I was fifteen and homesick. I had been at music camp for almost two of the six weeks I planned to stay. And the final four weeks seemed like an eternity ahead of me. Especially since I had already discerned that playing cello was definitely not what I wanted to do with myself all day.
After a frustrating lesson, we had a break before dinner and it started pouring. One of those typical early evening downpours that we get all summer on the East Coast. Big drops that go splat on your skin if you happen to get caught in it.
I needed to be alone, but I had a roommate, so of course the next best logical option was to run up the nearest mountain. In the rain. Wearing slide sandals.
Outside of the timed mile twice a year in gym class, I hadn’t gone on a run in over a year. And I had never gone on a run of my own volition.
But something screamed inside me and I ran out the door into the pouring rain. I had never climbed the mountain next to campus, but I knew I wanted to go UP. So I navigated the turns necessary to gain elevation as quickly as possible.
About 2 minutes into the run, I realized that the sandals were a bad idea. So I slipped them off and continued running – a slide in each hand.
Then I saw the cars around me and realized just how ridiculous I must have looked to the drivers. Wearing shorts with a fly, a tank top, and no shoes. Running up a mountain. In the pouring rain.
And I LAUGHED. Harder than I had laughed in the two weeks I had been there. As I continued to climb, I kept chuckling to myself at the sight I must have been.
What I needed was a view. I needed to see my way out of this moment I was in.
I was looking for the best look-out on this mountain. It was rainy, but not so foggy that the views would be obscured. So I kept climbing for over a mile, until I found my way to a big mowed field on a hillside, providing an unobscured view.
This photo doesn’t do it justice. Especially being hard-earned, it was breathtaking. I had found what I was looking for. Just what I needed. And just in time for the rain to stop.
I breathed in the view of the valley below and the river that ran through it. I breathed a sigh of relief from the feeling of being lost in the moment and saw its place in the bigger picture.
And once I had my fill, I made my way back down the mountain and got back just in time for dinner, soaking wet, with a smile on my face.
There’s a reason why “run for the hills” is a figure of speech. There’s safety up there. And even more importantly to me, there’s peace to be found in the run itself. When I’m upset, there’s nothing like a good climb to pull me out of it. Nothing helps like getting up above the trees to see my way out.
This morning I woke up before my alarm, which gave me enough time to head out for an hour run in Duluth before my departure.
During my previous two trips up for Grandma’s Marathon weekend, I had only ever run along Lake Superior because that’s what the other runners did. But this time I had been eyeing the hill above the city for my whole stay in Duluth. And especially after a disappointing race yesterday, I knew what I needed.
So I turned on some Sylvan Esso and ran for the hills. On the way up, the view of the lake was obscured by tall pines on winding trails and roads. There were still beautiful sights like a waterfall over a dyke, gorgeous wild lupines, and 10-inch worms sprawled across the wet road, but no overlook.
Fifty minutes into the run, I was making my way back towards the city when the road took a slight turn. I hadn’t seen the car coming towards me up the steep hill ahead. As we met in the intersection, the driver thought that my gasp was for her. But she smiled when she realized it was for the breathtaking view below. I had found what I was looking for.
Running has taught me a lot over the years. Self-discipline, the value of hard work, the limitlessness (and limitations) of the human will. But in this moment, the most valuable lesson that running is teaching me is grace.
We all come to a point where we can’t do things we once could. For example, my easy runs now aren’t anywhere close to the paces I used to run for my “easy days” in college. And that has been a difficult transition for me – one that still challenges me from time to time. Yet even despite this past year’s slump in performance, my race times are still far better now than they were then. And I know that I still have at least a few career personal bests left in me.
But before the ups and after the ups, there will be more downs. And instead of cursing them, I am learning to see them as an invaluable opportunity to learn grace. Grace for ourselves and our weaknesses and ever-changing strengths as we progress through the stages of slow decline that the lucky ones among us will all experience as we age.
So until that next breakthrough comes, I will keep learning and practicing grace. I will focus on the effort I put forth and not on the outcomes. Because it’s not the promise of a prize at the top of the mountain that got me out the door in the first place. It was the joy and relief of the climb itself and the anticipation of a new hard-earned perspective from the top.
Climb with purpose. Fall with grace. And don’t forget to enjoy the views the whole way because you never know for sure if it will get any better than this.