Running Downhill

I’ve been a runner in some fashion since I was 15.  I’ve learned countless strategies as a sprinter, as a casual jogger, as a mid-distance runner.  There’s always a new technique, a slightly different way of moving your legs or your arms or your torso.

Unless you’re a sprinter or only run indoors, you will eventually encounter hills.  Running uphill is no fun, but there’s this misconception that running downhill is somehow a runner’s delight.  That could not be further from the truth.  While a gentle slope down is a nice change of pace, running down a hill can actually be harder than running up.  Improperly running downhill can lead to all sorts of injuries, including shin splints and twisted ankles and torqued knees.  And, even if it doesn’t injure you, it can exhaust you as much as running uphill.

There’s a strategy to counteract that. You strike the ground in a slightly different manner — you let yourself go flat-footed.  You lift your knees a little higher, let your leg movement be a little slower, and let your gait be a little longer.  But the biggest thing is to make sure you lean forward, not back.  The natural inclination is to lean with the incline, to fight the forward momentum.

When your main job involves teaching something physical and seemingly unrelated to real world — and when your main job within that job is to show the overlap, the metaphor, the skillset you are creating during these seemingly irrelevant activities — of course you can’t help but see the metaphor.  I think about it every time I run down a literal hill, when I go through the checklist of ways I should change my pace, my way of running, in order to accommodate the change in elevation.  I think about that checklist and how much it applies to life.

Because you’re going to hit those downhill runs.  Life isn’t a sprint, and you certainly don’t get to spend it sheltered inside.  You’re going to inevitably find yourself running uphill, out of breath.  You’re going to make it to the top, only to realize the only reprieve you are going to get is that gentle crescent at the summit — because running downhill is going to be just as much of a challenge.

And that’s life: sometimes that the type of terrain you’re up against.  Just because people outside of the situation — people who have no idea what it’s like to run — might think it’s easy-going for you, that doesn’t mean it is.

So, like it or not, you’re going downhill.  You wish it were easy, but it won’t be.  This is the path you’re on and it makes no sense to wish you chose a different course — because, let’s face it, you’d probably have to deal with hills on those as well.  So you’ve got two choices:

1. Fight it tooth and nail, needlessly exhausting and potentially injuring yourself.

2. Take your own advice, change your stride, lean forward, and embrace the forward momentum.

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