What I Think About When I Am Running

Since I had a lot of free time over the Christmas and New Year period, I had anticipated getting a lot of exercise – of course it did not turn out like that. First of all I spent a couple of days at a friend’s house, with neither bike nor running shoes, and the weather was too wet for enjoyable hiking. At the end of that time I had picked up a sore throat, which lingered for the next week as a mild cold, so I did not feel like doing anything especially strenuous. I did get some gentle rides in, a couple of hours or so each time, exploring different areas south of the city, since I am finding Marin very familiar these days and need a change of scene. On the last of those, I was a few blocks from home and gearing up (literally) for a last burst, when there was a crunching sound, and everything came to a halt. The derailleur hanger had sheared off, and my back wheel had come free and jammed onto the frame… I was glad it was a short walk home (and also glad that another rider stopped to check that I was okay, in that community spirit which always feels so supportive). That left me to attempt my new tradition of a very early New Year’s Day ride on my fixed gear bike. I managed to ride across the city to the bay in time for the sunrise, out to Land’s End and back, on roads that are normally too car-centric to enjoy, or even to contemplate, riding on. However, my riding will definitely be limited until I can find a way, and some money, to get my road bike frame repaired.

And then the welcome rains returned for the weekend. On Saturday, having spent many hours reading and preparing for my Dogen class, my head full of practice-realisation and mutual non-obstruction, I waited for a pause in the rain before going out for a run. As it was, even though I was fully ready to enjoy it, no rain fell while I was out. Not only that, but by the time I arrived at Twin Peaks, the sun was bursting through over the ocean, and I glimpsed shifting portions of a tall rainbow over the city. The buildings downtown were shining, clouds piled in various hues, and the bay reflected a copper colour; the wind was whipping in from the west. Everyone who was up there was obviously having a great time; for me it was one more example of the deep embodied joy of running. I remembered that my last run had been two weeks previously, and I had seen, at about the same hour,  from a different high point, up on Liberty Hill, the solstice full moon rising over the East Bay Hills, equally exhilarating.

Someone who has come on several roams had sent me a link to a podcast offered by Upaya, which I had listened to that day: the ultra-distance runner Katie Arnold talked about the way she could understand Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind because she understood running, and Natalie Goldberg invoked Katagiri’s notion of a great determination that comes from beyond the self, challenging our self-involved viewpoints and giving us a sense of perspective on our problems.

Also that day, I read a lovely article in the Guardian about the therapeutic qualities of running, which included this observation:

‘When you run, your body takes your brain along for the ride. Your mind is no longer in the driving seat. You’re concentrating on the burn in your legs, the swing of your arms. You notice your heartbeat, the sweat dripping into your ears, the way your torso twists as you stride. Once you’re in a rhythm, you start to notice obstacles in your way, or people to avoid. You see details on buildings you’d never noticed before. You anticipate the weather ahead of you. Your brain has a role in all of this, but not the role it is used to. My mind, accustomed to frightening me with endless “what if” thoughts, or happy to torment me with repeated flashbacks to my worst experiences, simply could not compete with the need to concentrate while moving fast. I’d tricked it, or exhausted it, or just given it something new to deal with.’

And in my reading around Dogen, this line from Shinshu Roberts: ‘Experiencing the present moment is experiencing our lives.’ Of course there are many ways to do this, and we practise them every time we sit, but I first had inklings of this when I took to running as a teenager, and here I am, decades later, still enjoying the moments.

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