Running Mountains

It feels like the middle of nowhere. The temperature is about 31 degrees. Roads wind through the fjords, into tunnels, across valleys, and past frozen lakes. There is the slightest bit of snow falling and the wind lifts just enough that you feel the sharpness of the cold when it hits your face. The conditions are harsh by the standards of anybody who might prefer a sunny beach. We are nearing one of the more than 900 tunnels carved through the mountainous fjords of Norway. As we get closer, we see something. A small figure with hints of red and white. A hitchhiker? A road worker?  Someone lost?

We focus our eyes and tune into the figure: a runner, emerging from the tunnel.  Nothing but cliffs below and hills above, air as crisp as the clear blue water, and isolation except for a small town a few miles back.  Maybe that is her home.  Maybe she ran from farther.  Maybe she came here just to run, in complete solace.  Decked out in her winter running gear, with stand-out colors that happen to match those of the Norwegian flag, she makes her way to the side of the narrow road and charges forward as we drive past. She is safe, she is fluid, and she is bold.

I am so proud of her and she is only a mere stranger, someone on the side of the road, someone who enjoys the loneliness of a cold fjord run.  The beauty and challenge merge into a moment of lightness.  I imagine myself in her shoes, trekking down a two-lane highway, the resistance of the wind lightly pushing me back as I lean into my run. My cheeks freeze and burn at the same time, my hips tighten and release with every step.  The descent into the snowy valley ahead offers surrender from a welcome struggle. 

I adopted early morning runs about 15 years ago. 5am in D.C. is nothing like 5pm. In summer, the sun is barely peeking over the horizon. In winter, it is still warming Western Europe. Traffic is limited mostly to the occasional taxi and a few Capitol Police. Runners own the city as we trek down a double yellow line, ignore a red light, zig-zag the bike lanes. It is no Norwegian fjord, but it is our version of mountainous solace.

I used to count the divide between female and male runners early in the morning. I even kept a tally for a while. I have since erased it from the kitchen blackboard - so I no longer have stats - but I can say with confidence that women dominated. We owned the city at 5am. Some of us felt safe enough to run alone, some in groups. Either way, we had that yearning, that, fluid, get up and take the reins, not just of the city but of our lives. Even in “the swamp”, we run mountains.

We all find ways to run through the harshness of our respective climates and to shape the space around us. Cold or early morning runs show up in all shapes and forms, all day long. There are no signs telling us to be safe, fluid, or bold. We just go. We just do.

Everyday, we run mountains. Somedays, the run is amazing. Somedays, we are on point. Somedays, we align. And, somedays, we fail. Somedays, we find no solace. Somedays, we forget. Somedays, we suffer. Somedays, we deliver suffering. Somedays we lose sight of our purpose. And somedays, its just too cold to go out there...but we charge forward anyway.

Everyday, we run mountains. Together we navigate safe, fluid, and bold. Even when we grow insecure, stagnant, or weak, we still run right back up the mountain.

Happy Mother’s Day. Keep running your mountains!