A long time ago, in college, I dated a guy who changed my world in many ways — one very specific way I was thinking about this morning.
(not from this morning, but some other magical morning: the top of Mt Tabor)
In a typical week, I run at Mt Tabor park two or three times. I like it there because there are soft-surface trails so I don’t have to pound my joints into the concrete, because I’m surrounded by humongous trees, because I hear a million different birds, because I see bats in the evenings, because it’s a great spot to catch the sunset or the sunrise. I also like it because if you want flat, you can run pretty flat, but if you want the much more exciting hills, there are all sorts of different incarnations of running up and down: long, gentle hills, short steep ones, neverending staircases, and everything in between.
So this morning, running up a hill and feeling strong, I was thinking back to my college boyfriend, who changed my world in terms of how I thought about physical challenge. Back in the day, he ran cross country, and I remember him telling me how much he loved hills. In some high-school-cross-country epiphany one day, he’d simply decided that he was a decent runner but that he could be better if he got good at running hills — and some combination of other people hating hills (and thus avoiding them) and him running them over and over, led to his, in fact, quickly excelling at running up hills and coming to love it.
(what’s not to love about hills when they take you here?)
I remember him telling me all about how at the top of a hill, even though your impulse might be to slow down and catch your breath, you should push through, that relatively speaking you’re actually “resting,” because your heart rate cools off a little once you flatten out, even if it feels like you’re gonna die. He told me all about his races where his ability to embrace an uphill helped him stick with other, better-seeming runners. He told me about all the hills he loved.
And the important part here is that in his words, I found something to admire, and something to emulate. As is often the case, I saw a characteristic in someone else that I wanted to have in myself too: I wanted to be a person like he seemed to be, a person who saw a challenge and met it head-on instead of deciding it was too hard. I decided that I too could make friends with hills.
(this one’s just a gratuitous Mt Tabor blossoms picture;)
So here I am, 15 or so years later, loving the hills at Mt Tabor, coming back week after week to run them and (mostly;) feel strong and capable. Here I am, loving a good mountain on my bike for the way it makes me breathe hard and struggle and sweat and for the hard-earned views at the top. Here I am, someone who’s learned and is learning that doing the hard thing sharpens my sense of self, helps me be the person I want to be. My college boyfriend isn’t the only one who’s helped me learn this, of course, but I was feeling grateful to him this morning as I loved, so much, my Mt Tabor running. Truly, I’m grateful to all the people in my life who have shown me some amazing part of themselves that’s helped me make that part in myself stronger too. I’m grateful that the people in my life have largely been fantastic human beings with admirable qualities, the kind of people who teach me how to be a better me.
As always, I realize that my life is a hodgepodge: I bring my own inherent stasia qualities, I’m sure, but so much of who I am is because I saw something in someone else that I wanted to be too. In other people, I find other ways of being, and for that I am grateful.