“I have to go for a run.”
Sometimes when I say that it is the highlight of my day; then there are the times I say that and I am exhausted before the words even leave my mouth. What is it that usually changes that feeling? After listening to many of my friends over the past year I have realized that it usually comes from pursuing excellence in running. That is not to say that trying to do great things, like races, will always cause this problem. But, it is to say that our mind is an amazing thing, and the more and more I run I have realized that physically I can be faster – just as long as my mind allows it. I thought about calling this post “I Love to Run, but My Mind Gets In The Way”, however I didn’t think that really did it justice; so I went with the current title. It really is the running that gets in the way sometimes, even though I know my mind is what is changing my attitude about it.
Since running is a relatively new thing in my life, as I only have run for a little over five years, I used running for health and happiness. I think many of us experience the beginner’s joy of something, regardless of what it is. We have a whimsy about us whenever we start something new. In many cases, other than my minimal experience playing golf, I have never really thought too much about anything when it is new – I just get fueled by excitement. Running gave me that energized sense of wonderment. I remember reading a quote by Bill Bowerman, the track coach of Steve Prefontaine and co-founder of Nike, and he said “The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart.”. I truly believe that, but I don’t think it is just testing the limits of our heart as a muscle, but to test the limits of our heart – our mind. That wonderment came easily for me at the beginning, but as I have grown I have realized that so to has my mind. When we grow we ask questions, so when the mind asks questions you better watch out.
Running in the beginning was easy. I put on shoes, I grabbed whatever I played music out of, and I went out and ran. Sounds pretty simple, right? I think that is how we all begin. Great tunes, a good view, and being at one with ourselves is a beautiful thing. I had the luxury of going outside and within 5 minutes I was running along the water in San Francisco. That is a view I got used to really quick, and in the best of ways. I started out running only half a mile. I continued on and worked my way up more and more. One day, maybe about 3-4 months after I started running, I made it to the Golden Gate Bridge about five miles from my house. Seeing the bridge from a distance was stunning, but when I physically made it there it was even more breathtaking. When I returned from the bridge it was exhilarating, because I had just run ten miles. I did the same thing again the following weekend, but this time I crossed the bridge. I ran thirteen miles on my own two feet, and the only reason for it was because I wanted to test my limits. I was testing my limits, and I wasn’t training. Ah, training…That is a very big word when it comes to the mind, and definitely a part of how running can get in the way of loving running.
“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.” – Steve Prefontaine
Steve Prefontaine couldn’t have said it any better, but there is the place where my mind goes before I “come back to where it started”. For instance, the time when I got my first GPS watch – oh, how that became worse than checking FB on a cellphone. I remember seeing a shirt that said “If I die at the end of the race, then please turn off my Garmin!”. Creepy, but true. I tracked every mile I ran, and every pace that I ran. In the first few years I racked up about 3000 miles, with times and maps to prove it. This took a little away from my youthful whimsy. Then came the shoes…oh the shoes. When I first started running I experience some shin splints, so I was told I should go to a running store and get assessed for a “real” pair of shoes. So I went and got assessed, and I felt pretty much the same afterward. I still had shin splints, but I had some frickin’ awesome shoes! I later came to realize that I was probably just using muscles that I had never used before, and after some months the shin splints went away. But, I now have enough running shoes to make Imelda Marcos jealous. I have them for sprints, minimalist, maximalist, walking, and some for just looks. They have also become another thing to add to my mind, and how that affects my performance. What are some other things that I can list? Other stuff that I have contemplated since I began running my marathons are my electrolytes, my running fuel, hydration pack (or water bottles), fanny pack for training runs, socks, shirts that are wicking, sunglasses, and anything else that I might bring to get me from point A to point B – 26.2 miles later. All of these things have become questions for my mind, because they can all affect me in a positive or negative way during a run.
Now comes the point where I talk about the training. Sometimes it comes down to semantics, but running and training can be two very different thing. With all the races I am doing I need to train. If I don’t train then I can end up injured, or have long recovery times, or maybe just have a crappy race day. Sometimes I can have a crappy race day even after training, but it is guaranteed if I don’t train well. This is the part where I talk about the “I have to go for a run” thing. I still love to run, don’t get me wrong, but this endeavor of running six marathons, on three continents, plus one island if you count the Brexit, has taught me many lessons about why I run, and why sometimes it isn’t as enjoyable now and then. Sometimes I have to do it, and that is the part that has occasionally perplexed my mind. I am no longer just going outside for a run. I am training to achieve something. I am training to test the limits of my heart, and it really is a test. Over-training, under – training, speed-training, hill repeats, and whatever other things we might do, including fun words like fartlek (hehe), and tempo runs. These can all help me get better, and everyone will give me advice on what I should be doing for optimal race performance, or plain old survival. With all the advice I always return to my mantra of run your own race, which can hold true in so many different aspects of my life. But, this training thing can be as foreboding as a large mountain that needs to be climbed. It is a test of my will, long before I even lace up. I can run 5 miles the easy way, or five miles the hard way, but it is the running that gets in the way.
