When I returned to running in 1988, I faced the many obstacles that confront any beginning runner. At each crossroad, I tried to remember to ask God for help. When I did, I reliably found the answers I needed.
My path as a runner appeared to have been carefully orchestrated, as if it had been laid out in advance. When it was time to shift to a new phase of running, the awareness would grow that a change lay ahead. There would be a growing frustration with what I was doing – sometimes, an injury would present a break with the past and a chance to reflect on the new direction. The frustration would increase until I was impelled to pray desperately for understanding. And as I followed the guidance that came, I would find myself running at the next level and experiencing its unique challenges and rewards.
The changes were never only physical – always, there was a fresh understanding of all aspects of running: emotional, mental, and spiritual.
At one point, for example, it became clear that if I wanted to learn to run fast, I would have to lose weight. I prayed for guidance, and the next day I ran into a friend who was looking fit and healthy. I asked what he was doing, and he said he’d consulted a nutritionist. I called the nutritionist and, with his help, lost 40 pounds.
When it was time to change, the tools I needed would show up so long as I remembered to pray. It happened again when I sensed that it was time to start doing speedwork.
I had no idea what kind of speedwork I should do. The books and magazines were presented a bewildering array of methods. I’d gotten hints from Kit Flynn, a local champion runner, when I ran into him at the local high school track. But I needed to know more. So I continued to ask for guidance.
One evening, a fit-looking gentleman with shoulder-length white hair walked into the store where I worked. He noticed my running t-shirt and introduced himself and invited me to join a group of over-40 runners who trained together at the local high school track. He was Carl Ellsworth, the northern California USATF road race champion in the 60-64 age bracket for the previous two years. Carl lived just up the road, yet in the twenty years I’d lived in the area we’d never met. Those weekly speed sessions were deeply meaningful to me – they were the answer to my prayers.
At the first workout, after years of slow ultramarathon training, my time for an all-out mile was 7:42. Seven months later, at age 53, I ran 10 miles in 70 minutes, placing 12th in my age group. Not an impressive time, but a satisfying improvement.
While it was fun to fly around the track, there were deeper rewards. I’ve written about the natural stages of a runner’s career: how in the first stage the emphasis is on the body, the second is for the heart, and in the third stage the focus is on will power. In my training, the romance of running had faded, and I felt drawn to pursue challenging goals.
It wasn’t just my body that needed a change; there was a feeling that working with will power and concentration would fulfill the heart phase of running. In the feeling stage, I had worked to develop the attitudes of a runner – generosity, kindness, and the positive, upbeat energy. Having acquired some awareness of those qualities, I was ready to put them to the test while running hard.
In his book, Education for Life, J. Donald Walters explains why nature develops a child’s feelings first, before its will power. Without sensitive feeling, will power can all too easily become arrogant and overbearing. Also, feeling is the human faculty that enables us to tell right from wrong. Thus it’s essential for children to develop their ability to feel, before their power to act on their feelings. In professional sports, arrogance, self-centeredness, and indifference to the well-being of others are common. Surely children with sports talent would benefit from an education that cultivated their hearts during the “feeling years” from six to twelve. (See Chapter 3, “The Five Dimensions of Fitness.”)
Traversing the stages of a runner’s career isn’t easy, even with inner guidance. Change isn’t easy, but change in an expansive direction is rewarding. You look back and feel: “It was hard to shift directions, but I feel larger than I was. I know more. I feel more deeply. I can do more.”
The urge to become larger impels us to expand our awareness, to move a step closer to the larger Self that is the source of all our joys.