Today was a defining day. It was the beginning of something as well as the end of something. It was about making a choice that was both hard, yet exhilarating, all in one.
It couldn't have been more perfect. I started 2013 with an 8 mile trail run at Mitchell Memorial Forest with John, Will and my brother, Jack. This is my longest trail run since the JFK 50 over a year ago. I've been on the trails, building up the mileage (and slowing down the pace) and I am reminded each time how absolutely much I love being in the woods, running on trails. Will wanted to go with us. I knew that after seeing the movie "Unbreakable" yesterday, he would be hard pressed to change his mind. The movie follows four of the world's best ultra runners competing for first place in the 2010 Western States 100 mile endurance run. It gives a close look at their lives, their training and their journey throughout the race. We are invited to look at what one does when he think he has nothing left... what choices he makes and how he handles himself.
The ending surprised him, yet motivated him. I could tell he wasn't going to sleep through today's run.
We arrived at 7:30 and headed to the trail head. John is just beginning to build mileage and was running on his current diet of lots of protein and very few carbs. He wasn't sure what to expect, running this distance on a "lifting" diet, as opposed to a "runner's" diet. So we hit the trail nice and easy. Will and Jack led us on the single track mountain bike trail. The snow was beginning to melt, leaving behind peaks of slippery mud and slush. It took a lot of energy to be mindful of our footing in order to remain vertical. The woods were breathtaking. I told John it looked like Narnia. The branches were still covered in snow, as was the ground. Everything was so white, so clean.
As expected, Will began to pull ahead. And as expected, Jack followed. John and I stayed status quo since we were not walking the uphills like I do at Miami Whitewater. We were mostly running it all, with an occasional slow down for a swig of Heed. Soon I could not see Will. Jack backed off a bit and when I caught up I told him to stay with Will. Jack turned around and said "Let him go." What? Let my first born loose in woods he doesn't know, has never been in and running like a fool? Will is reckless. He is a thrill seeker. I just KNEW on this trail he would take a downhill way too fast, wipe out and crack his head open. I just knew it.
"He needs to do this, Kate. He'll be ok. This is what I love about running in the woods... the aloneness." In an instant, I could translate Jack's sentiment... "Let him experience everything you love about running trails and running alone. Let him get better." How would Will ever develop as the runner he could be if he is stuck at mom's pace and doing mom's training all the time. And I knew he was right. Will has never been allowed to run alone. The closest he comes is the days he runs with his buddy, Austin, after school. The boys run for an hour, all over Harrison. I usually give him a million instructions and safety reminders on those mornings. He always nods, but most certainly does as he sees fit I'm sure.
I ran with some anxiety for awhile. Wondering if I'd come across him on the ground with a broken bone or cracked skull. I wondered if someone would bother him (sure, because all the kidnappers are on trails on New Year's Day at 8 am. And they are all waiting for and expecting a 14 year old boy to come bounding by). Finally, as I have trained myself to do, I silently whispered, "Jesus... please run with him. Protect him. Be near him. Help him feel your presence."
No lie, but from that point on, I worried no more. I was more worried about not falling than I was about Will. Even when I heard the coyotes howling (I was, however, worried about ME when I heard them. But crazy enough, not Will). I knew the Protector that went with him would make sure he was ok.
At about mile 7, John and I caught up to Jack and Will, who were waiting for us. Jack said Will was maintaining a good clip, but was getting a bit tired. We took off and ran the 1/2 mile as if we were racing. I was staying with Will and clearly that bugged him. So he went faster, hitting the downhill like a madman. I fell back, but caught up, taunting him and singing "one, two, mommy's coming for you..." That absolutely cinched the deal. Will could not handle the competition from his 'ol lady and took off. I was cooked and couldn't catch up :)
We reached the parking lot in a breathless, tired state and walked back to the car. We said our goodbyes to Jack and headed home. I could tell Will was on cloud nine. He talked non-stop, instead of giving me the normal courtesy mumble. He talked about the animals he saw as well as his favorite part of the trail (the most difficult portion, of course!). He then used part of a gift card he earned to buy his mom and dad a coffee. The magic has been unlocked. Will is hooked.
My dream is not that Will develops into this awesome trail runner because I love it. It could be anything, really. But my dream is that he finds a place to go that is a sacred space. A place where he can marvel at the beauty God has laid before us and a place where he can figure out his toughest problems. A place where he can be alone, talk to God, be mad, be happy or be whatever it is he feels at the moment. A place he can leave physically spent, but spiritually filled. We should all be so lucky to find that space or that hobby that is ours and ours alone. Judging from the way he left that park, I believe that place for Will is the woods, on the trails.
I am thankful my brother suggested I let him go and proud of myself for doing it.