Recently, I have been running about three to four miles, twice a week. It balances my gym workouts—all that muscle building and intensity—with muscle lengthening and fresh air. It also has perks, like opening the mind.
It’s interesting the range of thoughts which enter and pass through my mind in the course of those forty minutes. The first, and absolute first, is “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” I laugh whenever I think that, but it inspires me to proceed. I know it’s going to be difficult. Actually the first half mile is difficult; sort of like the worst part of going to the gym is getting to the gym. But if I can endure, the difficulty wanes and therapy begins. It’s just me, god, and a waterfall of thoughts. Before I become philosophical here, I want to express my concluding thoughts (these, of course, occur when I pass the final mile marker and know I am almost home free). I end my run with a mantra, “I am strong, I am strong,” or something else which suits my personal endeavor at the time. It may be “I am beautiful,” or “I am wise,” or something as simple and universal as “I am love.” But it gets me through.
Today on my usual run, a revelation descended during the flow of thought period. I recalled the previous weekend’s run. I was returning just rounding the halfway point when this guy whizzes past me. Of course I could hear him coming for some time because his headset music was very loud. Anyway, I watch him pass and move ahead. I keep at my pace, thoughts wandering. I enjoy the sounds of the trail, the birds, the crickets, and the rooster, poor thing, whose internal clock is terribly askew. I pass by the walkers and their conversations swirl about me; the sights of lovers make me sigh. I am happy for them, especially the ones who are really ‘connected.’ I realize I will be joining their exclusive group someday.
So, through the appreciation of mother nature, and watching, and thinking, I round a bend and ahead is the jogger who passed me. “Hmmm,” I think, “I’m going to let him be my inspiration. I’m going to erase half the distance between us.” I assume that I’m being lazy…just jogging along, looking at people, the trees, admiring the winding, cat-tailed waterway. So I picked up the pace. I have no idea how fast I was running. I’m sort of hoping for the man on the bicycle (who rode beside me a couple weeks before and informed me I was going 6.1 miles per hour). My curiosity, and ego, would have liked to know how fast I was moving. Of course my bicycle man didn’t show. Nothing comes when you want it; it comes when you don’t give a damn.
I kept my eye on the jogger ahead and kept the pace. To my delight, I was gaining on him. I tried to calculate the differential. Were my strides longer, did I have one and a half to his one? Or was he slowing down? Either way, I enjoyed the challenge. Inside I knew I was capable of a quicker pace. I knew I was strong. It’s easy to get lazy when you don’t have a benchmark. He was my benchmark. Yep, the guy with the loud music and the t-shirt soaked into a u-shape from his shoulders to lower back, had become my inspiration.
Before long, I realized half the distance was met. “Hmmm…I wonder if I can get to within twenty strides behind him, and let him set the pace until the end?” I clicked into fourth gear and began the power mantra which resounded as some tribal chant.
Panting, but goal met, I set one final challenge. “Pass him. Pass the sweat-soaked music man! Do it! Do it! Do it!”
There was no denying the inner voice. The power chant escalated to madness. What was moving my legs at such a pace? How was I breathing? But stride by stride I inched closer, the taste of victory powering my adrenaline. I erased the entire distance between us, passed him, and added some substantial distance of my own.
The question is did I enjoy it, did I relish this victory? Not really. It took the joy out of my Saturday morning jog. Being obsessed with running at his pace, I lost total sight of my needs. I was chanting the mantra long before the final mile. I didn’t have that wonderful conversation with God. I didn’t experience all those enlightening thoughts of who I am and where I am heading. I didn’t notice the sprays of yellow flowers along the water or the language of the birds.
There was purpose to that experience. I’ve read somewhere that there is a “gem in every interaction.” We just need to recognize it. That’s the difficult part…recognition. Being aware takes practice.
I realize what occurred that morning was a metaphor to much larger things in life.
Today, as I was jogging at my pace, I realized the futility of running at his pace. I realized I have to do everything at my pace. I cannot judge myself by the path others are taking. That is their path, not mine. And why would I want to anyway? I want to be myself, not the guy with the sweaty back and loud music. Life is about looking inward, not outward, for guidance on how fast to move and where we should be going. So often we judge ourselves by what others are doing. Often it makes us feel inferior or stupid; but we are all different, all with different and wonderful gifts.
I view my bi-weekly jog differently now. It is a metaphor of my life journey. No one can run those four miles for me and give me the benefit of the experience. I must do it myself and for myself. I have to struggle through the running. I have to take that first step and labor in the beginning, knowing that as the road winds, I’m going to breathe easier and I’m going to feel so fulfilled at the end.
My pace is just perfect for me. And if I am careful—if I don’t look at what others are doing, if I just focus on where I need to go—I’ll be just fine.