Life lessons from a trail run

This past weekend, I competed in the Run Caney 12-mile trail run event near Minden, Louisiana.  Every three months, I select some race or fitness event to participate in as part of my goal setting process for the quarter.  As I train each day, the goal of the event provides me with the structure for my training (management), incentive for my training (motivation), and tracking of my progress (measurement).  While my purpose is to live a healthy life and have an identity as an athlete (even at my age), the goals are helpful as I pursue this purpose and identity.  Achieving the goal is not the end, but merely a mile marker along the pathway to purpose and identity.  

With that as the backdrop, this race was the toughest challenge that I have faced since beginning this endeavor several years ago.  Twelve miles is a long way, and the hills and terrain of a trail race made it much more difficult than the half-marathon that I did earlier this year.  This trail had all the normal obstacles of any trail through the woods.  There were the steep hills to manage, the ever-present roots to watch out for, a few streams to jump over, and various other natural obstacles to deal with along the path.  

It took me just under two hours and twenty minutes to complete the two loops of the six-mile trail.  As always, I look back at the challenges and see so many similarities to life that one encounters on races such as this one.

Going up steep hills:  We are all going to face difficult challenges in life.  As we approach the base and start to look up, we can’t see the top at times.  We have no idea when it will level out.  All we know for sure is that it is going to be hard.  The key to running up any actual hill or taking on any stiff challenge in life is to keep moving and keep pushing forward.  Don’t stop.  Lean into the challenge and just keep pushing forward focused on the next step.  Don’t worry about how you are going to do ten steps later, but rather just stay focused on pushing forward with that next step.  Whatever you are going through today, just keep getting up each morning and take that next step.  You may not be able to see the end, and you may be exhausted.  Just keep taking one more step.  Momentum is the key here.

Going down a steep hill:  We will also face times where it seems like life is out of control.  Going down a steep hill in a race can be somewhat like that if we don’t handle it carefully.  I saw some reckless, dangerous actions going down hills Saturday morning.  They were completely out of control.  That happens in life as well.  When you come to points in life where things can start spinning out of control, the key is to slow down, focus on where to make that next step, be mindful of obstacles that could trip you up, and maneuver down carefully.  You don’t need to stop, but you need to adjust, monitor, and move with caution.  Adjust as needed to stay in control until things level out.   

Run your race, not someone else’s:  On trail runs, I like to stay close to others that are more familiar with the course.  I don’t want to take the wrong path.  The key though is to find people that are running at a pace that fits me.  I didn’t do that for the first mile Saturday.  I ran with a group that was running way too fast for me, and I ultimately found out that they were just running the six-mile option of the race.  Life can be like that as well.  We need to run our race at a pace that fits our ability, our potential, and not run at a pace for someone else’s race.  Running at someone else’s pace for their race can be exhausting and lead to a miserable experience in life (as well as a trail race).  I made an adjustment Saturday morning before it was too late and got back to my pace on my race.  You may need to make an adjustment as well.

The roots will trip you:  Some roots are larger than others, and some are visible while others can’t be seen for various reasons.  In any of these cases, they will trip you if you aren’t careful.  You either go over or around them.  The key is to watch the ground in front of you anticipating where you need to take the next steps to avoid danger.  Life has its share of “roots” along our pathways as well just looking to trip us.  Like the race, we know what many of the potential dangers look like but may not recognize all of them.  In running, the keys are to watch and pick your feet up as you run.  In life, we also need to be aware of obstacles and not grow weary of making wise decisions.  

There’s a lot to learn in a little over two hours of exhausting trail running.  I guess I learn lessons the hard way.  In any case, that goal is accomplished and Sunday morning at 5 a.m. was time to start training for that next challenge.  More to come and more to learn.