You often hear people say that they don’t enjoy running. While I love to run, I definitely understand where folks are coming from when they tell me, “I’m just not a runner.” At the beginning, running is painful. It hurts to push your body beyond its comfort zone, become winded, and feel your legs strain as they propel you along the path. Why would anyone do this??
Well, once you push through the initial pain and build up your stamina over several runs, you’ll experience new sensations. The “runner’s high” is a real thing. Running longer distances makes the shorter runs feel downright easy. Running along a flat or slight decline, can feel euphoric, like you could run forever. Listening to music while running helps cultivate these moments of pure joy when the right song lyrics and beat match your breath and running pace. It’s the best.
While I love to run, I still find myself avoiding running routes with steep hills. When you live in a neighborhood whose name means “little cliffs” in Spanish, you have to deal with a lot of hilly terrain. On my long run today, I headed out the Highway 56 bike path to discover police tape at the first major intersection I crossed. Feeling determined to get in my run, I thought, “That’s odd” and kept going. When I only passed one other runner in over two miles, I figured something was up. Sure enough, at the next major intersection there was major police tape blocking both ends of the path.
As I diverted my running route to the neighborhood, I contemplated the long hills that this route would make me climb. These long runs are a prayerful time for me, so I breathed deeply and prayed that I’d be able to keep going and not let fear stop me. “Don’t fear the hills,” ran through my heart and mind.
When I feel trepidation about running a long or steep hill, what I’m actually fearing is discomfort and pain. I enjoy the feeling of running effortlessly and hills are anything but that! However, when I allow this fear to dictate my actions, by picking less strenuous routes or worrying about an upcoming hill along my path, it steals strength from my body and joy from my heart.
I’ve often thought that long distance running is a great metaphor for life, and here’s another example: fearing emotion pain or discomfort in life likewise keeps us from embracing the fullness of our experiences. Avoidance of pain causes people to do all sorts of unhelpful things. Truly, the only thing to fear is fear itself. When we allow for the normal ups and downs of life to impact us, we don’t waste our strength or energy trying to keep pain away.
Ironically, the pain that we fear, whether it be emotional or physical as we run up a steep hill, often isn’t nearly as bad as we anticipated. Once we are actually in the moment and experiencing pain or discomfort, if we bring our awareness and energy to that moment we can push through and build our resiliency. Relying on Christ in these moments, with a prayer like “Lord, I can do all things through you who strengthens me,” helps a lot too.
There are times when I sense that I’m modifying my actions because of a desire to keep feeling “good” and avoid discomfort. Sometimes it’s when I’m plotting a running route and other times it pops up when I’m deciding whether to read something sad or watch something upsetting. When people in my life are struggling, I decide how much to lean in and carry their burdens with them. These moments of pain are like hills in our emotional lives. I don’t want to let fear keep me from experiencing the full range of emotions and the potential joys of engaging with my loved ones or trying new things.
Now I have a little shorthand reminder of the way I want to live: “Don’t fear the hills”.