Sunday, March 4, 2012

#392: One More Hill!

Photo by LaDonna
On the long drive from Pittsburgh to Gramma's house in the country, we would pester Dad. "How much farther?" "Three more hills," he would answer, and we would count them down as we rolled through the Pennsyltucky night. We measured our trip in hills.

I measure my runs like that now, only I'm not asking how many are left, I'm just asking for the next hill. I whisper it like a prayer. "C'mon, God. Give me one more hill. Let me climb another one. Let me see the world from the top of that next hill. Just one more hill."

Used to be, the top was my favorite part of the hill. Once the climb is over, you can slow your cadence a little, lengthen your stride a little, lift your eyes and enjoy the horizon. Today, my favorite part is the bottom. When LaDonna took this picture, we both said, "Oh my God!" Looking at the photo, you probably think the slope of the road is an optical illusion. It isn't. The hills are really that long and steep. And I love them. I love the feeling of bearing down as I start to climb. Checking my posture. Lowering my gaze to the road right in front of me. Scaling mountains one stride at a time. The word "endurance" never means more than it does when you're half-way up a hill. At first, you tell yourself, "I can do this." Then you realize, "Hey! I'm doing this!"

Some hills kind of roll to the top: the slope gradually softening to a plateau. The best ones stay steep all the way up. As you approach the end of the climb, all you can see is sky. It doesn't matter what's on the other side. Could be a long descent. Could be another, bigger hill. Doesn't matter. All that matters is that you're still running, still climbing, and you can't help thinking that if you could only climb fast enough, you could hit the crest of that hill like a springboard and just keep going right on up into the clouds while acres of Bluegrass pasture rolled out below you in all directions.

God, but I love running in Kentucky.

LaDonna and Pennsy before the 2011 Midsummer Night's Run
I ran with my friend LaDonna, today. We met two years ago in our head and neck cancer support group. She was an emotional wreck. I was a month into treatment and closer to death than I've ever been. I was standing at the finish line when she ran her first 5K. I was behind her two months ago, when she finished her first 5 mile run. Today, we did 12.5 side-by-side through the cold, snowy morning. We were taking the course for the Run the Bluegrass Half-Marathon which is at the end of this month. She trusted me to know the way. That was a mistake. I got us so lost that I still don't know for sure where we were. Most people would have been furious with me. LaDonna just shined it on. "I'm just glad to be running!" she said. We both laughed. Two cancer fighters, lost in the hills, running and laughing like idiots.

After we found our bearings, as we approached the barn at Keeneland where we had parked, I told her, "Only one more hill, I promise." When we got to the top, and I saw our cars through the trees, I confess I was a little disappointed.

I wouldn't have minded climbing just one more.


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