What’s it take to make a deeply satisfying run?
The best runs are about inner satisfactions, not outward results.
I once heard this explained by a yoga teacher, who pointed out that our experiences are all inside – they’re inner reactions to outward events. All the stuff “out there” that appears so bright and shiny, only seems so as a result of how we’re poised to interpret them inwardly.
I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, and when Mary Ellen and I got to the gym at 8, my butt was dragging. I decided to walk on the treadmill until my body told me to pick up the pace. After 30 minutes I felt my energy poke its nose out of its cave. Another 10 minutes went by, and inner signal told me to hit the gas pedal, and I speeded up for a minute to 8.5-minute pace, zippy for a sleepy old guy. I slowed and let my heart rate fall under 70%, then sped up again for 30 seconds.
Those two spurts made all the difference. Putting out energy didn’t exhaust me; it gave me energy. Always does. Putting the pedal to the metal often pays big dividends, so long as I don’t strip my gears, but carefully warm up my body and only run fast when it tells me it’s ready. I worked hard today – didn’t even need a nap this afternoon. (Expect a column about naps and running.) I feel alert and energized – the inner result of what some folks might label a fairly pitiful walk/run.
My mother’s family are from Chile. One of my relatives, Uncle Hernan, was known in the family as a hellraiser. Hernan visited us when he was in his mid-60s, and I chauffered him around California to show him the sights. He was thoroughly bored by Yosemite and San Francisco, but perked up whenever we passed through a town that had a roller coaster. On the big dippers in Santa Cruz and Long Beach, he insisted that we sit in the first car and stick our heads out the front and keep our eyes open throughout the ride. He wasn’t satisfied until we’d gone round three or four times. He told me how, in his youth, he and a buddy would climb on the roof of the tallest building in Santiago and swing over the edge on the flagpole rope, then run away from the cops. He insisted that I take him to the bullfights in Tijuana – not my idea of a thrill. Parking is impossible near the plaza de toros, so we rode the bus, and during the ride Uncle Hernan kept the Mexicans in stitches with a barrage of insults directed at me. “Gringo feo, cara de poto!”
I had a good time playing tour guide for Tio Hernan. He was a wonderful conversationalist and storyteller. But even though I was only in my early twenties, I was looking for a different kind of thrill. I’d had a pleasant sufficiency of outward hooplah and was looking for something inward and longer-lasting.
I found it in prayer and meditation, and peripherally in running. Running gave me energy for the spiritual life, and God gradually revealed the inside story of running to me – how to train well and simultaneously find deep satisfactions as an athlete.
The best part of my running is inside. All the good things I say about a run refer to inner quality: “I felt strong, healthy, energized, positive, tuned-in, happy, full of joy.”