On Fast Walking, Getting into a Zone, and Zen Moments


I have been spending a lot of time pounding the proverbial pavement near my home since early June in my efforts to lose the weight that has contributed to some fairly serious health problems I acquired. In this process I have lost about 25 pounds in a little over three months, but what really interests me is the greater physical endurance I have noticed in the last few weeks.

When I started walking I was choosing iPod songs around the 110 beats per minute (BPM) range, and I gradually started finding songs in the 125 BPM range to assist me in maintaining a 4-5 MPH pace that will burn some serious calories. Yet I typically walked for about 30-40 minutes at a stretch, and I found that 12-15 minutes was about the most I could maintain the fastest pace before needing to slow down to 110 BPM.

Today I decided to push myself further, and I decided to see if I could maintain the fast pace for a full hour. I think that I hit one of those workout "zones" today, and I got into a groove where it felt like I could keep that fast-walking (I hate the term "power walking" - it sounds so trendy) pace going all day.

Walk, walk, walk, walk. No pressing worries, no upcoming appointments, just walk, walk, walk, walk.

I found myself approaching something akin to what Zen Buddhists call kensho, or that state of mind where one can transcend material concerns and just...be. Of course, there were too many distractions (the iPod songs plus other walkers, dogs, and bicyclists) for me to have achieved some sort of true enlightenment, yet all the same the first 45 minutes passed with surprising speed.

Returning home I experienced a greater sense of peace, which materialist-focused cynics might attribute to a simple flood of endorphins in my brain from exercise. Maybe this was simply a fast-walking high, and maybe it was something spiritual, but you cannot dismiss moments of profound bliss as imaginary.

And unlike artificially induced highs from booze or drugs, there is a certain satisfaction associated with the hard work needed to achieve a "natural" high like this. It takes sweat and patience to overcome the urge to quit exercising, as it is simply much easier to put forth a modestly active effort and accept the deceptive notion that our bodies have physical limits.

Yes, we cannot become marathon runners in a weekend, but at the same time our bodies can be pushed much farther than our conscious mind thinks. Forcing ourselves to travel beyond our first and second thoughts of quitting can lead to surprising results. I commented to my better-fit and healthier wife the other night that I used to think she was quite the fast walker, and when we went for a walk the other day I noticed that I was now capable of exceeding her pace by an unexpected amount.

All in just three months.

So now I am off to attempt my first one-mile run in over a decade. I think I will be pleasantly surprised by my ability to accomplish this modest feat, a level of activity I thought beyond my current abilities just a few weeks ago.

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