Passing through Jones Gap, I entered a cloud. It seemed out of a movie, the cooling mist offering hidden glances at the scenery far below. It struck me as odd, this feeling of serenity, because 30 minutes earlier I began my run by hobbling beside a river with a sore ankle and foot—not a good sign seven days out from a marathon. Three miles of climbing had limbered me up, and now my tendons and muscles responded like the well-trained machines I’d imagined them to be. Summiting the high point of the run, I knew this would be an easy day at the office.
Until the cloud rained on me, that is. It started as a drizzle then slowly picked up in intensity. I’d long since shed my shirt due to the humidity; each drop felt refreshing and enervating at the same time. The next three miles followed that same theme. I descended the backside of the mountain feeling light of foot, but the rain weakened my ability to enjoy it. The environment humbled me.
Just as quickly as it appeared, the rain dissipated. I was back in the valley with 30 minutes to finish. Now the sun radiated off the blacktop. Complicating matters, it was time to pick up the pace for the final 20 minutes of my run. The freshness felt gone, zapped by the long descent and rising temperatures. Speeding up seemed absurd. I bargained with myself, saying I could shorten the distance with the marathon being next week. Save your energy, I thought.
Then I saw that moment for what it was: weakness. I was justifying left and right while the dragon of my fears ruled supreme. Not today, I thought. Forge your sword in the fire now. My stride responded. It was time to slay the dragon. I kicked in the last mile, feeling smooth but fast as the doubts evaporated. My watch hit 20 minutes, and I made an emphatic fist pump. I stood victorious.
Surveying the scene, nothing looked different than when I left. I felt reborn, even though I was just back at my car. But I knew deep in my heart that I’d gone on a sacred journey and come back better for it. So much could happen on a long run.