One Hill at a Time

I turn uphill, and the world shifts against me. My legs begin to worry. I imagine the quad muscles like coils on a stove top — quiet and cold at first, then a faint red, creeping up the spectrum and sharpening to orange, and then finally to a temperature so hot the color burns away. I am two miles into my run. I’ve reached the first major climb.

And there are more to come on this trail. I count them in my head. Eight big ones. Immediately my anxiety multiplies by eight. That’s too many.

My quads groan, only halfway up Hill #1. Panicked thoughts flail around me.

You’re not gonna finish this run. You can’t! Not with EIGHT MONSTER HILLS!!!

It’s as though I’m climbing them all simultaneously; somehow the hills have fused together beneath my feet, mutated into some sort of impossible, pandimensional Mega-Hill — a mythical Kraken of sheer uphill horror. I’m doomed.

Then I remind myself: I’m only running one hill right now.

In fact, that’s the only way you can ever run. One hill at a time. You’re never battling eight hills at once, no matter what your brain is crying out in fear. You run up one, and then it’s behind you. Done. Not so bad.

Up the next. Done.

Each on its own is manageable.

In our everyday lives, we’re so often consumed by what’s next — the next deadline at work, the next phone call to make, the next email to answer, the next errand to run — that it can be a challenge to exist in the present. We project ourselves ahead, ahead, ahead, and our anxieties accumulate like bugs on the windshield of a fast moving car until we risk losing control, blinded and frantic.

To defeat the Kraken, I remember: One hill at a time. Stay in this moment.

Suddenly each one isn’t so bad. I straighten my back, pump my arms.

And clear the summit.

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