Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Can Do Hard Things

From reading that title you might be thinking to yourself, "oh crap, Sam's gonna go off on one of those stereotypical braggy blog posts." If those are your thoughts then you're right. I am. I usually refrain from doing this because I figure that the few people that actually read my blog are already aware of the fact that I'm awesome, so I don't need to further prove it to them. But in all seriouslyness, I find it hard to strike the right balance between talking about being awesome and the awesome things that happen to me without coming off as a braggart, so I usually just avoid it altogether. Today I'm making an exception.

If that didn't scare you off and you're still reading this, you might be thinking I'm going to talk about how I'm in graduate school now and how it's really hard and how I don't get enough sleep because of it. But that's not what I'm talking about. (Did you see how I did that? I said I wasn't going to talk about graduate school being hard, but by saying that I'm not talking about graduate school being hard, I talked about graduate school being hard. Two birds, one stone.)

Instead, today I'm talking about running. Running is awesome. Over the summer I did a decent job of going running fairly regularly. Not great by any means, but I was probably running 3-4 times a week. I wasn't training for anything and I rarely, if ever, ran more than five miles. Lately, though I've been bad. I'm running maybe once a week, if that often. And then, on the rare occasion that I do go for a run, I avoid running around here in East Provo where I live because it's too hilly and, to be honest, I'm not in good enough shape to tackle these hills.

It may seem like that's not really a big deal; I mean, who likes to run on hills anyway? Well, I do. It's true; I like to run on hills. Call me weird but I do. In fact, because I love hills, my favorite run in Provo involves one of the nastiest, beastiest hills I've ever run on. Unfortunately, like I said, I've been avoiding this part of town and its hills for the better part of two months.

Well today in my "Research Methods in Rhetoric and Composition" class I got into a discussion with one of my classmates about running shorts and how awesome they are. Our classmates didn't get why running around in short shorts could be awesome, and though we tried to explain it to them, we decided it's one of those things that you have to experience to really understand. Like the Holy Ghost. Anyway, just talking about running shorts got my heart racing and I wanted nothing more than to go running right then and there. I didn't. But needless to say, when class was out I went straight home, pulled on my running shorts and shoes and took off, determined that today would be an awesome run.

As I ran out the door I thought about how I've been avoiding the hills here in East Provo. For a moment I contemplated continuing in that vein and running down into hill-less Provo yet again. But for some reason though I didn't. Something in the air made me change my mind, and I decided I would see how well I did with the hills. Bear in mind, I'm in terrible shape right now. Fully aware of my shapelessness, my intention was to run just a part of my favorite run. I figured I'd run up the road that leads to the monster hill to the base of the beast where it starts to get steep. There's a road right there that heads down out of the hills, and I figured I'd turn there. That way I could hit a few of the hills along my favorite run, and then cut it short before potentially killing myself on the that Titan.

Well, I didn't get 1/4 mile into my run before my lungs felt like they were on fire. It was awful. Immediately I began adjusting my route in my mind to head down to flat Provo. I felt like if I continued with my previous plan, I might be able to run a mile tops. But for some reason I made no adjustments and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. As I ran up and down some fairly minor hills, my lungs started to feel a bit better which was encouraging, unfortunately as my lungs improved, my legs took a turn for the worse. I could feel my leg muscles straining harder yet getting weaker with each step I took. I hadn't realized how truly out of shape I was; I hadn't been this bad since I got back from my mission. As I approached the turnoff road at the foot of the beast I was glad because I didn't think my increasingly jellified legs were going to be able to take much more incline.

Getting nearer and nearer to the foot of that mother of all hills I kept thinking to myself, "This road is getting kind of steep; I must be getting close to the turnoff...any time now." But it never came. The earth had somehow swallowed the road which was going to be my saving grace; the road had vanished off the face of the planet. Immediately all kinds of things possible reasons for this travesty began popping into my head. Somehow some evil force, maybe aliens, or Satan, or the Taliban, or the Democratic Party, or...I don't know who, but somebody had deliberately taken this away from me. They knew I needed it, and decided they wanted to watch me suffer. That's when I realized these half-cocked conspiracy theories were the least of my worries. I was running straight for it--straight for the one thing I felt least capable of handling at that moment--straight for The Hill. (I hope you shuddered reading that; I shuddered writing it.)

