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A friend of mine introduced me to trail running a couple years ago.  It combines two of my favorite activities – running for fitness and hiking in the outdoors.  I definitely prefer trails to running on the road.  However there are more opportunities for mishaps in trail running.  My experience after 15 or so solo trail runs, there are also numerous opportunities for “life lessons” while on the trail.  I had a number of life lessons reinforced in a single run this week.

There is a state park between the plant where I am working and my hotel.  Morrow Mountain State park is a rolling, wooded haven for deer, squirrels, lizards, and more in central North Carolina.  I’ve hiked and run there a number of times and I enjoy the peaceful solitude.  On the trails I have encountered few other travelers although the trails appear fairly well travelled.

Trail running in West Virginia last week I slightly tweeked my ankle, so I was a little apprehensive considering this trail run.  The Morrow Mountain trails are very rocky with a plethora of tree roots providing trip and ankle-rolling hazards.  For this reason I made sure I told two folks at the plant my plans.  In the back of my mind I thought, “In case I don’t show up at work tomorrow, they will know where to send a search party.”  Both gentlemen shared stories about adventures at Morrow Mountain with snakes and ticks being a predominant theme.

When I pulled into the open field that serves as the parking lot I was only slightly surprised there were no other vehicles.  While this is the parking lot for the horse trailers as well as the start of a hiking only trail, my sense is that is primarily a summer and weekend activity.  My plan was to run about 4 miles.  Looking at the map I made a plan to start on the hiking trail for about a mile, jump onto a cross-over hiking trail for about a half mile, then pick up the short loop horse trail for the remainder of the run.  At the last minute I folded up the map and slipped it in my pocket.  I’m glad I did.

I set off and I had to remain focused on the number of roots and rocks in my path.  The hiking trail was neither smooth nor level.  My hyper-caution was making the run less fun.  When I first began trail running I was amazed to learn that trail running really only took a little greater attention to the trail than street running.  However since I had tweeked my ankle last week, I was too focused on the trail and I was overthinking my steps.  Life lesson #1 It is easy to slip into the need to control everything.  We can’t.  Trying to do so will rob the enjoyment out of life.  Trust God and the instincts He has given us.  Prudence is to listen to the Lord and walk (or jog) in wisdom.  I stopped after about 1/3 mile, stretched, and made my mind up to run more naturally and quit trying to plan every step.  It was mentally fatiguing and, as I had experienced in the past, unnecessary.  Running after that was much better.

After about a mile I was to jump on a cross-over trail.  I didn’t notice the cross-over when I first passed it since it was on a steep downhill descent.  I overshot it by half a mile.  When I realized my mistake I cringed.  If I kept to my original plan, them my run just became a 5 mile run instead of a 4 mile run.  I am a 3 – 4 mile run guy.  It’s been awhile since I ran 5 miles and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.  Life lesson #2 – Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that demand more of us than we think we are able to give.  Sometimes we realize we are headed in the wrong direction.  Seek God’s wisdom, follow His leading, and press on wherever He guides you.  If we find we are heading in the wrong direction, turn around.  He is faithful and true.  He will not abandon His child.

I found the cross-over trail and set off down it.  It was a section of trail that I had not been on before.  I had hiked this trail further ahead where it steeply ascends Morrow Mountain, but this section appeared on the map to run downhill for a ways and cross a couple streams before turning up the mountain.  I had run for a few minutes and crossed at least one stream when I noticed the trail turn up a steep slope.  “On no,” I thought.  “I’ve missed the turn again and now I’m heading up the mountain.”  My recent memory of adding a mile to the run was fresh in my mind.  I did not want to add any more distance to today’s run.  A quick consult of my map and I saw that the trail I wanted shouldn’t be more than 100 yards east of me since I had just crossed that stream.  So I headed off the trail toward what I assumed was the right trail.  Well 100 yards became 200 yards.  When I realized there was no trail, I turned south intending to cross the Bridle trail that showed up on the map.  That was IF my new estimate of my location was correct.  I wandered around in the woods for about 5 minutes with three thoughts.  First was the thought that the trail has to be around here somewhere.  The second and third thoughts were about snakes and ticks.  I’m not sure why that part of my earlier conversation made such an impression.  Life Lesson #3.  Fear is a poor partner in decision-making.  Fear can and will steer you off the proper path if you let it take an inordinate role in making decisions.  Fear has a role.  It can cause us to stop and think through a situation critically.  Once you stop though, use data and rational thinking to make your decision.

I finally stopped and did a serious reconnoiter.  My Boy Scout training kicked in.  Panic was the enemy.  Fear of running too far and driven me off the trail.  Now fear of snakes and ticks were clouding my critical thinking.  And for the first time in several minutes I prayed.  “Lord, I need a little help here.”  Was I lost?  Well, I didn’t know exactly where I was.  But I knew the direction where the trail I had left should be.  I set off in that direction not sure if it had turned away and up the mountain or not, but at that moment getting back to that trail was my best bet.  I had only gone a little ways when I saw movement and color up ahead of me.  It was a hiker, the 2nd and last I would see all evening.  I knew I was headed right direction.  I picked up my pace and soon I was on the right trail.    There was another life lesson here.  Life Lesson #4.  When you lose your way, God is right there with you.  Call to Him.  Ask for help.  Follow His guidance.  Critical thinking is very good.  Prayerful, critical thinking is the best.

