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Conquer: A Strong Word

Have you ever decided to do something and halfway through you realized you really hadn’t planned for it to be as challenging as it became? What did you do to persevere? Did you have to dig deep or did it seem to bubble up effortlessly?

Several years ago, I made the decision to do a half marathon (13.1 miles) trail run in Charlottesville. I had been running regularly and was not too afraid of the distance. I live and trained in Hampton, which is completely and totally flat. The biggest hill is the city dump, which I have never had the pleasure of scaling. There are seriously no hills at all that I’ve ever seen. The race organizer’s website didn’t contain much information about the race course, other than starting and finishing points. About a week before the race, I began to panic, mainly because there are legitimate mountains surrounding Charlottesville. As in, there’s a ski resort in the area. What had I gotten myself into?
I decided to call the race organizer to ask about just how hilly the course was going to be. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I’ve signed up for the blah blah blah Half Marathon. I live and train on the coast of Virginia, aka the flattest part of the state. I’m starting to panic about hills. Can you help me?
Race Organizer: Sure! Help you with what?
Me: Help me to feel better by telling me that the hills aren’t so bad?
RO: Oh, the hills really aren’t bad at all.
Me: Oh, awesome. PHEEEEWWWW. So, maybe like one big one or something?
RO: Yes, exactly! There’s one big one from about mile 5 to mile 11. The course switchbacks up the mountain. You’ll be fine!
Me: (eyes bulging, heart racing, stomach churning) Oh, super. Awesome. Thanks. Kbye.
No, not fine at all. A six mile “hill”? Again: what had I gotten myself into? I decided I still had to try.
It was November. About a week before the race, a Nor’easter came through Hampton Roads, and went all up into Central Virginia and beyond, including Charlottesville. The storm was dubbed Nor’Ida because it was the remnants of Hurricane Ida. It did a ton of damage to North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. At the time, it did not cross my mind that the course might be effected by this insane storm. If I’d had a crystal ball, there’s a good chance that I would have stayed home and crawled under a warm blanky with a cup of hot cocoa.
But, I carried on with my plan to run the race. My mantra was “Put one foot in front of the other.” I knew that would carry me.
A few highlights from the race:
– The start of the race was at the bottom of a one mile hill on a paved road. THE START. That’s just mean. By the end of that first mile, I was already football field lengths behind the pack. Then it went into the woods/mountains for the remainder of the race.
– Into the woods we went…Since it was nearing late November, the leaves had fallen from the trees, so the trail was totally covered. On top of the leaves had fallen several inches of rain from sweet Nor’Ida. It was very slippery and I slipped and fell multiple times. I finished the race with bloody knees and body pain all over from my trips and falls.
– There was a “creek” that was probably dry until Nor’Ida came along. It had transformed into a raging river. Most runners dashed through it with each foot submersing one time. Apparently, I had worn my cement socks and clumsily tripped my way through the entire thing, so my feet were beyond drenched. This was at probably mile 4. So, only 9.1 more to go. Weeeee.
– The alleged lone hill/mountain was extremely challenging. I think I got delirious and saw fairies and trolls at one point. It was no joke. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and reached the finish line.
– I finished! I conquered that thing. I definitely did not dominate that thing, but I didn’t care. I was covered in dirt, leaves, “creek” water, blood, and mud, but I finished.
Lessons learned: This physical challenge was defined and had a clear end (the finish line), unlike many challenges we face in life. Most of us have been through big trials and tribulations in life – losing a loved one, major illness, divorce, job loss, financial troubles – and these things rarely have a predictable or planned ending that you can circle on your calendar. We just muddle through the best we can. Maintaining mental strength in the face of adversity is a learned skill. You may know someone who a million things happened to in a relatively short period of time and you think, “How is she still standing? I would have curled up in a ball by now!” The commitment each day to rise and commit to yourself (and your family, your job, a being greater than you, etc.) is a choice. Every single one of us has the power to choose strength, wellness, and kindness. How amazing and empowering is that?
Even smaller scale challenges are not linear. Let’s talk wellness or fitness goals. The path to reach them always has surprises such as injury or illness, or positive surprises like love for a new activity or reaching a goal sooner than you anticipated. All of this plays a huge role in your mental commitment to yourself and your goals, too. Bottom line: The best way to persevere any challenge? One step at a time. None of us can see the future, but we can see today and make choices today to work our way towards anything we desire.
As for me and trail runs in the mountains: I will (probably) never do a race like that again. I checked the box that I didn’t really know was there. The hunger to push myself in such a grueling way has been fed. I encourage everyone to say YES to something you normally wouldn’t. You may learn a thing or two about yourself in the process!

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