Progress & Patience

Sarah McMahon
4 min readOct 2, 2023

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

It’s a Saturday morning, and as I do most Saturday mornings, I’m up hours before sunrise. All my running gear is packed and ready to go, so all I have to do is get dressed, brush my teeth, and pour a cup of coffee for the car ride. I’m going to a mountain where I do a *lot* of my training. Mount Wilson sits on the outskirts of Los Angeles and peaks at around 5,700 feet. It’s 7 miles to the summit and I’ll gain about 5,000 feet of elevation on the way. The trail starts and ends in Sierra Madre, a quiet suburban city in Los Angeles county best known for it’s proximity to the mountains. Nearly 20 percent of residents are over 65 and a single family home will cost you over a million dollars.

I’ve been running up Mount Wilson a long time, back before Chantry Flats was closed due to wildfires. Like many who live in Sierra Madre or frequent the nearby foothills, I’ve seen plenty of bears, all of them unconcerned with my presence. I’ve run up Mount Wilson in snow, in rain, in boiling hot sun, with friends and alone. Because Mount Wilson isn’t very tall, it’s accessible year-round, and in the winter, there can be a foot of snow on the summit one weekend that disappears by the next. Once, I was followed by a strange man as I ran down the road from the summit to another set of trails. And another time, I called for help when a different man fell and hurt his knee. Still another time, I made friends with another runner and we completed the second half of our run together. The mountains are beautiful and dangerous and thrilling. We can love them in the same breath that we curse them, like an inattentive lover who every so often, holds your hand.

A more immediate reason myself, and many others, love the mountains is because climbing any mountain is never easy. The first time I reached the top of Mount Wilson, I hiked the entire thing. I was new to California and new to climbing mountains, so summiting felt daring. I hadn’t gotten lost. My legs hadn’t failed me. I could do hard things. Shortly after I started trail running, I began training in the mountains, too. Days after a mountain run, my legs would feel heavy and sore. Growing pains, I thought.

Now, I can run up Mount Wilson without thinking twice, with the muscle memory that only comes with repetition. I know where all the…