The past couple of weeks, my husband and I have taken to the trails, shifting our focus slightly from road running to trail running. Don’t get me wrong…we still run the roads, but we are really enjoying getting off the pavement and onto packed earth. It feels great on our joints and our feet. Let me tell you, though, it is much more difficult running on natural trails. Climbs are steeper and longer, and the terrain is rolling with very little reprieve. Even the downhill portions can start to feel somewhat difficult, depending on the severity of the decline, because of the natural braking action that occurs as you run downhill.
Despite the difficulty, though, one of my favorite aspects of trail running is the downhill running. There is something incredibly rewarding about cresting a climb and entering a descent, where I can extend my stride and let gravity take over just a little. A subtle line exists between controlling your descent and losing utter control of that descent. I have come scarily close to crossing that line. In that closeness, though, I have experienced a sense of freedom like no other. It is my choice to either rein in my body and slow it down or allow myself to continue running, right there on the edge. I decide how far to keep pushing it, developing and increasing the skills necessary to become a good descending runner. I choose the level of control I am willing to sacrifice to build my endurance and my skill set. I make the decision when enough is enough.
Like all things in life, I know there is a good chance at some point I will misjudge the level of control I actually have in the situation and make a less than stellar decision. I know the opposite is true as well. I know as I become more confident in my abilities, I will make more informed decisions based on my true capabilities. I know much of my learning will come from mistakes and from pushing the limits a little too far. One such lesson came yesterday.
The direction we took on the trails yesterday included some seriously long, difficult climbs, at least for our level of fitness up to this point. The climbs kicked my heart rate up and I could feel the burn coursing through my muscles, searing to the bone long before reaching the crest. I pushed through, though, knowing I had some good descents coming up and that the descents would offer some relief. Topping out on the crests, I stretched it out into the descents, feeling the wind in my hair and on my face as I gathered speed. Focus was extremely important, as the trail has many rocks and tree roots jutting up out of the ground, ready to reach up and grab a foot. With each descent, my bravery (or maybe it was bravado) increased and I pushed just a little more, upping my pace slightly, allowing gravity just a little more control.
And, then, it happened. One of those rocks or tree roots reached up and hooked a toe, sending my body flying in multiple directions. I don’t know how I managed to keep myself upright because I was as close as I had ever been to losing complete control. I did maintain control, however, despite how close I was to losing to it. It took a few steps to regain composure and I had a flash of what could have been had I gone down. I know it would have hurt, worse than any spills I have taken off a bicycle or when running on the road. I don’t know how great the extent of injury could have been, but I know it could have been severe. And, the fear set in. All I could think about was how close I had come. How much it could have hurt. The damage I could have done. And I slowed down. I began picking my way down the descents, jogging instead of running. I shortened my stride and carefully chose my path. I knew, after two more descents, I had a decision to make. I could continue running based on my fear of the “what ifs,” or I could trust myself and run the way I have been learning to run, knowing the risks, taking steps to minimize those risks, and then running openly and freely. I chose the latter, making the decision to rein it in just a wee bit, while still pushing that line of control, instead of running fearfully and staying within a prescribed “safety” zone. Instead of choosing the comfort of the known, the comfort of staying within borders, I chose the discomfort of the unknown, of pushing the boundaries and my perceived limitations.
It was worth it. I proved to myself once again that limitations are, indeed, perceived and they are movable. Boundaries can be widened, borders moved. And such is life, right? The lessons of yesterday are not limited to running. They are applicable in everyday life, in the decisions we make on a daily basis. In everything we do, we have a choice. In fact, we have choices. We can stay in our comfort zone and make decisions based on what keeps us comfortable, what feels safe. Or, we can make decisions based on what helps us grow and develop; what pushes us beyond our perceived boundaries and limitations. What will you choose to base your decisions on today?