My eyes widened and my pulse quickened. Okay my pulse was already pretty quick so I doubt it got any faster, but what I'm trying to say is I was nervous and intimidated. I can honestly say I was positive that there was no way I'd be able to run up that hill. I contemplated just turning around to go back and looking for that disappeared Amelia Earhart of the tree streets, but something was stopping me. In that moment of vacillating fear I realized Providence had probably swallowed that road for a reason. I was being given an opportunity to prove my mettle and prove my doubters (namely myself) wrong with regards to my ability. I realized that all too often, when faced with giant problems, I'm much too aware of and controlled by my weakness. Instead of facing the issues head on to see what I can make of it, more often than not I turn around and dodge off down the easier road.

So I steeled my nerves (I wish I could have steeled my legs; they seriously felt like jelly) and I just kept taking one step after another.

As I chugged rather slowly up the hill, the chorus to Army of Helaman playing on repeat in my head, my legs burned more than they had since I first started running back in high school. My lungs were actually doing okay, but as I came around the first switchback (yeah, the hill is so steep it has switchbacks) I thought my calves were going to jump off of my legs and collapse on the pavement in protest to what I was doing to them. Despite the pain I continued on, but the farther I got up the hill, the steeper it became. If before I started the climb I doubted that I'd be able to make it to the top without stopping or walking, now I doubted whether I'd be able to make to the top at all. I just wanted to lay myself down on the pavement and give my aching body a rest. But no, I decided that I was going to make it all the way up come hell or high water, so I kept running. As I came around the second switchback onto the home stretch, my lungs fired up again and though I was getting steadily closer, the top never seemed farther away. At that point I started talking aloud, encouraging and cheering myself on.

I grunted and groaned and pushed (I sound like I was in labor) and somehow, against all common sense and against what I'd before considered to be within my realm of possibility, I made it to the top of the hill. It was exhilarating. I don't know how I did it, but I did.

I was about to stop and fall over in a pile of sweaty limbs, when Coach Platis' voice rang in my head, "Run through the top of the hill. Just because you're at the top doesn't mean the race is over." It went against everything I wanted at that moment, but I knew she was right. I'd made it this far, how could I bear to just stop? I had just done something I didn't think I could possibly do just by making it to the top, but that wasn't enough; I hadn't arrived yet. So I kept running. My body was screaming at me, telling me it wanted to stop and walk for a bit, but I didn't. I just kept running. I ran a couple hundred yards beyond the crest of the hill and decided that I would be justified in turning around and heading back. So, without stopping, I turned around and began my descent.

As I was running back down that hulking Goliath of a hill, my legs felt even more weak and wobbly than they had before. I had made it up the hill, but now I began to honestly worry that gravity was going to literally bring me to my knees. Considering my proclivity for breaking limbs, I didn't think it prudent to fall. This wouldn't have been the first time I'd fallen down during a run, heck I've even fallen down during races...multiple times, but never had I fallen down from sheer exhaustion, and I wasn't about to start. Somehow I managed to keep myself together and I made it to the bottom of the hill without incident.

Arriving at the bottom, the thought popped into my head, "Good work Sam. You made it all the way up and back. Go ahead and take a little walk now; you deserve it." The prospect of walking was perhaps even more tempting at that moment than it had been when I was at the top of the hill. Not because I was exhausted, though I was that, but because I felt like I'd earned a walk and that walking could be acceptable. That may have been true, but I felt like it would cheapen everything I'd just achieved if I stopped now. So again, I gathered some strength I didn't know I had and I told myself I wasn't going to walk or rest until I was back on my street in front of my house. Once again, I kept running.

I continued running all the way until I was in front of my house. I looked up at it and without a second thought I stopped and crumpled to the ground in a red-faced, sweaty-backed, sore-legged, breathless heap.

I stayed there on the lawn for quite a while. The grass was a little prickly on my back and legs and I could feel my skin starting to itch, but I wanted to savor the moment as long as I could.

That was a couple of hours ago now and I've been thinking. If I had decided to avoid the hills altogether and just run on the flat streets today, I'm sure I would have had a nice run. If I had turned around to look for the turnoff street and not faced that hill at all, I'm positive I would have have been satisfied with my run. If I had stopped to walk one of the many times that the thought came to me, I would have caught my breath and been on my way content with life. Frankly, if I had done any of those things, I have no doubt that I would have felt pretty good about myself just for having made the effort of going out for a run this afternoon. But I did none of them. Somehow, by sheer force of will I was able to push myself beyond my perceived limits and accomplish something I didn't think possible. And that gave me cause to smile.

I've been smiling ever since.


  1. I am beginning to be astonished. Not only did you conquer The Hill with commendable vigor, but you also managed to steal both the title and general subject matter of my next post.
    I really don't know what else to say.

  2. Hills are speedwork in disguise. -Frank Shorter