Once a week I pull on my running shoes and head out for a ten mile run that I hate. I don’t do this because I am in training. I do this because it is hard.
The run itself is not technical. It begins with a relatively flat first mile that gradually climbs for another two miles. It gets steeper through a suburban stretch of McMansion homes, Mormon tabernacles, and more Hummer houses until it dead ends at a trailhead. Then it continues for several miles up the canyon to Logan Peak. This time of year it is covered with snow. It has been since I moved to Utah. I have not yet reached the top. I haven’t even come close.
There are no flat portions. The singletrack path crests a mountain, 4,500 feet higher than you started and connects you to the next peak. And the peak after that. And so on.
When I arrive at the trailhead I am relieved to escape the cement valley of driveways and basketball hoops. I round one bend and am immediately surrounded by pine trees and a steep rock face to my left. As I climb my sneakers plunge into the snow and slush, and my knees occasionally knock together when I slip. I typically curse a few times before stopping to swipe a mitten full of snow that I suck on as I continue up the trail.
I think about how this run isn’t much fun. How it’s pretty. And how much it kind of hurts. And then I think about how this run is important for me to do. To stay healthy. To keep my legs strong during the winter months. To remind myself how lucky I am that I can do this. Even though I don’t want to.
I think about my dad on this run. About how he needs to do things that are way more uncomfortable than slipping in the snow to stay healthy, and to stay strong. I think about my mom. How she needs to press on when she is tired. When she is scared. When there is no one else to talk to except a yellow lab who spent the day napping and waiting for her people to come home. I think about my sister whose days are never easy. And my brother who is still learning how to stop being so hard on himself. And then I turn around and can see how far I’ve come.
Church steeples dot the valley floor and university buildings clamor for space in the sky. I look up the canyon walls and scan for mountain lions that aren’t there. Just jagged rocks and skinny trees. And then I smile for the first time.
This trail is teaching me how to run downhill. Fast. How to let my stride figure out where it wants to go. And allow it to explore along the way. Sometimes after a powder snowfall like today, I can’t differentiate the trail from everywhere else. The sun is so bright that the shadows have nowhere to hide. I won’t describe it as flying or free-falling. Because it isn’t. My feet only leave the ground for split seconds at a time. And I actually really love the moment my foot strikes the ground and I can feel it pushing back. Pushing me forward. Into the slush. Out of the woods. And it is freeing just the same.