What I think about when I am running

‘The four elements return to their nature – fire heats, wind moves, water wets, earth is solid’ (Sandokai)

There were many enjoyable parts to my Saturday in Santa Cruz: I got to take a morning yoga class with Dawn Hayes, who I am going to be working with in a couple  of months, and then, after a quick bite to eat, to meet up with Emily Perry across town for our workshop on the Heart Sutra. Emily brought her own knowledge and experience of the sutra, as well as her harmonium, with which she accompanied our opening chant in the yoga part of the afternoon. This was a new experience for me, but it felt very strong (it reminded me of Denise bringing her big gong to Tassajara and sounding it during savasana, which was deeply impactful for me on a somatic level), and it was a good start to approaching the sutra by being fully grounded in the body. After the yoga, zazen instruction, sitting and kinhin, we chanted the sutra before starting to look at what it might mean, and the conversation was very engaging.

Another wonderful part of the day was getting to drive down and back along Highway 1, which is a tonic in itself. Being on that stretch of road always reminds me of my early years in California, when we often had occasion to go down to Pacific Grove, and there was always a feeling of ease around the journey. Over the weekend, as I took in the lowering grey skies, I also was reminded of my teenage years, running in the cliffs of Cornwall when my family took holidays down there – of being out there with just the sea, the sky and the land, everything stripped down to the elemental.

There was no shortage of rain on Saturday and Sunday, especially as I approached San Francisco at the end of the day. The next morning I dropped off the rental car very early (considering the clock change), and, as I have before, took that as an opportunity to take a run starting from a different part of town. This time I took in Lafayette Park and Alta Plaza, and then did a loop of the Presidio, scouting for future Roaming Zen outings. I enjoyed the restored watershed contours of the hills, and the abundant ceanothus and other spring flowers in the open spaces. I also ran by Mountain Lake, which will be a place visited in the first Roaming Zen, noticing that I was disappointed at how loud the traffic was, even at that early hour on a Sunday morning. Happily other parts of the return leg, through the section of Golden Gate Park that is closed to traffic on Sundays, and across the muddy and slippery slopes of Buena Vista and Corona Heights, were much quieter.
I did find myself wondering – in the park and the panhandle – at all the runners who make the effort to go to green spaces, but then stick to the paved surfaces. For me, since those early teenage days of running, being off-road has been much more appealing. At Tassajara, where most of my recent running has been done, there is of course no choice. Apart from the stamina needed to get up and down the mountain slopes, the main requirement for running at Tassajara is close attention to every step, so you don’t slip off the narrow trail or turn an ankle on a rock – or even step on a sleeping rattlesnake, which I nearly did more than once. Even in the parks, the grass verges give enough slipperiness and unevenness to give my feet and legs something to pay attention to and a little variation in the load on my body. Perhaps it is easier for me to enjoy this as I am not bothered about speed, only about getting around the course I have chosen in one piece. I was happy to make it round this time before the torrential rain set in again, though I spent the rest of the day feeling rather sore from the combined activities of the weekend and watching the rain fall throughout the longer hours of daylight savings time.

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Highway 1 as it passes Big Basin, always a spectacular spot

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