to warm up, but I settled into my rhythm as the dirt lane rose before me.
The thing about a long slow climb is that it becomes all-consuming. I see just the short stretch of road immediately ahead, focusing on my feet and the loose stones that might trip me up. I hear my breath in my ears and the steady crunch of the earth beneath my feet. I feel the sweat as it gathers at my wrist, under my watch, but don’t want to break the pumping of my arms to wipe it away. I smell the sheep and the dust, and taste the salt on my lips.
The muscles in my legs start to complain at the constant up-stepping. This is a slow, steady grind and though it is no one’s first choice for a recreational run, it is where reliable fitness is built. I hear Tim’s voice in my head from our earliest days of running together: ‘Dig in, babe.’ My mind turns automatically to my personal mantras that whisper in my head, ‘You’ve got this,’ ‘Keep going, don’t stop,’ and if all else fails I count my breaths up to ten, and again.
Eventually, after my watch has beeped the passing of several kays, I see the crest of the hill ahead. I fix my eyes on the line that marks where the lane drops away, hearing the whoosh of blood in my ears and feeling the tension across my shoulders. I’ve made it!
Hands on hips, heart pounding, I turn to look back in the direction I have come. Lifting my eyes from the path, the view back quite literally takes my breath away.
The vista ahead of me, from left to right, is a a vast drama of craggy mountains. Gullies and pinnacles create vertical stripes in the grey of the rock, reaching down into the tree line and up into the deep blue of the sky. I can hardly believe that the whole time I was climbing, this grand backdrop was right behind me. I feel as if a grand choir has been singing and I haven’t heard a note.
My breathing has slowed and I turn slowly in the soft light, grateful to be here. Moments like this make the climbs worthwhile and I am glad to have a body that can run, and breath, and pump life-giving blood from heart to muscles, and back.
I check my watch and turn my feet in the direction of home. Now I am flying down the hill, eyes lifted to the beauty of the crags that are my horizon, only momentarily glancing down to find the best route. I trust my feet to find solid ground, occasionally pushing off boulders and half-jumping, half-soaring into the next footfall. My arms are low and loose, my breath easy. As I feel the sun on my face, it’s like I could run forever.
In running as in life …
In running as in life …
I have a number of friends who right now are facing circumstances like the slog of an uphill climb. Constantly there seem to be loose rocks that cause their steps to falter, cause them to lose energy and focus unnecessarily. Their world has narrowed to the next step, the next push. The grey challenge of the hill immediately ahead fills their vision. They are sweating with effort and exertion but cannot break their stride to take a rest. They tell themselves ‘you can make it’ but somewhere in the back of their minds is the scratch of a doubt that says they might need to stop running altogether.
I long to take them by the shoulders and turn them gently around. I want to remind them that just behind them, the backdrop to their personal toiling trail is a majestic vista of beauty and grandeur. I feel that if they can just see the big picture again they will find strength and determination to climb to the top of the hill. The climb has been unrelenting but this view is energy, endurance and enabling; it gives meaning and redemption to the uphill slog.
The rocky path ahead of you is not all there is, I want to say. Right now you feel a mess of sweat and breath, and aching, and tears. But all around you, if you have eyes to see it, is something so grand and so breathtaking that it will fill you with its splendour. Only don’t give up, the crest of the hill is coming.