Embudito Canyon, New Mexico. I’m enjoying one of those perfect runs in the hills above Albuquerque. It’s a sparkling autumn morning. Ahead, one cotton tailed bunny, then another, then another, hop out of the path. No fear of me, no hurry. “Lippety lippety, lippety lippety” as Bea Potter captured the moment in “Peter Rabbit.”
The run feels so good. I’m scooting along, laughing at the rabbits, and I’m trying to be serious, but it’s hard. “Lippety lippety.” I’m trying to formulate, to really think about my long range physical fitness goals so I can write this post. Damn it, rabbits, stop being so cute! Can’t you see I’m trying to meditate on deep truths? Bunnies.
Bang! It occurs to me that this perfect moment, this lovely run is, itself, exactly the fitness goal I’m trying to express: to lope comfortably down the path, in the morning sun, all by myself (except for the bunnies), joyfully, for the rest of my life. Yes, that’s what I want most of all. I want to die out here, to drop dead in my tracks, before injury or infirmity arrest my ability to run with the silly rabbits.
My wife, Christine, and my son, Luke understand my hope for a “died with his running shoes on” finale. If I don’t come home from my run, they promise to rejoice for me. OK, they can mourn a little bit, but not too much, or too long.
Ironically, it may be my excellent cardiovascular fitness that obstructs my “hop till I drop” plans. I’m probably not going down with a sudden heart attack. I have the blood pressure of a 30 year old and a slow heart rate that makes the doctor check my pulse a second time.
I smoked when I was a youngster, so cancer is a possibility, but it’s too slow and would surely trap me in a hospital bed. Alzheimer’s disease, even worse. Unacceptable. I need something fast and unpredictable. Aneurysm! My father barely survived an aneurysm, so the possibility of a “blow out” is genetically reasonable. OK, that’s settled.
Here’s the scene. I begin the run as I usually do with the words “it’s a good day to die.” What liberation and clarity those words bring! Thanks, Crazy Horse, for the mantra.
It’s muggy today, and I haven’t being feeling quite right. Hell, who does at 88 years old?
The trail I’ve chosen, one of my old favorites, winds through the Weimar Institute. I’ve been running this trail for 35 years. It’s got one big hill, but compared to most of my foothill routes, it’s a gentle, friendly trail. I love it dearly.
Five miles into the run, I come to the “Prayer Cove,” a clearing next to a melodious creek. In earlier times, my dogs would drink and cool off while I meditated for a few minutes. First Daisy, then Dharma, then Della, the last of the lineage of superb running pals. It hurt to lose each dog, but Della most of all, and when she went a couple of years ago, I just didn’t have the heart to raise and lose another.
I’m all alone today at Prayer Cove. Looking up at the sunlight through the foliage, I chant the old Sanskrit prayer for illumination, Jyota se jyota.
Hmmm? I am definitely not feeling right today. OK, old man, boot up and head down the trail for the last two miles.
There’s an old ponderosa pine along this stretch with which I have a special relationship. For a third of a century I have whimsically given it a nod as I run by, saying “at the base of this tree I’m going to take my last breath.” Ha, ha. My little joke. But today, by the time I get to my tree, the feeling of general discomfort has localized into a slicing pain in my chest. Maybe I should sit down for a minute? With my back against the portentous old tree, I try to deal with the pain, but it gets worse with each breath. I realize with absolute certainty that this is the moment, the big moment, the really big moment. The world spins around. I can no longer sit up. I fall over into the brush. I manage to roll over on my back so I can look straight up into the blueness between the leaves.
The pain fades . . . and fades . . . and fades away. Whew. I seem to be floating, lighter than air. Listen. I can hear all the sounds of my beloved forest. Birds, insects, the creek, the wind in the trees, my breath. There far above, a familiar black silhouette soaring in slow motion.
Brother Buzzard, coming for to carry me home.
Can you articulate your own long haul fitness goals? Can you tell your own story? Can you get your mind beyond the immediate objectives of a physical fitness program? So often we express those “goals” as temporary achievements:
Nothing wrong with these goals, except that they are transitory, like New Year’s resolutions. Try this: write down your physical fitness goals, then add the phrase “until the end of my life.” How do those goals resonate now?
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