Training my brain is something that I have been working on for a long time now. The reason why I am training has changed over the years, but the theme is the same. I train to overcome something, whether it be trivial or massive. I train to better myself. The same goes for running, and training my mind to get past running getting in the way of my run. Sometimes it is how I look at past races, and what I learned from those. Getting past the day-to-day and focusing on myself has been wonderful. Sometimes the inspiration to train my brain comes from books. There are many people that have written books on running, and most of them aren’t even famous runners, but their approach, or parts of it, have been amazing to apply to my own running – mostly my mind. Haruki Murakami wrote “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself.”. I definitely relate to this, and I have tried to use it as a precursor to the run. When I am running I can get past pretty much anything, but right now this is just about getting going, and not getting through it. I can use that advice to get going sometimes. He also wrote, “Sometimes taking time is actually a shortcut.”. I firmly believe in this. For me this means setting an intention. If I just think about the thought of going outside to train I am sometimes stifled by my mind. However, if I set an intention and take time, then I can go through why I am training and be invigorated by it.
The best way, but arguably my most difficult way sometimes, is to think only about myself. This can be difficult at times, as I am a nurturer, so it can take some effort. That is probably the reason I became a sommelier. Much of it is giving, which can get in the way sometimes of giving to yourself. Kahlil Gibran wrote “You give but little when you give your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” I have always loved that quote, and I think that is extremely fitting in this situation. So I have started to make sure that one of the main reasons I run is to be with myself. It is my meditation. Running used to be daydream time. During the time when my mother passed away I would use it as an escape. Of course I was training for a marathon that I was running for her, but I would still need to escape. I liked to call this my Walter Mitty time. This time was used to escape from what was happening, and to take me to a place that was whatever I would make it – which I still do from time to time. To escape reality with our imagination can be wonderful, but for me it became too much of an escape. Music helped create that escape, as I was a musician for a pretty long time I could make the music become my canvas, my dreamscape. After a while I realized this was not doing any good. It served a purpose for when I needed it, but it was not sustainable or healthy anymore. Running is being with yourself. Running is about posture. Running is about feeling, and listening to your body and mind. Most importantly running is about focusing on your breath. What else do we do that incorporates all of those things? Meditation.
I am not saying running is always meditation for me, but even the briefest thought about my intention takes me to a wonderful place inside. The book, Running with the Mind of Meditation, is an incredible read. Sakyong Mipham, the author, is not only a marathoner, but he is a Buddhist Monk, and head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. He wrote, “Running and meditation are very personal activities. Therefore they are lonely. This loneliness is one of their best qualities because it strengthens our incentive to motivate ourselves.”. That loneliness part can be very exciting. Not that it is something I would like to feel all the time, but it is a time to think. Running can get out lots of energy that I have pent up, but it is also a time to work through things in my mind. He also wrote, “If we do not push ourselves enough, we do not grow, but if we push ourselves too much, we regress. What is enough will change, depending on where we are and what we are doing. In that sense, the present moment is always some kind of beginning.”. This is another way that I can get past the running part that blocks my running. The thought of getting past any obstacle re-enforces that self-achievement. It’s is where I can come back to why I run. To Sakyong’s point I also know that if I push too much, then I regress. I experienced that when I ran the Boston and London marathons within six days. Physically I felt fine, but mentally I had pushed myself so much that it made lacing up a drag. When I felt that way I needed to clear my mind. I needed to experience nature on a run, and not a time goal, or race goal. Nature helps me reset, but that time it took a lot of nature to nurture. In nature I get the stillness I need to overcome how much I pushed myself. It made what Sakyong wrote resonate with me more…“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.”
One of my favorite things to do is make homemade paneer and curry, which I will eat with rice for dinner. Then I use it for burritos over the course of a few days. Makes for great running fuel, and is vegetarian so it doesn’t weigh you down.
When I am training I also use eating as a form of meditation. It not only satisfies my stomach, but it satisfies my heart, my soul. So when running gets in my run I also think about what I eat – sometimes with reminders that usually involve feeling crappy after eating junk food. Scott Jurek, author of Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Marathon Greatness, was very inspiring to me. I don’t think I will ever become a vegan, but taking many ideas from his recipes I have had lots of fun preparing things that are tasty, as well as great fuel for a run. Cooking, and eating, can be one of the most sensual and personal things that we do for ourselves, and others. So, when I began to incorporate that into my running I was able to take care of myself to the highest degree. Eating healthy is one thing, but to think “What am I going to cook for my long run” adds a whole new light a meal. I sometimes forget that food has that affect on me. But once again, it comes down to setting an intention.
“If your mind is dirty you can run 10,000 miles, but where have you gotten? If you go for a 1-mile run and you’re passionately engaged with the world, who cares about the other 9,999?” – Scott Jurek
So now you see how my running can get in the way of my run. Even though it is my mind, it does come back to having the thought about running. Sometimes it is as easy as lacing up, and then going out the door to be with myself. Sometimes I have a goal, and I go out and try to achieve it. Sometimes I have to work at it, and that work can be many different things. But, I do know that when I think about myself more than the other stuff I can do it much easier. It’s all that other stuff that puts the running in front of my run.