Every time I run down a hill, I think of my high school cross country coach. The rocky path at Beaver Lake comes into my mind, and I can hear him talking.
“Relax on the downhills. Let your stride lengthen. It’s here that you can make up ground. Most people you are running against are going to tighten up on the downhill, hold themselves back. If you can let go enough you’ll pick up speed, you’ll be able to catch up, without having to increase your effort at all.”
We were running downhill repeats (a much less common training session than uphill workouts) on a crisp but recently rainy fall day. I remember who I was training with, and the exact way it felt to trust my feet as they came down on uneven ground, despite instinct that made us curl inwards. At first it was terrifying, followed quickly by exhilarating. The words locked into my body, and I began to understand, with that intrinsic internal type of knowing, that he was right.
It’s funny that this moment stuck so clearly in my mind. Most of the days training blend together, held in tact only by the simple act of growing up. The lessons I learned on the hills, in the mud, on the track became integrated parts of my journey. Without them I would be someone else, and yet to put a finger on when those lessons actually happened is elusive.
As my legs lengthen and my shoulders drop I begin to let myself come free on a downhill near Clover Point this evening; it occurs to me that my mind holds that moment clear because I still haven’t learned that lesson. Give me an uphill any day. With delight, determination, grit and enthusiasm I will tackle it, run repeats, engulf myself in the challenge. I will grin from ear to ear, get carried away, and push until I drop. It’s partly the view from the top, but much more it’s about the way the blood pounds in my ears, my legs pick up speed and I can feel the mechanics of my body settling into their most natural rhythm. This is what I was made for, I think, this is what I was born to conquer.
And down hills? They still catch me unawares, unplanned they simply happen, and each time they do I have to consciously think about letting my body loosen, my gait relax. It takes a self check and a memory pulled up from the core of my being before I know how to handle them. At the end of the day, it’s the same whether running or living. If you relax, lengthen your stride, move faster without having to work harder, you will go farther. Find it within to trust that your feet know how to navigate this rocky trail (they have after all, been learning how to carry you since you began) – perhaps it will even be surprising how easy it is.