Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Running as a Metaphor for Life

I was thinking the other day, on a run, of course, about the many ways that running is a metaphor for life. I’ve discussed some of this before with my cousins Dilu and Harish before.

… two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While trail running, I have come to the realization that you never have to worry about the fork in the road, nor the decision associated with it. During my first trail run in the forest near our home, I was amazed by the number of single track trailheads that I saw. I didn’t take any of them that first day, content to just take the wide dirt path along the creek. After a few runs though, I started to take some of the single track trails and found myself amongst even more beautiful nature. I found more forks in the trails and I agonized a bit about taking the right one, mainly so I wouldn’t get lost. Now that I’ve run in the woods dozens of times, I don’t worry about the fork in the road. I know that I can take one fork today and the other fork tomorrow.

Life is like that too. Every decision point seems so important. Making the wrong decision seems like it will doom me forever. But, I’ve found so far that there are very few decisions that are not reversible. Certainly some are, but even the important ones like career and family don’t have to be set in stone. I wish I had come to this realization earlier. Every decision seems so final at the time that I’m making it, but when you look back it seems obvious that there are plenty of options available, no matter which path you chose. Even knowing that bias, it’s hard to remember that when a new decision has to be made.

Some of the single track trails have pathmarkers to help keep you on the right trail. They are little numbered plastic circles nailed to a tree. They are few and far between. Occasionally, you’ll come to a fork in the trail and there won’t be an obvious pathmarker around, so you have to make a decision. That can be somewhat stressful, so you keep your eyes peeled for pathmarkers as you’re running to see if you made the right decision. At some point, you’ve gone so far without seeing a marker that you’re almost certain that you’ve gone the wrong way. Either you keep the faith and keep going, or you turn around and try the other fork. There is no right answer.

Life is sometimes like that. We have signposts and decision trees that are easy to follow in many cases. But inevitably, there will be a point where we have to make a decision without all of the evidence or without all of the data or without a clear idea of where we’re going. Not until you take that leap of faith will you get the signal that you’ve made the right decision. And sometimes that signal won’t come for a long time. I’m not sure what the point of this is, but it seemed very profound at the time while I was running in the woods, about to give up, thinking that I had gone down the wrong path, when I suddenly saw the elusive pathmarker that confirmed that I was not lost. Trail running is like that… everything is not set in stone and predefined. You have to develop your faith and intuition, and if that fails, accept that maybe you’ll do better next time.

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