Do the Right Thing

I ran at Ranch San Antonio last Sunday. I did several things that made the run a success.

I did the most important thing first. I’m 65, and the years have taught me that there’s a higher guidance that will help us, if we ask. It doesn’t step in and help automatically, just because it knows our needs. We have to connect consciously with it in order to receive. And the years have taught me, also, that its help is invaluable.

So, at the start, as I walked up the long hill from the parking lot, I asked for guidance. And I caught myself asking in a routine, mechanical way: “Please help me know how to run. Show me how to please you. Help me run not for myself but expansively, for the good of all.” The trouble was, there was no feeling in it. It was just words. Like spouting words from memory.

So, I got personal. I told God how much I wanted to do the right thing. I told God that I wanted the run to come out right. I wanted to finish the run with bright awareness and joy, not with vague, wandering thoughts and diffuse energy. I told God that I was a hundred percent determined to follow the higher guidance. I was ready to practice strict pace discipline and not run from whim, or be swayed by sudden emotion.

I reached the top of the hill and set off at an easy jog down the oak-shaded trail that descends to Deer Hollow Farm. To keep my mind on my spiritual practice, I was repeating a short phrase – just two words that I felt would help deepen my receptivity to God’s guidance.

I won’t say what those words were, because this web site deals with universal spiritual principles – that is, I’m not “selling” a particular path. I have little patience with religious fanatics – those self-declared ayatollahs, of East and West, who try to bully others into following their way. Invariably, those people preach the words of religion, but not the experience. They follow the mind, a faculty that is removed from actual, real-life experience. They don’t trust the heart, because they don’t experience God as compassionate and loving. (Which is why they are mcuh too hard on their own brethren, when they fall.) They quote passages from scripture that show God as angry and punishing, and conveniently forget that the core of all spiritual paths is love.

I was running at a slow pace. Lately, I’ve experimented with two ways to start my long runs. For some runs, I’ve warmed up briefly, then quickly raised the pace to 77-79% of maximum. Those runs weren’t nearly as satisfying and “inwardly deep” as the others, where I spent a much longer time warming up, then gradually increased the pace.

That’s what I did on Sunday. For the first hour and 10 minutes, I held my heart rate at around 65% (except for the first hill; walking the steeper sections raised my heart rate above 75%).

Years ago, when I first began to explore the long warmup, it was hard to hold my pace down, especially if there were lots of runners around. Runners would stream past, the “chase instinct” would kick in, and I’d have to suppress it, groaning mentally. But it’s easier now. I’ve had so many successes with the long warmup that my confidence has grown. It’s pretty much a part of me now, that sure, clear feeling that if I do “the right thing,” I’ll be rewarded.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. At first, while I was tootling along, my body felt a bit disjointed, not in synch. But after 30 or 35 minutes, my old guy’s muscles began to feel smooth, and my heart rate dropped 5-7 beats at the same pace. In fact, I noticed that my heart rate would drop whenever I turned my attention away from “thinking, thinking, thinking,” and just relaxed deeply and repeated my prayer-mantra, or had a calm, friendly discussion with God.

I did hard speedwork the preceding Wednesday, and I didn’t know how far my body would want to go. I require a lot of recovery, at age 65. But I decided to take a harder but more “interesting” route – on a trail that climbs gradually up a mountain slope that’s fully exposed to the sun. And if my body and inner guidance told me to quit, I was completely reconciled to doing what they would say. I would be perfectly happy to walk the three miles back. But, at this point, I was feeling very good.

I continued to run that way, and I was ascending the long climb on Upper Rogue Valley Trail when I heard a soft “plop” just ahead. This young rascal dropped off the hillside and calmly walked along with me for 20 yards, before turning off into the bush. I was a bit worried that his mama might be near and protective, but he seemed to be on his own. Bobcat on the Upper Rogue Valley Trail

Bobcats aren’t afraid of anything. If you whistle at them to warn them of your presence, they look at you as if to say, “Really! What is the fuss?”

I reached the top of the hill at 1:10 and began “testing the possible” – picking up the pace a little and seeing how it felt in my heart. I was still prepared to back off, aware that my body might not be ready for a big effort. Also, it was quite warm – over 80°. Normally, I would run the last two hours at 77-79% MHR. But the slightly slower pace felt deeply “right,” so I settled in and enjoyed it.

To make a long story short, I continued to practice strict pace discipline while keeping my mind “present,” and it paid off. Toward the end of the run, at about 2:15, I was feeling so good that the thought occurred to insert some hard bursts. I ran about 100 yards, raising my heart rate above 90%, and I was amazed by how good my legs felt. There was no soreness, even after a 20-minute descent, just a wonderfully alive and healthy feeling of power in my quads. I enjoyed the faster running very much.

I always say, the proof of a run is how we feel afterward. You can always know that you’ve done too much, if your heart is contractive – if you have less patience or energy for other people. I was, frankly, a little bit overextended – by the sun, the hard work earlier in the week, and perhaps by doing an extra, unnecessary speed burst uphill at the end. But that experience was valuable, too, because it reminded me that we place our happiness at risk when we ignore our inner guidance, and we find fulfillment when we do the right thing.