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“When can we talk about strategy?”  I ask Bert when I get to Clover Park. “Because I am doing 26 miles in San Diego.”

“I know you are,” he says.

We gather for announcements. There are a few people who are on the cusp of the San Diego timeline. Although the race organizers claim that a 17.26 minute per mile average is needed to make the cut-offs, there will be over 25,000 people in this marathon. Depending on where you start, where you’re assigned, you could have a 20-minute walk just to get to the starting line. The clock starts with the gun-shot and the first person over the line. So, says Bert, we need a 16-minute mile to accommodate that potential delay. He is going to pace a 16-minute mile today and have those of us on the borderline walk with him and try to keep that pace. Verna, Gayle and Anjali, the Kona girls, set out ahead of us. Beth and I pull in with Bert.

But we keep pulling ahead. I can’t help it. All week I have considered what it means to walk in joy, have experimented with how a light heart can lighten my feet, how I can revel in the sheer pleasure of walking when I pay attention to it. I can’t do that keeping time like a metronome. I’d rather rise and fall, average out a steady beat. And my starting speed is faster than 16 minutes.

“Go ahead, pull ahead,” he says finally, realizing the futility of reigning us back. “But make sure you find a pace you can maintain for 20 miles.”

“Or you’ll just catch us,” I say.

“Or pass you.”

So off we go, and yes, walking is much more fun with full energy, and soon we’ve caught up to the Kona girls. So our goal is now a simple one: keep ahead of Bert.

Anjali takes it one better: keep ahead of Bert’s voice, totally out of earshot. And we’re off. But slowly, Beth and Verna pull ahead.

“Let’s catch them,” says Anjali around mile eight. Gayle is game. I send them on ahead. Twenty two miles is going to be a long day, and my feet still feel a bit fragile. I can’t pound them into a quick sprint. I’ll have to catch up some other way.

Joy. All week, I watched the weight of thoughts. Thinking – about bills, missed phone calls, future conversations, anything mundane or worrisome – slowed me down. Praying, singing (even silently), and focusing on joy sped me up. And I remembered something about my dreams. Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a recurring dream motif. I don’t fly in my dreams; I hover. Fast hovering, like the flying skateboard in Back to the Future II. But in my dreams, it has always been very fast walking that lifts me off the ground, and also keeping my energy high, my heart light. I remember the feeling, from dreams, of going up my elementary school steps so fast I floated. And more recently, speeding along my street, just above the sidewalk. Every time this happens in a dream, it’s a remembering; in my dreams, I know this, the technique of it; the feeling is, Here I am again! So all week, as I walked, I tried to remember the feeling of those dreams. Let the feeling lift me.

My crew is a few city blocks ahead of me. I don’t try to catch them. I close my eyes and remember the feeling. Joy. Lightness. Heart swelling and open. I let that carry me. It’s like a secret turbo engine clicks in, and within about a mile, I have rejoined my little team.

To be continued in Part Two.

American Stroke AssociationIn 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.