A Lesson I’ve Learned: When Looking Down is Best

by Bonnie Tate

Hill upAt the beginning of January I started running with my husband. He has been a regular runner for years and I am more of a (high speed!) dog walker. I guess he sensed my indifference early on, because invitations to join him on runs dwindled quickly. Regular exercise is a priority for me, but running never had an appeal. I'm not sure why – maybe because it just looked hard, or because of the mystery pain in my right knee, or because I often pass creeping joggers and think hey, I could walk faster than that. Why run? Or maybe I didn't think I could do it. Hmmm.

At New Years we were visiting my family in Florida. Being at home had me feeling happy and comfortable and refreshed. The idea of a run suddenly seemed like an approachable challenge. (Did you know that the highest point in Florida is lower than the lowest points in many other states? It's flat flat flat.) The first few 3 mile runs were surprisingly do-able and I felt like I had passed some kind of fitness test in my head.

When we got back to Washington the following week I felt confident in continuing with the challenge, even though I knew that we were no longer in the hot flat lands, as my husband puts it. 

Hills make running significantly more difficult! Wow, do they! Going up hill, I became the creeping jogger. The huffing and puffing that I had expected to happen on the first run did happen on the first hill.

I won't bore you with the details of how my lungs have gotten stronger or how the red sweatpants make me feel more energized. Three and a half months later, the modest kind of running I'm trying to do – 4 miles several times a week – has gotten easier. (The best part is the wonderful last step, because I feel like I've accomplished something.)


This brings me to the point of this post – the hill. On our regular routes through the woods there are several gravel hills. The one in the photo above (up top, above Rocky) is the one I hate the most. It's a combination of steepness, length, and large rocks that make steps irregular. This hill made me stop and walk, and wonder if maybe my lungs are smaller than average. Sometimes my husband sprints up the hill, leaving only irritation and my slow crunch of gravel for company. 

On one of those days, I told myself that I wasn't going to look up until I reached the top. I kept my head down (rocks, red sweatpants, muddy shoes) and kept reminding myself to resist the urge to see how much was left. I concentrated on each step and tried not to worry about how long it was taking me. And that is the key to the hill. 

It's still hard. I can't say it's surprising how quickly I make it up! Because I'm still slow. But it's easier because it feels better mentally. When I can't see how far I have left, or my husband moving swiftly away, I feel fine just to keep going at my own pace.

This brings me to my second point. While going uphill and looking down, it's helpful to distract myself with other thoughts. So I decided that this uphill run is a metaphor for my photography business. Or any long term goal. There's a tendency to always look forward and focus on what you want the ultimate result to be. This comes easy and feels right when things are going your way. But when it gets hard, and you are trudging upward, or standing still and panting, the top of the hill looks obnoxiously far away. 

{Put your head down and keep going}

Also, don't compare yourself to any another runner! The top, the goal, will come back into sight. And the next hill will have a lesson of it's own. 

Wishing you success on your hill!

Hill down 

(Ha! Not much of a hill!)

*PS – Until May 1, all prints in the SALE section of my Etsy shop are Buy One Get One Free! Just let me know which print you'd like for your second one in the message to seller box at checkout.