We live in a rural area. To put it less delicately: we live out in the sticks. It’s only a few miles outside of the nearest little town, and only about 25 miles from the nearest big city, but it feels far out enough to forget about what’s going on there. I’ve started running again, after taking the winter off. There’s a lesson in giving myself grace in there somewhere, but I’ll save that for another day.
I’ve spent the last two summers training to run a 5K race in September. I’m notably the least athletic person in my extended family. My lack of coordination combined with asthma sealed the deal, and I spent the better part of 30 years believing I should stay on the sidelines. It wasn’t until after I had borne two children and pushed my body to its limits, coming out stronger and better, that I thought maybe it was worth more than what I’d been led to believe. I had faced down childbirth and finally felt brave and strong for the first time in my life. So, I downloaded a tracking app, learned how to stretch, and slowly, so very slowly, put one foot in front of another until I could jog 3.1 miles without quitting. I’ve always done the majority of my training on our country roads. They are familiar. I know the landmarks: the big oak tree marks half a mile, the house with the two big dogs marks a full mile. I take comfort in the routine and the sights I know so well. Recently, Adam, as a surprise, carved out a trail in the back part of our ten acres. He spent days clearing out small trees in the wooded area and brush-hogging the pasture to create a clear, 4-foot wide loop that comes out to be a third of a mile. “Isn’t it great? You don’t have to run in the road or worry about cars back here, or dogs. I even cleared an area I’ll keep mowed down so the girls can play right here while you run. I recognized this immediately as an act of love, but I felt a little misunderstood. Doesn’t he know that I like running in the road? Or that I’m kind of terrified of what is in the woods besides cars and dogs? He walked me back through the trail, giving me the grand tour. “I think there’s something that lives in this burrow, but it won’t bother you.” Gulp. “And I did my best to cut these flush to the ground, but there’s a knot right here that you should try not to trip over.” Great. “Okay, so I have seen a snake near this pile of wood, but not recently.” Are you kidding me?! “Yeah, no. I can’t. I’m sorry, but I know I am going to fall down, and I’m positive that every living thing in here will come out in the broad daylight even if they usually sleep all day, and I know for a fact that I will step on a snake and die.” I said this with what I’m sure was a wild look in my eye. “What are you so afraid of?” “Everything,” I said in a small voice. “Just try it. I think you’ll like it. Good luck!” And with that, he walked back up to the house and left me to stew in my own fear. I walked the trail once, muttering to myself and dodging imaginary predators the whole way. Then I realized, very reluctantly, that it was actually okay. Maybe even a little nice. No cars, no dogs, no witnesses when I get a weird cramp and need to stretch in compromising positions. Best of all, I’d be running around a field of wildflowers. I put in my earbuds, started The Office Ladies podcast, and slowly began to trod my way through the trail. Over the course of two miles, I didn’t fall once. I saw nothing with scales or sharp teeth. I didn’t even wind up with a bug bite. I was a little brave that day, and each time I have gone out since, I’ve done so with a little more confidence. I’m turning into the kind of girl who runs through the woods. That literally makes me laugh out loud to say, but there you have it. This summer, instead of only focusing on one foot in front of the other, I’m stretching my courage along with my hamstrings. Strength and bravery are in me, somewhere. I’m ready to bring them with me on the trail.