So, this summer, instead of riding my bike a lot, I started running Green Lake regularly. Actually, I started walking Green Lake regularly, and then worked up to running it. And that's what this reflection is really about - the process as well as the act itself.
I started when Otis was in Hawai'i at the beginning of July. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I just started walking down to the lake (a half mile), around it (three miles), and back (a half mile) to kill time. We were graced with a fairly good summer this year, so it was usually pleasantly warm and sunny, and I enjoyed the community of the lake - walkers, runners, dog-walkers, skaters, the whole scene. It was a chance to shake off some cobwebs, move around a little, and take the air, as we used to say. I went just about every day.
After a while, I noticed I was moving a little faster than a stroll, and getting back home a little more quickly. I switched from sandals to sneakers and started walking a bit faster, a bit more deliberately. I was still just taking a walk, but it was with purpose, and my heart told me I was working a little harder.
After a while more, I figured I would run a portion of the route, just for fun. First, I only ran a short distance - from one arbitrary landmark to another. Then I started running from one major landmark to another - a mile, since the lake path is conveniently divided into thirds by the boathouse, the bathhouse, and the community center. Then I started running two-thirds of the route consistently, and one day I ran all the way around, and there I was.
I now seem to have settled into a nice routine of running the lake three times a week and walking it a few more times. About thirty years ago, a friend (who was running before running was cool) told me that three miles three times a week was the optimum running schedule for general health - do more than that and a person gets better at running, but no healthier, and the risk of injury goes up. It feels good to have reached that level, and that it has become a habit.
What also feels good it the manner in which I have moved to this place. Unlike some of my usual OCD-filled enterprises, I have not kept a spreadsheet recording my days run, my mileage, or my times - I haven't even ever clocked myself. I try to run or walk every day, but not because I feel I need to - I actually want to, but I don't beat myself up if my schedule doesn't let me, either. I have a general idea of when I leave the house for the lake, and I can look at the clock when I get home to get some idea of my time, but the time doesn't seem important. What does seem important is that I feel good when I am running and I feel better that I have run.
I have also tried to engage the running itself in a different way. Just as I haven't gotten a watch or any other device to track my "progress," I haven't taken an iPod or a radio with me, either to set a pace with music or provide a distraction during the run. I like being at the lake while I run - seeing the sun or the moon or the mist, feeling the air and the ground, hearing the sounds of the traffic and people and animals and my own feet on the gravel, smelling the plants and the water. I don't want anything to take me from that; I want to be there. I don't want the running to be all I am concerned with; I want to be a person who is running.
Mindfulness is an element that has come up frequently in this ongoing discussion of Zen practices, and it is mindfulness that I try to cultivate while running. In a manner similar to my engagement with top ramen, I try to just be in the moment when running, to experience each sensation as it comes, without judgment or evaluation. It's hard to do; notwithstanding our friendly not-a-monk, I'm not sure that running can replace zazen, although it might be more accessible. My main stumbling block is the usual: the chattering of my all-too-verbal monkey-brain, which wants to narrate and comment on each unfolding instance.
Once in a while, though, my inner voice goes silent and I can find myself just feeling an itch on my leg with no desire to scratch it, or experiencing the temperature of the air without calling it too cold or too warm even in my mind; maybe then, in those little moments, I am someplace a little closer to where I want to be.
In any case, I am going to keep running.