When it happened to me at a half-marathon yesterday, I stood beyond the finish line in slack-jawed shock, giddy, faintly queasy and stupidly happy in the way of oxygen-deprived runners everywhere who have just run faster than they ought to for longer than they should.
I had hoped to race at my long-run training pace, but allowed that at the full distance I might manage only 30 seconds per mile slower. Instead, I averaged more than 30 seconds per mile faster, the second half of the race slightly faster than the first. It was as if some secret superhero part of me showed up at the start line and took over. (Chest out, hands on hips, cape flowing in the breeze: “Step away, little lady. I’ll handle this.”)
And it was fun, for at least 12 of those 13.1 miles. Fun. Only the last mile was taxing, and especially the second half of that. That was when my mind said, “Now! Kick!” and my body just kept tumbling forward at the same pace I had held throughout the race, because by then, that was all it could do. It was an invisible kick, evident only to me.
The rest of the race, though? That was joy.
I could tell you this was the result of good old-fashioned training, because partly, it was. And I could tell you that it was the effect of 400 mg of pre-race ibuprofen, which kept at bay aging- and injury-related pain, because surely that helped. And I could tell you that it was sheer grace, that the X factor always in play on race day fell for me yesterday in a big way. Because that is certainly true.
All of those factors, and others too, no doubt, in the pantheon of invisible forces that shape our experiences day to day, minute to minute. The atoms and the ether and the charges in the air, positive and negative. A million unknowable things.
I read a reflection from a favorite Buddhist writer over pre-race coffee yesterday, before I slipped into my running shorts and laced up my shoes. It describes psychologist and author Wayne Dyer’s awakening practice of rolling to the side of his bed, placing his feet on the floor, breathing deeply and whispering: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” For just being here, for being alive.
I know. It’s not always easy to be grateful, especially when our lives feel like a struggle. And sometimes they do: the hardships that visit us feel insurmountable, the losses unbearable. Sometimes it feels as if those million unknowable things conspire against us to create a death by a thousand cuts.
And yet. And yet. Sometimes it feels as if they align behind us, around us, beneath us. Lifting us up. Joining our little lives with the big and buoyant life of this world.
We never know which it will be when we roll to the edge of our beds and place our feet on the floor. Maybe that first cup of coffee, rich and redolent in your furled fingers, will be the high point of your day. Maybe after that, it will all go to hell: You’ll step in the hairball, be late to work, lose the love of your life. You’ll get sick, or discouraged. Maybe that, or worse.
Or, maybe this:
Some grace will come at you, straight and sure as an arrow, pluck you unexpectedly from your leaden life, and send you soaring.