On Running and Riding

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

The first mile is always the hardest.

I was never a runner. Frankly, I had no interest…until the day I had to have one. But, that’s not this story. This story starts about my horse. If you know me, everything I do is for my animals in the end. As I have learned to love running, embrace the grind and the endorphins, my day doesn’t feel right until I kick my feet. I know, it sounds crazy. I used to be that way too. I can’t say it’s for everyone, I would’ve sworn it wasn’t for me. However, in the struggle of running, I learned so much more about myself.

It’s in these moments all is in focus. Almost. My brain is considering how much better chocolate cake is than what I am attempting to do. My body is disgruntled, awkward, and stiff. My heart starts pounding yet it kicks on like cross-country ride. Eventually, my brain acquiesces; it knows the first 5 minutes are always clumsy until I hit my stride. My body smooths out and I find my rhythm. I center on my breathing, my form, my purpose. Now, I’m focused.

Settled, I think about my horse. I ask her to do this; to run, to give me her heart. I pay that debt back by being all I can be in return. Be an easier burden to bear. That is my pact. Little did I know that my gift to her would teach me so much in return. I go pick up and set down heavy things to be strong. I run like a hamster on a wheel to build my own endurance. It’s become my church, and I go religiously. I block everything and everyone else out.

I’ve never been one prone to consistency. I love the random beauty of the world, the improvisation of travel and chasing fancies. Spontaneity speaks to me. But consistency is where the work is, and the improvement. When I say consistency, what I really mean is discipline. I am disciplined in my riding, but running has taught me to be disciplined in my mind and about my life beyond horses. When I am feeling weak, I dig deep. If I ask it of my mare, I should be able to ask it of myself. The more I tire, the more I tighten my form. It is not enough to complete the task in a sloppy manner for it is the perfect practice that makes perfect.

Pain is weakness leaving the body, or so we are told. I don’t push through pain, I push through discomfort. There is a difference. Admittedly, I don’t push as hard as I can every day, because I want to come back every day. Discomfort has become my home, in the best kind of way. Unpleasant feelings, physical or mental, let me know I’m growing. I don’t want to be the same person I was yesterday, last week, last year.

Maybe that sounds like it goes against the consistency I have been building, but in a strange way, it reinforces it. Sometimes it is more of a fight to avoid the change that has been waiting on you. Sometimes you have to step into the storm and see what comes out the other side. And that consistency you worked so hard on? That is what shows you the way out, not back.

Change isn’t the hard part. It is the grind that is hard. The day in and the day out. Putting in the work we all know it takes, whether we are literally or figuratively talking about the gym, horses, or life. What is worth having is paid for in work and struggle. Perhaps it is pennies, minutes, or steps at a time, but each piece progresses toward the goal.

Perhaps I’m a masochist. My family certainly thinks so, as I come from a decidedly long line of non-running peasant folk. But what can I say? I love the sense and order running has brought to my life.

It may have started as a necessity, evolved into something I do for my horses, but I continue doing it for me. Nonetheless, the first mile is always the hardest. But it’s worth it.