The Rock in Front of You

Thoughts on where your focus should be.

I’ve always kind of enjoyed running. And by “enjoy”, I mean “hate”. I’ve just always done it anyway. I’m not even very good at it. I think I could go much further if I didn’t hate it so much. But with a move to Austin, Texas several years back, I was given the opportunity to start trail running because of the awesome terrain.

Austin has these things called “hills”. Growing up in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, I had always heard about them, just never actually saw any. Then with a detour to Florida for a scant decade, I wholly became a flat-earther. I couldn’t imagine any curve to this planet existed after living there.

When you are running in Florida, you can see exactly thirty-three thousand miles in front of you. (The Queen of Hyperbole was here…) You can run for an hour and it looks like you’ve run 1/8th of one mile by perception alone.

But when I started trail running, everything changed. Mostly, I wasn’t bored out of my mind anymore. I started running faster and further all because my curiosity was driving me. Ooooooooo, what’s around this corner? Ooooooo, what’s around that one? Ooooooo, what’s over that hill? Oh my lord it’s a waterfall!!! I want MORE!!!!

That’s when I learned what a mental game running really is. Apparently, I have to be entertained while I’m running and it’s more of a visual thing for me. When I ran in Florida, I always listened to music. That would carry me further than not. But now, I don’t even take ear buds with me. For one, I want to hear the mountain bikers screaming toward me at Mach 2 so I can leap out of the way like some Indiana Jones/boulder moment. Secondly, I don’t even need it. The trails themselves are so magical, I look like a damn Hobbit setting out to find a golden ring. I just get so excited over the Hill Country! (Please, don’t move here. We’re full! And the hills are MINE! ALL MINE! MY PRECIOUS!)

There’s one thing however, that comes with these thar’ hills. And that’s rocks. Lots of them. This is why I’m running and not riding my mountain bike. I’m too big of a chicken to go Mach 2, so I hit a rock and fly over the handle bars. A couple years ago, I even managed to run over my own dang self with my bike. I still can’t figure out how. All I know is I ended up back at the truck with tire tracks across my legs.

So, I run.

And I save my bike riding for the road. And spandex!

Those rocks though! They’re tough and they’re everywhere. As I’ve gotten better, I’ve learned not just how to navigate them, but how to sprint through them. The funniest thing has happened while doing that. The faster I go, the less I fall. The only times I ever trip or sometimes tumble, are when I’m walking the rocky trails. But, running them requires other skills. Like mad focus.

And where my focus falls determines the success, or lack thereof, for the entire run. My boyfriend taught me how to scan the area up to about three feet in front of me while I’m running. He does it with his mountain bike, but he’s more a Mach 10 kind of guy.

When I look too far ahead, especially when I’m sprinting down a hill, I’ll get tripped up and down I go. But when I’m looking to the next rock in front of me and only concentrate on what I’m going over immediately, do I find that I can stay on two feet. Your mind has to be in this hyper-focus state to figure out where your foot is landing next, and then next, and then next.

Oh, you know what happens now. This is where I tie it to a life lesson. Yup, you know me so well.

Every Sunday evening of late, I start getting really, really, stressed. This past weekend, it started creeping in early. By Sunday morning, all I could think about was the coming work week and I got, OVERWHELMED. I started thinking of all the rocks up ahead, a few pebbles, a couple of boulders, some roots sticking out of the ground, and million other things that could trip me up. And it robs me of my immediate joy. I’m letting it rob me of my weekends.

But, success comes when I change my focus to the rock right in front of me. That’s all I have to do. That’s the only rock that matters at the moment. I need to trust that when I get to the next rock, I can navigate that one too. I’ll know how to adjust my footing and leap at just the right moment.

When we hone our focus into the moment we are in, we learn to live in the present, which is one of the great lessons of life. You let go of the trail that is behind you. You don’t need that anymore. You don’t look to the trail too far ahead of you and worry about it before you even get there. You just focus on the rock in front of you, appreciate it, and know you are capable of handling any of the other rocks that come your way.

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