A Thousand Miles Later

Being human inherently tasks us with the question of how to best spend our time. This is essentially a re-wording of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, but rather than making this question about you and what, I am more interested in discussing it in the context of us and how.

Most of us wake up each morning to climb metaphorical mountains. Essentially, we wake up for two reasons: either we are still searching for the right mountain, or we have found one and awaken to continue towards its summit. Over time, our climb creates a ridgeline that outlines peaks, troughs, and stagnancies of our life. This story is about my shift from one who was searching to one who is now intentionally climbing. Below shares what I have discovered a thousand miles laterthe essentials to effectively climb any mountain.

The Mountain I Call Home

My climb began last January, approximately three hundred mornings ago. Fast forward to today, and I have run a total of one thousand miles and counting - I have my Garmin watch to thank for keeping count. My climb up the computer science mountain may not have your typical green trees; nonetheless, one should not underestimate the beautiful nature of binary trees (not to mention the ability to make a nice bar graph from time to time). When I am not running up physical mountains, I work on my mental climb of running computer programs. That, however, is a story for another day.

Upon looking at this graph, I began to wonder how I was able to maintain such a consistent display of effort and discipline. Back in January, I never set a goal to cover one thousand miles this year. Instead, I woke up each morning, laced up my Nikes, and went out to test the limits of my legs. Thus, this number is just a descriptive statistic rather than a goal I worked toward during each run. Some days, my legs carry me for twelve miles before giving out, and on others, a slow two-mile jog is enough to wind me. Regardless, I get out of bed each morning to feel the wind in my face and simply relish in the gift of nature. When I run, it is just me, my shoes, and the world to explore. I leave the practicalities of life behind and solely concentrate on the feeling produced by each step. 

Ultimately, my summit was a result born from a commitment to the process. Its location is a definition of where I am now, and because where I am now is not where I will be tomorrow, my summit continually moves with me. Once we stop measuring, we liberate ourselves from expectations and our only responsibility becomes to enjoy the climb itself. 

What it Means to Love the Climb 

I experienced a lot of emotions over the span of a thousand miles. Some were familiar and enjoyable, such as the euphoria from adrenaline or the satisfaction of completing another run. However, I often experienced emotions that were not as enjoyable or familiar. When these emotions manifest, my initial reaction is to turn back altogether. The feeling of exhaustion on mile ten challenges my legs to keep going; guilt from taking a day off challenges me not to miss another. When I compare myself to those who can run faster or further, I doubt whether I am actually “good enough” to be a “real runner”. But when you love the climb, you are willing to run through and experience all emotions because the presence of euphoria only exists relative to the presence of discomfort.

When we find the mountain to which we want to dedicate our time each day, we are deciding to give ourselves completely to the climb. Doing so shifts the center of attention from the climber or summit to the ground below. I’ve found that this shift not only liberates us from the weight of self-expectations but actually allows us to surpass them, moving beyond what we thought was possible. When you truly love the climb, the failure of any pursuit does not diminish the joy in working towards it.

This is About Us

In our arrogance, we often believe that some mountains are inherently more valuable than others. However, the climbs of others elsewhere often ease the burden of our own. I run to the music of a musician on a phone built by an engineer, while wearing shoes made by a designer that carry me across a road paved by a construction worker. Our individual climbs are not exclusive to those of our fellow climbers; this inclusivity is what empowers humanity to take on steeper and longer trails that were once thought impossible.

Rainer Marie Rilke reminds us to, "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." Some stumble upon the right mountain early on and some will climb the wrong mountains their entire life. For others, it just takes a few climbs up the wrong ones. In any case, I have found that those who run the farthest are those who love running the most.

Photos courtesy of author.