Stay the Course

The summer here in Pennsylvania where I now live has been typical: hot and humid. It’s the altitude of the low-lying U.S. East Coast, and it makes everything harder. Well, everything except for sweating. That part is easy. But, recently it’s been shifting. If you live here, have you felt it? A couple of cool mornings. A handful of fall-esque nights on the patio. Honestly, the other night I dug out a jacket. Don’t get too excited, though, because there’s still about one month of summer left. Plenty more days of summer soup await us. Still, the short reprieves are nice because they remind us that change is coming.

Earlier this summer, I changed up my training by adding in some swimming. Three days a week I rise before the sun, jump in a pool, and swim laps with Yoder Performance, a triathlon group here in Lancaster. Why? First, I am at least somewhat curious about the world of triathlon, particularly the Ironman distance. Don’t worry though, I still feel far too at home on the trails and in the mountains to give that up anytime soon. Another reason I’m swimming is because I have a bum shoulder that likes to jump out of place when I catch a toe and superman across the trail and swimming sounds like a good way to mobilize and strengthen it. Perhaps the biggest reason, however, is because it feels intimidating.

Though he doesn’t know it, the idea to swim was spurred by fellow trail runner and friend David Laney. If there is one thing, other than running, that Laney is good at, it’s growing a mustache. And if there are two things, then it’s growing a mustache and encouraging people to take up running. If you follow David on social media you’ll see that he is often encouraging people to get out and run. David acknowledges that running can feel intimidating. He recognizes that people can sometimes feel like they need to be good at running before they can start running, and that to some, it feels like work. But, he is also quick to point out that it doesn’t need to be this way.

The Laney 101 of running (as told by me) goes something like this. One, you don’t have to be good at running to start running, you just have to start. Two, if it’s miserable, slow down. Take walk breaks if you need to. Three, well, I’m not sure if there is a three, but three would be if you keep doing it, then you’ll get better.

So, how did all this get me into a pool? While running is my safe spot, swimming is not. Asking me to swim is like asking me to dance: it’s kind of terrifying. I figure me jumping in a pool is like a first-time runner lacing up their shoes. I am learning that sometimes the biggest obstacle in trying something new isn’t the thing itself, but the discomfort that comes with it. And so, here I am jumping in a pool at 5:30 a.m. three days a week and catching sunrises through goggles as my head bobs up and down for air.

It’s in this way that this has become a season of learning, and a time of feeling uncomfortable and out of place. And if I’m honest, swimming is not as fun as running. I can’t get a very good glimpse of the sunrise and the pool feels like a track as my lane mates and I go back and forth in the same 25-yard channel of water. But I’m there for these new challenges. I also show up because I want to see if it’s like running in that once you get fit and strong, it becomes really enjoyable. In the meantime, I just keep setting the alarm clock and jumping in the pool.

Sink or swim, the swimming season will change. I might quit or I might become stronger and more comfortable. (I hope it’s the latter.) I might even finally learn to swim flat and efficient. And maybe I’ll buy some of those weird swimming tools that most everyone else seems to have.

Some seasons are long and others are short, but by definition they are just a period of time. Sometimes we find ourselves amidst a season of great joy and happiness. Other times it’s one of struggle and sorrow. When we are in the midst of these times, it is easy to feel as though they will last forever. In good times, we long for the party to never end. Then when the struggle bus pulls up and takes us in, we feel as though it will never reach our stop. Give and take, ebb and flow: this is life.

In his book “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation,” Parker J. Palmer said it well when he stated that “Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life, I think. It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the season does not deny the struggle or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all–and to find in all of it opportunities for growth.” This mindset encourages me to stay in the pool because this season of discomfort provides an opportunity for growth.

Palmer also points out in his book, “If we lived close to nature in an agricultural society, the season as metaphor and fact would continually frame our lives. But the master metaphor of our era does not come from agriculture–it comes from manufacturing. We do not believe that we ‘grow’ our lives–we believe that we ‘make’ them. Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living, make love.”

A lot of times we view making something happen to be a good thing. Yet, from Palmer’s perspective, it seems so harsh. The seasons change, but we must stay anchored. Not anchored in the sense that we stubbornly resist, but anchored in the sense that we stay the course. Because if we hold our line, stay in our lane, and run the next mile, we grant the season an opportunity to help us grow. If we give up on the early morning swim workouts, abandon the running because it feels too hard, and force our way out of an unwanted season, then we miss the opportunity it holds. It reminds me of the following words from the song “Seasons” by the band NEEDTOBREATHE.

We’re in for nasty weather
And I’ll ride it out with you
We won’t be riding highs and lows
Like tides of ocean blue
We won’t be here forever
Just a moment then we’re through
We can’t be shifting with the sands
Like seasons always do

The seasons will always change. That’s just what they do. When we learn to embrace our calm and to weather the storm with steadfast resolve, we can learn and grow in ways we never imagined. So, here’s to setting the alarm and jumping in the pool (or hitting the trail), because this season could be the one you never knew you needed. Don’t miss it.

Call for Comments

  • What seasons do “grow” or have “grown” in your life? And, has there been a season which has naturally faded away?
  • How about in running? Can you describe the current metaphorical season you’re in right now?

All photos: Zach Miller

Zach Miller

is a mountain runner and full time caretaker at Barr Camp in Colorado. As caretaker, he lives year round in an off-the-grid cabin halfway up Pikes Peak. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.

There are 3 comments

  1. Nyla Carroll

    Great article and love the pics! I have recently returned to swimming after the COVID lockdown but only indoors – our outdoor pool doesn’t open again until late October. We too are having four seasons in one day as we head back into summer Down Under. Kia Kaha. Nyla

  2. Rik Orndorff

    Thank you for this article. It’s a good reminder to seek the discomfort of learning something new.

    Zach, why did you leave Colorado and the mountains? Is Pennsylvania home? I ask as an Ohioan who long ago transplanted to the northwest. You might say that I grew a new home and many new friends.

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