Anybody Know Where This Path Goes?

Most of the time, I have no idea where I’m going.

No, seriously. I know where I want to go. I know I’m trying to get there. I know where I think I should be. But most of the time, I actually have no idea where I am.

In life, as in running, we try to move forward with staunch single-mindedness. Holding our final objectives ever before us, we push on despite obstacles, despite fear, despite the doomsayers, and, occasionally, despite our own better judgment. We know that trials, discomfort, pain, and fatigue are par for the course. We know there will be a few missteps along the way. Still, we are resolved. We know our goals, and we know what it will take to achieve them. Because, by golly, we have grit.

And then, twenty-seven pairs of worn-out shoes later, we find ourselves running alone on a bleak and lonely trail. We are presented with a series of paths jackknifing their way across an unfamiliar landscape. And we haven’t spotted a hypothetical trail marker in quite a long time. Our purpose, which was once so clear, is muddled by sheer distance and isolation. Long gone are the morale-boosting, flag-waving, slogan-spewing rallies. Forgotten is the naive eagerness of a pilgrim just starting out. Our steps slow to a stop, and as we try to catch our breath, we can’t help but notice the entire scene is extraordinarily inhospitable.

Well… huh… this isn’t quite what I expected.

[enter tumbleweed]

More often than not, goals aren’t achieved quickly. Far from being a simple journey from Point A to Point B, most of my goals are veritable odysseys that begin at A and then take their sweet time zig-zagging to ZZ. (That’s right, ZZ, from the double alphabet, like you find in vending machines and sports arenas.) But unlike the journey from the nosebleeds to the main stage, my path isn’t marked with bright capital letters and conscientious, name-tagged ushers. Instead, my goals simply present themselves, pat me on the back, and offer a snickering “Good luck, old chap!” before leaving me to fend for myself.

So rude these goals can be.

Our recent series of torrential downpours reminded me of a run I had earlier this summer, when we were smack dab in the middle of heat wave that was obviously a meteorological donation from Hades. My training had been accompanied by incessant sun, extreme humidity, and day after day of triple-digit heat indices. My legs were tired. My body was tired. My mind was tired. Everything around me was tired. Nature had succumbed to a brown and wilted existence. The grasses were shriveled. The trees hung limp and faded. Even the road hid itself beneath a layer of dust. My marathon was still months away, but I wasn’t particularly encouraged by the progress I was making, primarily because I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I just felt worn out. And slow. People speak of weathering the storms of life, but sometimes it’s just as tough to survive the droughts.

[reenter tumbleweed]

Pummeled by a relentless sun and surrounded by the monotony of a parched land, I began to doubt my ability. I began to doubt my training. I began to doubt my goal.

Then, out of the blue—and I mean literally out of the blue because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at the time—it started raining. Actually, it started pouring. The scorching temperatures plummeted as the cool air drove away the heat and a flood of sweet, refreshing raindrops soothed my skin. It must have been the world’s smallest raincloud, because everything else around me was still baking beneath a searing sun, limp and desiccated from exposure, faded and cracked from thirst. But I—wherever I was—ran beneath the shelter of a cloud, refreshed by the water, healed by the rain. 

C.S. Lewis once said, “To a man on a mountain road by night, a glimpse of the next three feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.” In life, as in running, we are driven by convictions. Pursuing far-flung dreams, we make sacrifices, endure discomfort, marry inconvenience, and push uncertainty aside. Our goals may relate to career choices, relocations, relationships, finances, health, or even actual distance itself, but no matter their substance, they will inevitably lead us through periods of drought. The dust and monotony try our constancy, challenge our determination, and test our faith. And when doubts creep in and fatigue overwhelms, we long for some kind of reassurance, something to affirm us in our passion and uphold us in our journey.

In short, sometimes we need a little rain.

I smiled as I squinted between raindrops and splashed through newly formed puddles. I could tell I was running faster now, not just because of the cooler air, but out of joy. I felt almost giddy. I knew the rain wouldn’t last long—I was still surrounded by drought, after all—but it was enough. I soaked in the last few minutes of the downpour, leaping through tiny stopgap rivers of water flowing across the road and taking deep, content breaths. My confidence had been restored. My purpose renewed.

Running may be a sport, but training is a faith. And every now and then, we simply need to be reassured that we’re on the right path. 

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious RunnerHer second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Storywill be released in 2014.

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