In the Box

If I am calm, I can find that quiet space between my ears where everything is ok, where the world and its difficulties recede, where I accept it all and see clearly what I have to do. I stop looking for a way out of a box with no opening.

A few years back, I was up a hillside in Vermont in mud season, turning the pedals of my bike over. It wasn’t the first hillside of the day. In fact, I’d lost track. Theoretically I was racing, but when I looked around at my competitors, everyone’s face looked as ashen as mine. We were all well past thinking of each other as anything more than road furniture.

My back hurt. Wet sand clung to my empty legs. Salt stung the corner of each eye, and the road went up and up.

And then the clarity came. This is the box I live in. This is how it is. I can stop, pull my bike to the side of the road and climb off, or I can go on to the finish. In that moment I realized I wasn’t going to stop, that I was just going to sit in the hurt until it was over, and then I felt better. I accepted it.

I grew up in Mobile, AL, where they invented the concepts we now recognize as ‘hot’ and ‘humid.’ Even in the fall, when cross-country season had me stacking 440s one on top of the other, I remember feeling like I could grab a handful of heat and keep it there until I opened my hand again, of there just never being enough air in the air. And so, my formative running years were spent in an environment inhospitable to running.

I never could accept it. Even after I came to New England, where I’ve lived for the last 30 years, the summer heat always held me back, smothered me, chased me into the shade.

But lately things are better. I’m getting to that place of acceptance.

The pandemic has been eye opening in that regard. We are limited in where we can go, so we’ve been chasing new patches of forest all over the state and discovering a lot of beautiful places. We can’t run off and find the weather that suits us. And we’re healthy, which means we’re grateful for all the time we can get on the trails right now.

I’m letting the sweat sting my eyes. I’m slowing down a little, moving forward. I’m getting comfortable in the box, and it feels like a skill developing where I used to try to bend reality to my will.