When I was in the military, one of my duty stations was Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. El Paso was so hot that at 0600 in the morning the units were already sweating before the run. Running during the day could be considered suicidal; it rarely rained so much so, that there was no drainage system. In order the make the PT (physical training) runs, one first needed to become weatherized and second, one needed to match the stride of a 6’ 2” male (the average height of the males on the post at that time). I am 5’ 2” and it took me a step and a half to keep up with them. My solution: putting in the extra work; so I ran on Saturdays too — first around the base – that kept me about a half block behind which one didn’t want to be because if there was another unit behind you, they would pass you like road kill (not a good look when you get back to formation).
It was a hard few months just to stay behind the second unit. One day, one of the male soldiers in my unit (under 6 feet) told me about a mountain about 30 minutes away from the base that was good to run down. He said that I would never be behind another unit again. “Running up it,” he said, “was overkill.” But I wanted to do more than just not be behind another unit, I wanted to be with mine and I did not want to make the other females look bad who were making the run with no trouble. So, I was going for uphill work. The thing about unit runs was there was the formation after the run and if you were getting an award that was when you got it. If you weren’t there…“Shame on you.” You had all of 3 minutes to catch your breath.
Then there was the CG’s Run (Commanding General) which was always longer than our regular run and if he felt “good” that day, the General would be present for award giving (even if it meant he had to run a little longer past his drop off point). The entire base was running together during the CG’s Run. It started at the Head Shed and picked up and dropped off units as we all circled the base once. Never embarrass your Commanding Officer (CO) and First Sergeant by not being present at the end of that run. So, 5’ 2” me ran the extra miles on the weekend up the side of the mountain to make sure I was on point should I ever get an award – which I did. You can imagine the look on my CO and First Sergeant’s faces after the CG run when “Byrd, front and center!” was called and I materialized out of the ranks– completely obvious to everyone that I had made the run and wasn’t out of breath.
I think about those military days…especially when the goal I am trying to reach as a writer seems to be an uphill battle. I remind myself about the mountain that was hard to even walk up the first time but after some time and diligence, I was able to run it… I remember how it felt to make the runs. As long as I use the time I am waiting to continue to hone my craft and expand my repertoire, I am not losing anything, not even time… I am building… muscle, stamina, and confidence – confidence that when the time is nigh, I will be more than ready to stand among peers and not be out of breath… I will be ready to report “front and center” with work built on strides perfected by running up the side of the mountain…