My attempt at avoiding adding extra distance to my run added about a half mile.  I was at the point that should have been a little over a mile and I was not too far from 3 miles into my run and I was pretty sure I had at least 2 miles left to run.  I set off again now that I had the trail.  It was familiar and, being predominantly a horse trail, it was wide and smooth.  Life Lesson #5.  Life, like the trail that day, has twists and turns, ups and downs.  The Lord has laid out a path for us.  While the path won’t always be easy, it is the tried and true way to your destination.  Don’t seek to avoid the challenges, but rather face them head on and persevere to the end.

The remainder of the run was relatively uneventful.  I guess I had enough to consider after all the lessons of the day.  As I jogged and prayed I sensed the Father’s presence encouraging me to press on.  Nearing the end of the run was a quarter mile, very steep incline.  I knew it was coming and as I got to the base of it, I simply started walking and gauging my fatigue level.  While tired, I was confident that if I stayed the course I would make it.  And after 5-1/2 miles and a little over an hour I found the parking lot and my car.

Thankfulness for the Lord’s kindness, care, and the life lessons which made a physically demanding run so insightful flooded my soul.  I think I’ll be back… but I will probably hike instead of run…. and I will definitely stay on the trail.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a blessing to whoever the Lord brings into your life today.

 

 

 

 

 

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I went for a run in the woods today.  I like to be outdoors.  I like to run…  Actually, we better make that “I like to jog.”

I went to a state park near where I am working this week, picked up a trail map and selected a Moderate trail, 3.9 miles in length.  I was feeling pretty perky.

Since there where no topographical lines on the map, I made my best guess which way would provide the best grade.  OK, for those not familiar with running, er jogging for the middle-aged and somewhat conditionally challenged, the best grade means as little uphill running as possible.

I guessed right, or at least the first 3 miles seemed so.  A fairly long, but gradual downhill was followed by a few slight rises.  All in all the first three miles were sufficient to have me pondering the goodness of God.  I began to see how trail running can be a good metaphor of life with it’s up and downs, periodic ruts, times of running in the brilliant early evening sunshine followed by the dusky shadows of the deep woods.

I came to a rather long flat section about three miles in and that perkiness really kicked in.  I picked up my pace.  Turtles and snails were no longer my trail companions.  Seventy five yards or so later I was beginning to congratulate myself on being slight less winded than I thought I should be when the trail turned… and went up…really up.  Like somebody forgot this was a trail around the base of Morrow Mountain and not over the mountain.

I lowered my vision to the trail in front of me and plodded purposefully up the ever steeper slope.  The biggest problem I had though was that I had looked at the dauntingly steep slope and it was in my head as well as being a real physical challenge.  As I slowed my pace to get my heart rate back off the edge I had to laugh as several obvious realizations came to mind.

First that long downhill to start my run was followed by a number of approximately equal rises and falls.  Logical conclusion #1, I still had the height of the long gradual downhill to climb to get back to my car.

That height difference had to be made up.  Since I didn’t have a clue of the topography in this area, it appeared that the route I took was the gradual side and this was definitely the steep side.  Logical conclusion #2, it is okay to walk if it is too steep to run.

Logical conclusion #3 was related, to #2, it is better to walk, laugh about it, write a blog about it, and survive than to die of a heart attack trying to run up a hill in the woods where I hadn’t and didn’t see another soul the entire time I was out there.

Logical conclusion #4.  The trail was a combination horse trail and jogging trail.  The designation of the trail being Moderate was probably for those riding a horse.  Where I was did NOT feel the least bit moderate… even when I slowed to a walk.

Logical conclusion #5 (perhaps the most important learning from my run), trail running is a lot like life.  (I know I had already started down this trail earlier, but I think the Father was just getting me ready for the real lesson.)  Sometimes we do have downhill runs where it is great and we are seemingly carried along.  Sometimes there are slight rises that correspond to the challenges that periodically come our way.  We press on through and are made stronger because of them.

And then there are the steep slopes that rise up and challenge us to our limits.  I was about halfway up the steep slope when I had to slow to a very slow walk to bring my heart rate down.  (When you can hear your heartbeat approaching three beats a second you know it is time to take it easy.)

Life will bring us to times that press us to our limits.  I believe in God’s sovereignty.  Nothing that we come up against is outside of God’s knowledge and allowance.  There are three sources of challenge we will routinely encounter.  1) Some we bring on ourselves.  In those situations the best approach is to quickly acknowledge our error/mistake/sin, turn around, and ask God’s forgiveness and help.

2) Some are attacks of the enemy of God and His children.  If we ask for discernment, God will provide it.  When this is the source we are to stand firm in faith, resist the devil, and call upon our mighty Warrior & Savior to intervene on our behalf.

3) Finally many are due to the fallen world we live in and God’s desire to live through us in a manner that strengthens us and provides a consistent witness of His Grace to others.  Again standing firm in faith is called for, but additionally praying for the opportunity to shine brightly for God through the time of testing is appropriate.  We do not know all the good God wants to bring through our patient perseverance, but we can cooperate with Him by praying and resting in Him.

Before I knew it I was at the top of the steep hill.  I looked back down and realized I had made a significant elevation gain in a short period.  I almost prayed, “Lord make that the end of the uphill”, but I didn’t.  Instead I started jogging again, a little slower perhaps to conserve a little more energy, thinking about how good God is to provide life lessons in such a beautiful classroom.

Have a most blessed day my friend.  May God make the trail rise up to meet you and give you peace.

 

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