“There is beauty to be found in the small things. The beauty of creation seen in the shifting patterns of sunlight through the trees or a lone flower boldly taking a stand among fallen and decaying leaves.”
By: Kevin Mathewson
The trail. The same as every previous run, yet different. It beckons for adventure as it disappears around a bend or dips down a ravine. It’s quiet, except for the rustle of a squirrel or the chirp of a bird. But mostly it’s the sounds of steady, sometimes labored breathing and my heavy foot falls, occasionally interrupted by the buzz of my watch as it ticks off the miles.. Today is a day for a long run—me and the solace of miles of dirt and rocks. There is no plan for route, distance or pace. It’s a long, wandering run.
My long, wandering run stands in contrast to the rest of life—serious, dictated by deadlines, appointments, and alerts popping up on my phone. Out here, on the trails, the clock is not the high maintenance star but is the extra, in the background, playing just a bit part. The seriousness of life ebbs if but for a few hours.
It’s the closest I’ll probably get to being a kid again. Playing. Inventing as you go. In the moment. Only ending when mom calls you in for dinner. The trails are my playground; each fallen tree is balance beam or a hurdle, creek crossings are for stopping and checking your rock skipping abilities, and mud puddles are meant to be splashed in!
There is beauty to be found in the small things. The beauty of creation seen in the shifting patterns of sunlight through the trees or a lone flower boldly taking a stand among fallen and decaying leaves. And there is happiness to be found in man-made gifts from a previous visitor like a cairn of rocks or a snowflake ornament hanging in the branches above the trail. These things make me smile. They make me grateful for each labored breath as I run.
And for me, a long, wandering run turns into a long, wandering conversation. Occasionally it’s out loud as my voice breaks the quietness around me. But most of the time, it’s an internal conversation, sometimes with myself but most often in the form of a prayer as I talk to God. I can talk about anything and everything. And these conversations bring clarity. They bring peace. They bring hope
There’s plenty of time for the “business” of running: hill repeats, tempo runs, strength training, and stretching. Each is important and needed to run long, strong, and fast. Each brings me joy in their own unique way. But for now, it’s the long, wandering run that energizes, refreshes, load-lightens, and brings a sense of order to life that is pulling and tugging and demanding my focus.
I need this run. I needed this run to get through last year—a year for which I had big running plans that were rudely interrupted by a cancer diagnosis. I went from a high of completing my first hundred miler to, three months later, taking a lap on shaky legs around the hospital hallways following surgery. The legs that once lasted twenty-seven hours were done after ten minutes! A long two months of not running followed before I was cleared to run again. It was like starting over.
But there was the long, wandering run. Long became relative. Where once minutes became hours and miles turned to double digits, now minutes became just a few more minutes and miles were counted on one hand. But it was there. Through the frustrations, through the starting over, there was joy in the long, wandering run.
Cancer is a serious business. You can’t bury your head in the sand. From the bills, appointments, and the way your body has been altered from treatment, it’s a constant reminder. My journey didn’t end with surgery. Testing on the tumor showed it was an aggressive form of prostate cancer with a high risk of spreading. Just when I was starting to feel good again, eight weeks of radiation came that knocked me down a few ladder rungs. And through it all the long, wandering run provided, for even a short time, an escape. It was a chance to be free and to run free. It was a chance to be that kid with no worries, playing in the woods. It was a chance to find joy in the beauty around me. It was long talks. It was healing both mentally and, I believe, physically. And as my ability to run longer increased so did the healing.
And now, headed into a new year, I look forward to a big things in my running. But should I not return to my former abilities, or even should the cancer return and I can’t race, I know I’ll be fine. I’ll have my long, wandering run.
Kevin lives with his wife Ellen, son Adam, and Adam’s bearded dragon Techno in the cornfields of central Illinois. In his spare (non-running) time, he works as the Technology Director at his church. He hopes to complete his second and third hundred milers in 2020. Be sure to follow him on IG at Kevin Mathewson