I wonder what this hill looks like through my three-year-old’s eyes. I have run it probably a hundred times and to be honest, it is not even that steep. But to my son, it is “Mount Everest.” He says so as he struggles up the snow-covered trail, each tiny step unstable and unsure, yet determined.
From his vantage point, the snow likely seems deeper than it does to me. His small boots sink below the fine powder while the bright laces in my HOKAs ride high above. Footprints of explorers who made the harrowing trek to the summit before us pique his interest. “Is that a yeti track?” he asks. I envy his imagination and his ability to transform something I see as just a walk up a hill into the world’s greatest expedition.
I have run this hill nearly every week since the pandemic started. It is part of a 5-8-mile loop (depending on how much I wish to add on) with several stretches of dirt, and enough vert to keep my climbing and descending legs in decent enough shape for the next time I start training for an ultra. Best of all, I can run the loop from my front door, avoiding crowds and saving time by not having to drive to a trailhead. Time is invaluable right now, with my wife and I working from home and taking care of a toddler without outside help.
I am lucky to be able to run this loop, but lately I have started to dread it. I know every step and every turn. I find myself counting the miles rather than focusing on the experience. I want something new. Often, I wish I were running in the Swiss Alps or around Mount Olympus in Greece, where I was supposed to race last July before COVID canceled our travel plans.
I wonder what my son would think of this loop if he were able to run it. Would he see the path through the dog park as a safari through the Serengeti? Or the stretch by the river as a remote journey along the Amazon? Afterall, the route already includes a trip up the highest mountain in the world.
We could all use a change of scenery, but many of us may not get that opportunity for some time. Perhaps we all just need to use our imaginations a little more right now. Things are as exciting or as mundane as we choose to make them. Instead of dreading another run on the streets around your neighborhood, instead, imagine where those roads can take you. Maybe one day they will lead to your name being pulled in the Western States lottery, your first 100-mile finish or a Boston Marathon Qualifier.
Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and let your imagination run wild.
Over hot chocolate, my son and I talk about the expedition and how difficult the morning climb was. He has never been to the Himalayas, of course. But in his mind, he has just climbed Mount Everest. Seated at his table in the kitchen, thousands of miles away from the tallest mountain in the world, he is standing on the summit. He is happy.