“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3
Four years ago, I set a goal to run the Newport, Rhode Island ½ marathon by the time I turned 50. On one of our many visits there, my husband supported my dream by driving the marathon route. The route starts at Easton Beach, running up a steep incline into the quaint downtown area of Newport. It zigzags past the beautiful mansions, homes of Boston’s ultra-elite during the turn of the century. The race finishes to the soundtrack of crashing waves on Ocean Drive with majestic views of the ocean. As we drove, I envisioned running this 13.1 miles with my family cheering me on at the finish line.
I went home and downloaded an app for running whose subtitle was moving from a couch potato to a 5k run in three months. Every day, I started the app, ran for 30 seconds, then walked for three minutes. As I progressed, the length of running eventually increased and the walking decreased. After three months, I reached a point where I got stuck. After five minutes of running, my thighs burned like molten metal solidifying with the impact of every step. Thinking this was a mental block, I continued trying to push past with no success. I then thought maybe it was my form and read books and blogs about running to figure out my problem, still finding no solution. I thought maybe it was a weight issue and focused on dropping twenty more pounds. After the twenty pounds were gone, I still had the same burning sensation moving through my thighs at the five-minute mark. I even thought of hiring a running coach to see if I could get some help. I was frustrated! I saw pictures of women of different sizes running half marathons and even completing full marathon. I wasn’t endeavoring to break any records, just to complete a half marathon at some point in my life. But I just couldn’t get past the place where my thighs seemed to plant themselves in the asphalt, stopping me from achieving my goal.
With the help of my family and friends, I eventually concluded that this dream wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t for lack of commitment: I had brought the right shoes, did a lot of research, and even signed up for a 5k. It wasn’t for lack of motivation: I worked hard to reach this milestone. It was simply because my own body, with Rheumatoid Arthritis wreaking havoc, wasn’t in the physical condition to support the rigors of running. At this point, I faced two choices: I could hang up my dreams for accomplishing some major physical milestone, or I could find a new mountain to climb.
I looked for something else to accomplish, some physically rigorous activity that would be challenging but still achievable. This was about redefining who I am in terms of physical activity. For years, I was defined by being the last chosen for teams in gym class, unable to swing on uneven parallel bars, and sitting on benches while the rest of my family went site-seeing. I felt a weight of shame that added to what was already deemed my too-large body. I want to be physically active so that I can keep up with my grandchildren and explore the world around me. I want to have energy, flexibility, and strength to be the best woman I can be, despite limits placed on my body by a disease I can’t control. And I don’t want to be defined by shame anymore. This idea of setting a goal encapsulates what I wanted and what I was leaving behind.
Six months ago, I discovered a book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (Harrisburg) by Matt Willen. It’s part of a series of books that can be found for locations all over the country. As I read the book, I learned about parks, nature centers, and trails near my home. I remembered how much hiking has become part of my new definition. It’s an activity I enjoy doing, both alone and with others. I love connecting with nature in all seasons, observing small things that delight me, and feeling strong and capable as I explore the forests, meadows, and creeks. I knew instantly that my new goal was to accomplish all 60 hikes withing 60 miles by the time I am 60. It’s an achievable goal, hiking 6-7 of these trails per year for the next nine years. It involves me being mindful of my body and building up the strength to accomplish some of the more strenuous trails. It’s also not a destination goal, instead focusing on the journey to achieving the goal.
This journey through the sixty hikes is something I have been pondering for the last few months when the cold has made hiking a challenge. How do I mark this for myself? How do I keep myself motivated when it would be easier to sit on the couch in any given month? How do I keep going when the goal seems insurmountable? Creating a journal seemed the answer to these questions. Words, sketches, and photographs can be a visual reminder of where I have been and where I am going. The words might be lines of poetry, quotes, or scriptures that speak to me during and after the hike. The sketches might be leaves, flowers, or moss that I encounter. And the photos might be views I see from the top of a mountain. This journal is a record of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as I explore the world around me. It is for me to look back on and see how I grow and change throughout the next nine years.
We recently stopped at a restaurant with a popular saying on its wall, “The best way to describe the difference between involvement and commitment is bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved but the pig is committed. Which one are you?” All too often, the only way an outcome is deemed successful is to be as committed as the pig, to literally sacrifice your life in achieving this goal. Some would argue this is the only way to become great, like a concert pianist, Olympic medal winner, or master artist. All of these feats are to be admired for their discipline and commitment. But I would argue with the statement that the chicken is not committed. She recognizes she is not bacon, and instead, dutifully goes about her day, laying great eggs that complete the meal. We can all agree that bacon is great! But, unlike bacon, these eggs have the opportunity to come in different forms: poached, boiled, scrambled or fried, adding diversity to an otherwise straightforward breakfast. She is just as committed; it just looks different than being the best at only one thing!
I believe in goal setting; it helps me focus and work toward something. I love the geeky psychology behind habits and discipline that James Clear outlines in Atomic Habits. I even like setting deadlines for myself, even if I procrastinate. My approach to goal setting doesn’t work for everyone, especially when I set what seem like impossible goals. I am not a perfectionist, so when I set a goal for walking every day in a year, the fact that I missed seven days already doesn’t devastate me. Instead, it motivates me to continue walking on days when it seems hard, showing grace to myself on days when its below zero or my RA is acting up.
I choose not to view the death of my dream of running a half marathon as a failure. Instead, it helped me define my own limitations and clarify what I am truly capable of accomplishing. I may not get a medal after my last hike, but I will have nine years of experiences to look back on through a journal that chronicles my journey. And if I don’t accomplish this task due to some unforeseen reasons, I will pivot and set a new goal.
Friday, the weather looks decent in my area of the world. I plan on putting on my hiking shoes and finding a new trail to explore. And if Friday doesn’t work out, I’ll try again another day.
Love this. I loved hiking and walking when I was in the great NW Montana. Since moving back East I have not done it yet. I am motivated to start again. Also makes me think of dreams I have had for kingdom of God, start out ready, but pitfalls come and give up. Lord help us to continue to move forward