What are you afraid of?

willowThis spring I’m doing something I haven’t done for a long time, I’m training for a (relatively) long distance running event, several of them in fact. The distance in question is 15 miles, and my plan is to sustain that level of fitness all summer, having started with a half marathon (13.1 miles) in March, and ending with a half marathon in November, peaking with a 15 mile race in May.

That is the kind of distance most of us can’t just hop up off the couch and run, it’s the kind of distance you have to plan your life around, you have to train for. And so it was that this past Sunday I found my self sitting in the Jordan Pond House parking lot in Acadia National Park, listening to the hard rain drum on the roof of my car, trying to psyche myself up for a 12 mile run.

Its gray out there-Good thing my shoes are pink!

Its gray out there-Good thing my shoes are pink!

I live about an hour from Acadia, and when I left the house, it wasn’t raining. I knew the forecast was for showers, but the party sunny skies I was seeing fooled me into overreaching optimism. And like a bad movie, it didn’t start raining in earnest until I reached Jordan Pond. To make matters just a little worse, I had decided that I was fed up with cold weather running, and that it was time to start wearing shorts (its May for Christ’s sake!)-every other runner I‘ve seen out and about for the past month has been wearing shorts, and it is beginning to make me feel like an over dressed wimp. So, Sunday there I was, sitting in the driver’s seat in my new shorts watching the 45 degree rain hit the windshield.

Another Acadia map bites the dust.

Another Acadia map bites the dust.

I really didn’t want to get out of the car (who would?), but eventually I did. So, yes in part this is a story about just getting over it and running in the rain. But while I was running, I realized what the real story is: Why didn’t I want to get out of the car? There are the obvious reasons: it was cold and I didn’t think I had worn enough clothes and I don’t like being cold; it was raining, and I don’t like being wet. In fact, being cold and wet go together like chocolate and peanut butter’s evil twin-perfect in their awfulness, amplifying each other, at least in my universe. No, the obvious physical discomforts aside, there was something bigger and more important at work that morning, and it was something we all grapple with on a daily basis. Fear. I was afraid. That is why, on a base level, I didn’t want to get out of the car, why I almost drove home without running.

What was I afraid of? I think I was afraid of the thing we are all afraid of, dying. What if I got half way around the mountain and got hypothermia and died? People can actually die of being cold and wet. What if the challenge was too much and the cold outside overpowered the warm from inside me? What if? It sounds silly, the run away fears of an anxious mind, the things you don’t think about until its time to get out of the car and actually get wet and stay that way for a couple of hours.

Cold, wet, finished.

Cold, wet, finished.

Of course I didn’t die, nor was I in any risk of dying, though I suppose had I lain down on the ground in the forest I might have eventually gotten hypothermia. The fear is about living, because when you are really living, when you are conscious of living, death is ever present, that is the burden of our human awareness. And when are we really living? When we are outside, when we are connected to something bigger than ourselves, when we love.

The flip side of fear is courage, and what this experience highlights is the courage required to be in this world. It takes courage to step into a more natural rhythm, to recognize your place in the food chain, to not know exactly where you are on the circle of life. It takes courage to accept and in fact celebrate the fact that we are not in control of everything.

So, yes, I got out of the car, I moved through the landscape, I got wet just like millions and millions of people before me, just like the trees do every day. The cells of my body did their work and made enough heat to keep my metabolism functioning just fine. I’ve got another long run tomorrow, even longer than last week. The weather looks good, and I am wondering what lesson 68 degrees and sunny holds for me in the morning.

jordan pond panorama

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.