When I was doing martial arts we were taught to fight with intent. I didn’t like to picture a person while I was training because hey, deep down*, I’m a peace loving gal. So I pictured fighting FOR something. Whether it was fighting for the grades/job/life that you wanted or World Peace, it came easier to me than picturing a person. And it could be pretty motivating.
In climbing you don’t fight for something. Unless you count the fight against gravity. So weight is the name of the game. Some days you feel light and free. Other days you walk in carrying the weight of the world, the weight of a brand, the weight of the problems you didn’t leave outside of your 8 foot egg shell. Sometimes it is just the self-imposed weight of the pressure we put on ourselves. We forget to smile and enjoy ourselves. We forget the reason we are out there.
* Okay, VERY deep down
I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom lately and the things that enable me to feel free. In a chaotic schedule, I look for ways for freedom to be quicker and easier to access. After a busy day there is nothing I want more than insta-freedom.
Maybe it’s not freedom, this feeling. Maybe “escape” is a more accurate description. I just know the feeling. I know the smile I get on my face whenever I fasten my harness snug around my waist. Even though there is all this gear on me, I feel released. I feel like I am about to step off the earth and fly. For the next few moments my body knows this is my time. This is the space I get to move in, the dance I get to do that is all me. Where the rest of the world disappears and my focus is on the tiny edge I can get half a fingertip on, the smear of rock that the rubber of my shoe needs to make contact with. Or it is about letting out all that pent up raw power, built on many hours of must-do, must-have. Breathe in, breathe out. That is all that you have to think about now. A form of meditation. My body is expressing all the pain, joy, frustration and elation of my day. I don’t need to find the words. I don’t have to struggle to get my message across and risk being misunderstood. It’s just me out here, living this moment.
Recently I felt that same Pavlovian response as I tied the laces tighter on my running shoes. Even though my feet were surrounded by man-made materials, they felt a sudden joy to be free. To go flying down paths and to know that they could just go and go and go, seeking out new trails, unbound by societal constraints for this morning, beating a soothing rhythm and feeding my craving for that burn. Out here in the quiet hours long before most people are awake I am waging the war for my freedom.
I like winning. There I said it. I know we’re supposed to be all philosophical and enjoy the challenge and the only one we are competing with is ourselves. Yep, I’m totally into that. And each send is very much about the personal challenge. But damn does it feel good to hear your name and the words “1st place” in the same sentence. And let’s face it, if we weren’t a bit competitive (even if it’s just with ourselves) we wouldn’t be quite as driven.
Now those magic words are even more magic when they come completely unexpectedly. Let’s rewind a bit. This past Saturday I entered a trail running race. Let’s rewind even further. I have only just begun to enjoy running. For most of my life it has been a slog. It is that period of time where I huff and puff and don’t even have little blown over houses to show for all the effort. I just have a red face and mangled hair. Rewind even further back. I suck at this. I am much more of a sprinter than a long distance runner. I don’t know why I entered every single cross country race in primary school. I guess it was just one of those things you did. Like volunteering to pick up litter at the nature reserve on the weekend or auditioning for the school plays. You had no real intention behind them. I would come last or thereabouts in most of the races. Yet I just kept doing them.
Okay, back to present day. I found myself at the Maweni trail run, the first in the KZNTR Summer Series. I was there because my boyfriend’s housemate had been asked to help out and we just tagged along. I might as well run this thing while I’m here. So I half-heartedly entered the 7km. I struggled up the first hill*, my legs felt frozen and heavy. But I kept puffing away, plodding along as ungracefully as one of those hippos in Fantasia…..no, that’s unfair. Those hippos had style.
I nearly ran off the path at one stage, distracted by the bands of rock in the distance. Next thing I knew I was staring down this (real) hill looming in the distance. And was a little bit too grateful when the marshal steered me left of it to the finish line instead of towards the brutal upwards slant for the 14km runners. I made it.
“First woman!” someone yelled. I looked around. Where is she? It took till the prize giving for me to believe this statement was aimed at me.
Photo by Julian Schroeder
Cool. That was fun. Maybe I can do this running thing in short bursts. Not long after that I was punishing my fingers at Umgeni, on the credit card crimpfest that is Stone Haven (8a) while the rain poured down and Faye and Andrew worked their projects just round the corner. And then we celebrated a great day out with the best cheesecake I’ve had in years. Yes! We won the day.
*although, judging by the blank expression on my boyfriend’s face when I told the tale, wasn’t actually a hill