The first encounter with “Mother” came in the dark.
It was the beginning of my running career and Sue had befriended me, inviting me along to a 6 a.m. run at Chestnut Ridge Park in October. It was still dark outside. The path was covered with leaves and if it weren’t for Sue’s headlamp, held in her hand to illuminate our surroundings, I would have fallen more times than I did.
By the time we hit this legendary hill in Western New York running circles called “Mother” or “Big Mother,” it was the midpoint of our run. And to be honest, I didn’t realize we were on the hill until about a quarter of the way up it. Not because it was easy, but because I had no advance sight of the hill to intimidate me.
There was something comforting about running “Mother” in the dark. The cover of the predawn hour kept me in the moment, not anticipating what was to come. With that focus, I was able to embrace the challenge (and feel the pain) without judgement. If I didn’t know exactly when I was on the hill, or where exactly it ended once I was aware, there were few ways I could judge my performance.
Two weeks after my Ironman, I returned to “Mother” and that, well, was a mistake. It had been a long time since I ran the course, opting for less traumatic hills during my distance training. But the day was so beautiful, I wanted to enjoy an easy run in a great venue and so decided this course would be perfectly picturesque.
It was picturesque. This I know. Because I had to walk up “Mother” and felt like I just produced an epic fail. To break out of my epic fail downward mental spiral, I forced myself to enjoy the autumn day.
But I did vow to return and have a better quality run.
With a 10K run on my schedule for Thursday, I decided it was time to return to “Mother” on another perfect autumn morning — blue skies, a gentle light, colorful leaves. I wouldn’t be seeing “Mother” in the dark but I decided I would be seeing the hill in a different light.
That last run was full of personal judgments. I wanted to attack the hill. I wanted to be superwoman.
This run was filled with happiness. The character of the day made me smile. I offered hearty “good mornings” to those out on the path, mostly walking their dogs in the crisp autumn air. I wasn’t looking for the hill. The hill would come. Instead, I just enjoyed feeling strong and avoided glancing at my Garmin for any real-time statistics.
While I could see Mother coming around the bend, I put my ego aside. Pace? Who cares. Just keep running up the hill. Just … keep … running.
This was not about efficiency. This was about my mental game.
I needed to run the hill. And I needed to not care about my pace.
I trudged up “Mother” one step at a time and smiled when I reached the apex.
For a moment, I had recaptured that feeling of running the hill in the dark, that feeling of success and triumph and strength which comes in those first months of training.
Changing my perspective, even slightly, made all the difference not just in my outcome, but in how I felt about my outcome.