Last April I ran the Tarheel Ten-miler endurance race for the first time. Most of the course was fine. I loved running through scenic Chapel Hill and ogling/coveting the super-expensive homes in the neighborhoods we ran through, but the race also includes the famous Laurel Hill Road which happens between miles 8-9 of the race. For approximately one mile, runners climb just over 200 vertical feet. The incline is so great that there is a separate split included in the final results. I had promised myself last year that I would run the entire Laurel Hill Road portion of the race, no matter what (barring my knees exploding, of course). I passed some runners who had slowed to a painful walk, some who were standing by the side of the road, hands on hips, and one runner who was doubled over and vomiting, and while my heart went out to that runner in particular, I kept on going. Towards the peak of the incline — the most unbearable point when your legs and lungs feel like they just can’t make it another step — someone had hung a bright blue banner with Edmund Hillary’s famous quote painted across it:

Hillary

I am a sucker for motivational words, and I always have been. I have been known to write out pep talks to myself, and I hang snippets of wisdom around my office, both at home and at work. I’m at work now, for instance, and stuck to my monitor is a post-it note with this gem:

Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.

Those words came by way of a student from last semester, who wrote about that quote — handed down to him from his dad — in an assignment modeled after the “This I Believe” archival oral history project featuring inspirational essays and stories. Those words are a legacy passed down from father to son and, pat and cliched they may sound, they are all that young man has left of him. They are catchy on their own; in the context of his story, they are truly transformative and empowering.

Lately, my running life has been informing/transforming my perspective on my writing life. Out on a run last week I received some news that was part-setback, part-huge-step-forward, and on my way home I turned the corner to the road back and found it blocked by massive tree-service trucks. I stopped for a minute, stupidly defeated by the blockage, and the guy in the orange vest who waved frantically at me to turn around, until I realized I just needed to take the other road — longer, and more hilly, but still a road that would take me home in the end. See? I told myself heartily while I chugged uphill. Roadblocks are just temporary. Sometimes the road to what you want is not as straight and easy as you think it should be. This weekend, when I was out on a training run for this year’s Tarheel ten-miler, the image of that banner flashed in my mind again. I was thinking about the crazy roller-coaster year (no, past three years)  it’s been for my writing career, and how where I am now in the journey feels like my Mile 8 — over, and over, and over again. I don’t want to be the runner doubled over by the side of the road, and I don’t want to be the one stopped, hands on hips, while I watch everyone else conquer their own personal mountains. I want to be the one who makes it all the way up the hill, and down the other side.

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