“You’ve got to run your own race,” he said, as passed me on his way down the hiking trail.

I was talking to my niece, who is a few paces ahead of me and begins to walk slowly so she doesn’t leave me behind. Unfortunately, I am the straggler hiker of our group and I seem to be lagging yards behind my long-legged and high energy daughter, and my husband who happens to be seven years older than myself and obviously in much better physical shape. I thought I was in good shape, I practice yoga for Pete’s sake. I’m not stick thin, I don’t have a CrossFit body, and I’m not terribly athletic. But, for a 50-year-old woman, I feel pretty good about myself. I carry around a few extra pounds that I would like to shed, but overall, I’m healthy, and I have spent my life being active.

But today has been tough. I started the morning with my usual wonder and excitement about hiking this magical place known as Smith Rock in central Oregon. It’s a chilly high-desert summer morning, but it’s also beckoning to be sizzling hot by mid-day. With a multitude of trails that lead in every direction, my family chooses to hike Misery Ridge, the one trail that climbs a very steep cliff several hundred feet on a switchback path that leads to the summit. I’ve climbed this path many times before, and it’s a rigorous hike that challenges my stamina every time. But once I get to the top, the views are magnificent and worth the effort.

We set out on the footpath by the meandering river that cuts through the rugged landscape. It’s a haven for wildlife, birds and ground squirrels that look more like chipmunks than squirrels. As we walk along the river trail, I look up to see a handful of mountain climbers gathered at the base, unpacking their gear and getting ready for a morning climb up the side of the steep rocks. They all look young and eager, and the climbers sound both jovial and thoughtful in their lively conversations, I suppose, in anticipation of the thrill of the climb. I think to myself, “oh, to be young and to scale the side of a mountain without fear.” That would have been a fun way to live my youth. But, I am more of a dreamer and less of a mountain climber.

The river path around Smith Rock never disappoints me.  And just as the conversation between the four of us is materializing into laughter and shared memories of outdoor activities, we merge onto what is known as Misery Ridge, aptly named I might add. I stop, take a deep, cleansing breath, look at the sign stating the direction of the path, and mentally gear myself up for the steep hike.

It’s only been ten minutes, and I’m out of breath. I decide to slow down my pace, so I can make the steep climb more relaxed and more enjoyable. But everyone is ahead of me, so I force myself to keep up. I mumble, “why come all this way, put out all this physical effort and not enjoy the view”? My husband realizes I need a break, or I might start throwing rocks. So, we make a quick stop and grab sips of water while the girls spend time snapping photos of each other. Then, what has been our family tradition since our first hike on Smith Rock, we scour for stones to place small honorary stone stacks inside an alcove in the mountain, thanking mother earth for her landscape, and secretly making wishes.

We push forward, and now we’re at the middle part of the steep climb, and the views are stunning. As I’m walking, contemplating my thoughts, and admiring the views, I look ahead and realize that I’m far behind my family again. My niece slows her pace and being the sweet, young woman that she is, keeps me company with the most delicious conversation. I love our chat, and for a while, it makes me feel a little better about not being the outdoorsy, rugged mountain woman I think I am. 

As the trail takes another steep turn, I breathe a loud sigh, turn to my niece, and complain to her about not being able to keep up. At that moment, a young man who is hiking down the trail passes me and says, “you’ve got to run your own race.”  The words hit me like a bucket of cold water being splashed on my face. I reply, “you know, your right! Thank you”. I stand still for a moment, mostly to absorb the gift of words just given to me by a stranger.

I continue to climb the trail, but I start to settle into my own pace, and I stop trying so hard to keep up with my family. I arrive at the top of the mountain, and I feel a strong sense of relief wash over me. My face is glowing a bright red and my body now drenched in sweat from the physical exertion. I smile. I just finished what seems like my 100th hike on Smith Rock. But this time, I enjoyed the journey. I feel satisfied and oddly proud of myself. All it took was a simple reminder “run your own race.” As I begin to sift through those words, I realize they apply to everything in my life.

I have always acknowledged that I’m a “late to the party” kind of gal. Not that I have trouble being on time, but I seem to do things backward or just behind the curve, never following any sort of customary social pattern. Which, if I’m honest with myself, makes me feel a little out of place in general society. But at this moment, I realize I’m just me. I’m running my own race in life. I am true to myself and my purpose. I work hard at being the person I’m meant to be, even if that means being the last person to reach the top of the mountain.

I often reminisce about that day. I am reminded, be true to myself and not allow the distractions of others, comparisons, or social rules and norms to take me off course. I am reminded to allow my life to unfold, and along the way, pause to enjoy the moments.

I will run my own race. But sometimes, I’ll also walk a few miles, and maybe I’ll stop to catch my breath and enjoy the view. I will remember to enjoy the little things because that is where I find the beauty in life.