I made many promises to myself at the beginning of this year, and oh how the year like birds in the sky, has flown swiftly by. Many of these promises were made in solitude behind closed doors, with no witness but the shadows around me and the many voices in my head (the size of my head allows for ample room for a sizeable crowd to debate). I also made a few promises before men, some on this very forum, others in rooms with a barrel held to the very same big head, silencing the chants of the crowds within, ignoring their protests and sometimes betraying their trust.
Among the promises I made, was to keep fit and keep my potbelly at bay. It is something that I can proudly say I have taken a decent shot at. I have kept myself active as much as I can, constantly moving one part of my body or another, sometimes my mouth more than any other.
Road work is a particular activity I have taken to. I have said this before and little about it has changed: there is something about being out there on the road, as your feet hit the asphalt (or marram for those of us who do not live in Kololo). It is you, all you, only you. You have no one cheering you on and equally so, no one pelting you with words or stones to dampen your resolve.
Road work has taught me more life lessons than fitness lessons.
You set your goals and go out for them with a determination only as steely as you can conjure from deep within yourself.
With goals set, you would like to believe that you are halfway there, but alas certainty is but a myth. There is no certainty about where you will pass albeit you may have a route, but this too can change, not with all the haphazard
traffic jam Jama Fests in the city.
You plan to complete your run within a given timeframe, but even that is not purely in your control because all sorts of forces come into play to make it longer or even perhaps shorter.
You set out thinking you are running all by yourself and then you bump into the unexpcted runner, on the same route as you, giving you a few words of encouragement to push you on, or simply giving you that silent but deeply impactful nod as he passes you by, as if to say “keep going, it’s not easy but I have been where you are and you will be just fine.”
But the most important lesson has been to learn to keep my eyes on the road before me and not the road ahead of me.
You see, the road ahead of you is just that: a goal you have set for yourself, many times ambitious perhaps even unrealistic, but attainable. Attainable but daunting. It has steep hills and great valleys, it is long and treacherous. It also carries some amazing plains where you simply coast along effortlessly and enjoy the view. This allure of something bigger than yourself, your past and your current position is what you aspire for. It is the challenge you set for yourself that once accomplished, allows you to don that elusive laurel at the journey’s end.
The road before you on the other hand, is where you lay your next step. It is an element of the present. It is the how and not the what. The road before you is constantly changing, taking different shapes and forms. It is at that point that progress is made and the falls are taken and a decision made to stay down or get back up again and keep going. It is also the point at which you are most in control but also most likely to relinquish your control to the road ahead of you.
Time and again as I climb the hill during my runs, I have two choices to make, both based on the same premise: I must make it up the hill at the end of the day.
The first is to constantly keep my eyes and mind on the top of the hill, pushing myself, longing and waiting as it gradually comes closer, but not fast enough. With this option, because my eyes are fixed on the hilltop, it is suddenly an insurmountable challenge. It is out of reach. I see it but it’s never close enough. My feet grow weary, they grow tired and many times I slow down, a few times I give up, sometimes I make it to the top.
The second option is to take one look at the hilltop, agree with that same crowd in my big head that it is where we want to be, hold onto the vision but keep it out of sight. What follows next is living in the “now.” Taking step by step, eyes on the ground, watching out for what does or doesn’t come next, enjoying the view along the way, taking stock of your progress by the inch and not by the mile, changing the route if need be, going at a pace that won’t burn you out but also won’t get you to the hilltop just in time for Jesus’ second coming or Tupac’s third.
With both options, you need to be clear about where you are going. With the latter and perhaps better option, you make a deliberate effort to take things as they come, be flexible with the how and have faith that at the end of the day, you will get to the top. It requires “effort” because it is a lot harder than it seems. It is “deliberate” because you constantly have to make that decision to live in the moment, take stock of the now and not get frustrated by how far out the vision may seem.
I am therefore slowly but surely learning that in this race called life, like in my roadwork, that even if “now” is not all that matters, you can’t ignore it on your way to the finish line.
P.S This was inspired by a certain fellow runner I met on this race called life. Thanks K.C