by Dante Zappala

I should not have dropped the f-bomb right there on Forbidden Drive – not the day before Easter, certainly not with so many young people around. But I’m sensitive these days.

I was nine miles into a ten-mile tempo run at marathon pace. Nearing Bell’s Mill, I picked a line to avoid people. I didn’t bank on the dog that was off-leash wandering into my path. I yelled at it to get its attention, but it had its nose to the ground.

I really couldn’t stop at that point, so I did my best to avoid him. It was a near miss followed by a very loud WTF.

The better choice would have been to say nothing. But this is the problem with a run like that. At its core, it’s about right and wrong. I’m trying to lock in and decide what my pace will be for the marathon. And to do that, I let go of everything else around me. I have enough awareness to focus 20 feet ahead of me, remember which mile I’m in and think about rhythm because finding the right pace is critical.

If I go out too fast, I’ll blow up. If I start too slow, I’ll miss out on the potential. History can help in this calculation. I can extrapolate from my half-marathon time from six weeks ago. But those conversions are an imprecise science.

And running is never so exact. As much as we want to use history to predict the future, that transfer of information inevitably gets muddied. Standing in its way are present circumstances. Those could be influenced by fatigue, nutrition and stress, to name a few.

I’ve also realized the benefit of my training over the past few weeks, which puts me in new territory. So, while historical reference is a good starting point, more than anything, I need the present.

But when a dog meanders into my present path, the bubble is broken. And, apparently, so is my ability to craft a dignified response to the incident.

Yet that is a byproduct of a heightened sensitivity, one that I am currently dependent on. Finding the right pace is a challenge on several fronts. First, I need to figure out what the right speed is. Is it a 6:15 pace or 6:05? Or is it really in the middle? There’s a fine difference between them. A pace of 6:15 feels controlled and comfortable; 6:05 feels powerful but edgy.

The second challenge is tuning my senses to know how to run that pace. And this is why the bubble is so important. There are probably a dozen or more things to focus on when I run. But for this exercise, for getting this pace right and locking it in, I pick two and forget about the rest: breath and steps.

There’s a natural rhythm that emerges in that pattern. It’s a solemn beat, light and transcendent. It’s absolutely hypnotic but likewise demanding of attention to maintain. It’s a very active meditation.

I indulge for three minutes at a time and then, every half mile, I look at my watch to see what it’s brought me.

This new found sensitivity isn’t all bad when it comes to the real world. It could have been the intoxicating effect of popcorn, Fanta and a comfy recliner, but I found myself tearing up during at least two parts of the latest Pixar movie.

I’m rehearsing a new play over at Allens Lane Art Center. Being tuned in has helped me find the moments as we explore the intent of each scene.

In my search for the right pace, I’m also finding that the present is littered with many elements that have to be divided into truth and fiction and, ultimately, what is useful and what is not. And this is my biggest challenge.

Yelling obscenities is not useful, even if it felt right. Letting go of that righteous rage clears more space to discover that perfect rhythm of breathing and moving.

It’s elusive, but I hope to find it for 26 miles in Boston. And maybe, just maybe, it will last for a few more miles when I get back.