18 July 2006

Running For My Life

Life and age are funny things. They creep up on you. Ever since I stopped running with any regularity or goal a few years ago, they seem to be creeping up on me faster and faster.

I remember a run that I had perhaps six years ago, running through Rockefeller State Park Preserve just outside Tarrytown, NY on the Hudson River on a sunny, chilly October afternoon. It was my last long run before the New York Marathon. Now the preserve is really quite hilly from mellow meadow to a steep pitch you swear you should have a safety line to run down or up. The only semi-flat path is the one around the lake in the middle of the Park (a lake the Rockefellers built so they would have one to picnic by...) and even then the path slopes and rolls up and down around the duck filled waters.

And on this day I ran and ran and ran. Up those hills, across little fast flowing streams, leaves scrunching under my running shoes, sweat pouring off me. There was one hill in particular, that I'd always had trouble making it up. I always ended up huffing and puffing. Oh, I'd make it but it was a "just barely" and "I think I can, I think I can" kind of thing. If I'd owned a heart rate monitor back then I probably would have scared myself into having a heart attack by the time I got to the top.

But this day, at the end of two hours, I soared. I reached the top in a smooth segue of heart, soul and breath, and as I rounded the top and made the crest of the hill, the Hudson lay glittering before me. The wind and the sun and the river all clapped their hands and twinkled with the glitter of sun and swirling red, yellow and orange leaves. I can still smell how the wind was, the smell of earth, and decaying leaves and season more beautiful for its fading. I don't know that I have ever felt so alive as I did in that moment. That sense of complete connection between body, mind, soul and world, my "newish" yoga practice notwithstanding. A bit of what the Buddhist call "Big Mind" I suspect.

I've missed that connection since I stopped running regularly, that feeling of one's mortality pumping strongly in your chest. Of knowing its strength and weakness. That it can carry you to the top of the hill but not beyond your numbered days. Its a good thing to know. Life that is. Its limits and its infinity. That's what "running for your life" really means.

Yoga is a stillness. Running is clearly not. But I've decided I need both. Yin and Yang. My body was born to run, wants to run, needs to run. Just as my body needs to move through the yoga postures that give expression to its innate holiness and grace, so too I need to feel my heart leaping with every stride down the mountain path reminding me again and again with every step of the simple joy of movement, and so, of life.

That's why I've started running again on the trails here in Evergreen, Colorado. It's a tough slog right now, I'll be honest. It's not much fun. The altitude is a killer, the extra twenty pounds are a knap sack I'd rather not carry. Nor the years for that matter. But its coming back a bit.

Today, when I ran across the Elk Meadow and up into the Bergen Hills, the path was garlanded with wildflowers, the sky was gray and moody, and what little sun there was flitted from pine branch to pine branch, but here and there I could see it, that Big Mind. Once or twice I felt it poke my soul.

"Big Mind happy to have this old runner back chasing it," it laughed deeply and silently.

And this, well, this old runner is glad to be running for his life again.


Painting by: Artbywicks


T. Willie said...

16 years ago I could spend all day running up and down mountains with a hoselay on my back and a pulaski in my hands. A decade and a half later, I have my own 20 extra pounds and a new found desire to reclaim my physical peak. It's nice to know there's someone else walking that path, too. Or running, as the case may be :-)

pikku said...

I've been in the same situation for the past 6 months but now I'm slowly starting again... It's not easy, but it'll be worth it!