Happy Runner

What makes a happy runner?

Yesterday, for perhaps the thousandth time, I found the answer.

I’ve been running hard twice a week, in addition to an easy run and a hard gym workout. And I’ve run out of gas. My right Achilles is sore from Lydiard uphill bounding and springing (ill-advised at 68?). And my sub-threshold runs have faded to aerobic jogs at 74-75% MHR.

It’s time for a break.

I parked at the Stanford stadium and set off, vowing to go slowly and do absolutely nothing that didn’t have inner resonance.

As I set out, I recalled a Dylan song from the 1960s that Joan Baez sang beautifully:  “…farewell, Angelina, the sky is erupting, and I must go where it’s quiet.”

(Reminds me of a story. At East West Bookstore where I formerly worked, we had a Christmas caroling party every year. One Christmas, a good friend of mine, a woman of dynamic will and cheerful disposition, led the carols. Several customers joined in and were soon singing along happily. Between songs, my friend gave them some brisk instructions on how they could sing better. Meanwhile, several of the store staff were chuckling softly in the background. When the caroling was over, they told my friend, “Do you know who you were correcting? That was Joan Baez.” Baez lives in nearby Palo Alto.)

I craved quiet. My brain was a mess, my body was tired, and worse, my heart was a closed door. But I managed to recover. And the “cure” was the same as always.

It’s lovely to train by principles, because you can expect the same results, even if the details vary. I’ve had countless runs where I was in a jam at the start, struggling in body, heart, and mind, but managed to work my way free. And yesterday, once again, the principles were the same, but this time the method was radical.

In brief – I sang.

I’m singing at our Christmas concert, in a quartet that will perform a song called “Three Wise Men,” which was written by my spiritual teacher.

When he composes music, he prays and asks God to give him a melody that will express the ideas he wants to convey. Then he writes what he “hears.” The songs have tremendous heart-harmonizing power.

After 30 minutes of running, I was starting to feel pretty good, and I decided I would try practicing my part. I could only sing a measure at a time without risking heart failure, but I immediately found that the music was soothing and harmonizing my heart.

Here’s a video of the group singing “Three Wise Men.” It’s under “December 2010 Christmas Concert.” I’m the old dude on the right. You can’t hear the tenor very well, because the mike is on the soprano. Perhaps that’s just as well.

Then three wise men came from afar,
Guided by the heavenly star.

Christ, the light of God, had descended,
That, receiving him, all might be saved….

Within minutes, I found myself running in a “flow” state where calm, positive feelings and beautifully tuned running and cheerful mind were part of a lovely package.

It confirmed a key principle of the Fitness Intuition book and these articles, which I’ve experienced many times: when the heart is enriched with expansive feelings, running gets a lot easier.

In the chapter, “Science of the Heart,” there’s a chart that shows how power spectral density, a measure of the heart’s electrical power output, jumps by up to 500% when our feelings are expansive (e.g., when we generate feelings of love, compassion, kindness, etc.), compared to when we’re feeling neutral or negative.  (Chart courtesy Institute of Heartmath.)

Also, when we harbor expansive feelings, “heart rate variability,” a measure of how smoothly or jerkily the heart “changes speeds,” becomes a beautiful sine-wave-like curve, indicating that the heart can work more efficiently than when we’re feeling neutral or negative. (Perhaps this accounts for the common experience that running seems easier when we’re in an upbeat mood.)

Singing that powerfully harmonizing song cured my mood, opened my heart, and made me a happy runner. Hours later, I was still feeling deeply expanded in my heart, with good feelings for friends, and a positive outlook.

Recommendation: Find the most powerfully harmonizing music you can, and hum, whistle, and sing it when you run.