Learning to Fall

The nature trail around Haverford College is one of my favorite places to run. The trail weaves through trees that offer lovely shade and coolness. But those benefits also come with costs: sometimes the trees’ roots protrude through the gravel like little knuckles.

One early morning, I felt like I was gliding along when I tripped on one of those tiny roots in the trail. I fell forward in slow motion, helpless to land violently on my hands and knees. I felt so angry! (I don’t know why) and embarrassed. My first impulse was to worry that someone saw me fall. I started to feel heat rush to my face.

One minute I was feeling great about myself, about the day, about everything, cruising along on a “runner’s high.” Then I was suddenly on my knees, bleeding from my palms. Tripping on that root was like being jolted awake from an amazing dream.

I ran the same trail many times since. Today noticed that the college had painted all the roots in the trail a bright white. I appreciated this effort. Now I could step over and avoid those small ridges and knuckles.

Watching the Track and Field events in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last week, I focused on the way that the sprinters coiled themselves up against the starting blocks to propel themselves forward at the start of the race. I love watching graceful athletes. I always take a little bit of their performance into my heart and mind, inspired by their agility and stamina.

I also remembered the new Olympic sport that I saw for the first time, speed rock wall climbing, where incredibly fit athletes extend their bodies from one brightly colored handhold to the next, spaced out on a stark white rock wall. The climber lifts their whole weight up by their fingertips or a toe grip. Using these colorful features to jump and yank themselves up the wall, they seemed to launch themselves into space.

Near the end of my run, when I was shuffling more than striding, feeling the least like an Olympian, I had a flash of insight, inspired by the rock climbers that I saw last night. Shifting my mindset, I began to aim for these white-painted roots instead of avoiding them. I could see that they were not just obstacles made to trip me up. I could use them to launch my next step like my own climbing-wall-handholds and sprinter-starting-blocks.

Approaching the end of my run with this new mindset, I finished with ease. And then I went to the gym where I realized that I was ready to push myself a little harder. A few hours later, my day has started off so well, with two calls going even better than I could have imagined.

What roots are you avoiding?

Do you know which ones can give you a boost?

photo credit: bady abbas/unsplash

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