June 1, 2014
“Mommy!” Ruby shouted, unmistakably alarmed.
We heard before we saw.
It sounded like rumbling thunder coming from the woods on our left side. My husband stopped the stroller just in time. Two massive wild boars bounded across the road, mere meters away from us. We stood stupefied in our tracks as they romped up the hill to our right side, ripping through forest vegetation.
I took that as an auspicious event, a double dose of good fortune, to commemorate my very first run up the mountain.
I hated running. The few times that I tried to run, I would hyperventilate after a minute or two. If I persisted, I would feel a deep itch on my waist and in the muscles of my calves and thighs, and no amount of scratching would relieve the prickling. If I tried a little more, there would be a sharp pain burning into my side just below my lungs, at which point I would have to stop. The longest I’ve ran was five minutes. After a few frustrating tries that achieved nothing except to diminish my confidence, I simply concluded that I was not cut out for running.
Running held no appeal for me. I could play badminton for two hours straight any day. There were points and serves and court changes to mark the game’s progress and subsequently my own. At the end of the game, there was a winner and a loser. Running had none of that.
One afternoon, my husband casually asked me whether I would like to join him in his regular run up the mountain. I don’t know why I said yes that day, but I did. We strapped the kids onto a double stroller and set off. His usual route was up then down the mountain in a loop but he cautioned me to inform him when I only had half the strength left so that we would just turn and head back.
We ran, my husband setting the pace. He ran at a speed where I could still talk to him when the incline wasn’t too steep. Before I knew it, I passed the five minute mark without hyperventilating, itching or suffering side pains (and at a gentle incline at that!). Then again, I wasn’t really keeping track as I enjoyed just chatting with my husband along the way. About ten or fifteen minutes into the run, we met the wild boars and couldn’t stop talking about our encounter. I was also simultaneously captivated by the tranquility of the verdant woods and how everything was so lush, dense, and vibrant. Except for when we met the boars, I don’t remember stopping, at least not too long. We ran all the way up to the top of the mountain. Elevation: 313 meters above sea level (subtracting the elevation of our starting point, we ran about 220 meters up). Then we ran down the other side coming back in a loop to where we started. Run time: About 45 minutes.
I was incredulous. I ran. I ran up the mountain. I did it. Inconceivable! I felt incredibly good. I felt profoundly powerful.
I was still in a high the next day and my limbs didn’t hurt as bad as I thought they would.
Since that historic first run, I have run up that mountain more times that I could count but never as impressively as the very first time. How in the world was I able to run up there that very first time without any training? I remember being happily distracted then and didn’t notice what it took to get there. I guess it is true that running is mostly mental. There are times when I feel like my legs cannot go another step up but if I chant to myself “Strong! Strong! Strong!,” I find the stamina to round another uphill bend.
Today, I still run. I don’t run to lose weight, trim fat, or look good. I run because I find that I do enjoy it. I feel strong and capable. I feel good and unquestionably alive. At times when I’m sick, achy or lethargic, I feel trapped in my body, and yet we need our bodies to experience life completely. Now I understand the appeal of endurance sports and training the body, pushing it, and ultimately freeing it.
Most of the time, I run with my husband. He sets the pace (else I tend to dash out too enthusiastically at the start and run out of steam too soon) and I like the rhythm we create with the pounding of our feet on the pavement. Running together, we move in the same direction, climb the same hills and enjoy the same slopes – a metaphor for the days of our lives. In one of our recent runs, my husband happened to look up. “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve seen the trees like that. It looks a cathedral, only better.” Gentle sunlight dappled through the leaves of the towering trees. The small path looked like an aisle lined with luxuriantly green ferns and after a rain, carpeted with soft moss. Running together I feel we renew our commitment to each other all over again, this time, consecrated by nature.
When my husband’s not around and I’m able to leave the kids with someone else, I enjoy the solitude. Perhaps I’ve grown older and winning does not appeal to me as much as trying something I’ve never done before and testing my limits. A finish line is arbitrary. I’m looking forward to seeing where running takes me.