[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
The first time I climbed a mountain, I had only been a resident of California for a few weeks. I went with my ex-boyfriend, our flatlander quads burning as we strained our way up 4,000 feet. The peak was hard-earned and glorious. The next day, our legs ached and we marveled at how the mountain challenged us in a new way. We were both former Division 1 runners; we knew pain, we just weren’t yet familiar with mountain pain.
Over a year later, I started trail running, slowly and cautiously exploring the mountain ranges in Southern California. I got lost too many times to count, underestimated how much food or water I would need, over-dressed and under-dressed, and eventually found myself a running partner, who I ran with every weekend. We pushed each other, encouraged each other, and picked each other up. Having a good friend to share mountain miles with made remote landscapes less daunting.
As time went by, I grew more adept at running down technical trails. I started falling less and noticed my quads grow thicker and hard with muscle. When that friend moved out of state, I started running more on my own. I missed our constant stream of chatter and the companionship we’d found. I missed knowing he’d be at the trailhead waiting for me to arrive, and I missed our belly laughs. But having to run by myself helped me become even more accountable. Nobody would be waiting for me at the trailhead. Nobody would be there to distract me from my own mind. Nobody would be there to pick me up when I fell, and I have fallen many, many times. Doing hard things matters, and sometimes, doing hard things alone matters, too.
Last Saturday, I went to Mount Wilson to do a 20 mile training run. I went by myself, not because I don’t know anyone to run with, but because I needed to run alone. I didn’t want to keep up a conversation. I didn’t even want to listen to anything. I left my headphones in my car and started climbing.
There were a lot of people out, because it was a beautiful Saturday morning and beautiful Saturday mornings should not be wasted. The higher I climbed, the fewer people I saw. “Great job!” one couple shouted as I ran past. Another woman, who was hiking with two men, moved to the side of a smooth section of trail and called out…