Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.
— Andrew Keeling
Don’t quit five minutes before the miracle.
— Andrew Keeling
A recent article in the New York Times explored what puts the “elite” in elite athlete. Obviously genetics play a factor, but another major advantage is the elite athlete’s ability to train and race consistently at the limits of their body’s endurance. This takes “pushing past the pain” — not allowing pain to hinder them mentally as they train and race at the highest possible personal level.
From a Buddhist perspective, I don’t think there is any such thing as “pushing past the pain” — the pain will always be with you, regardless of how hard you push. Learning to accept the pain, to become intimate with it and understand it as a sensation and how it plays on your thinking and emotions, seems to me to be a more correct way of describing and approaching it. And the article does skim the surface of that approach, without referring to Buddhism.
Many of us, whether running or not running, tend to try dissociating ourselves from physical or emotional pain or boredom. For runners the most common escape routes are via listening to music while we run, running with large groups and keeping up a continual patter of conversation, or taking ibuprofen. For non-runners, it can be some form of self medication (drugs or alcohol), watching TV, overeating, or compulsive shopping. I’m not trying to equate running with a large group with snorting cocaine, but the goal is often pretty much the same: dissociation from the experience we are currently having.
But for runners, association — or from a Zen perspective, becoming intimate with what you are doing right now and maintaining focus on it — has been shown in studies to enhance performance. From the NY Times article:
Another performance trick during competitions is association, the act of concentrating intensely on the very act of running or cycling, or whatever your sport is, said John S. Raglin, a sports psychologist at Indiana University.
In studies of college runners, he found that less accomplished athletes tended to dissociate, to think of something other than their running to distract themselves.
“Sometimes dissociation allows runners to speed up, because they are not attending to their pain and effort,” he said. “But what often happens is they hit a sort of physiological wall that forces them to slow down, so they end up racing inefficiently in a sort of oscillating pace.” But association, Dr. Raglin says, is difficult, which may be why most don’t do it.
Anyone who has sat in zazen can attest to how hard association is. Often it seems like the last place we want to be is right here, right now. But the advantages of simply understanding and running with your physical pain, rather than trying to escape it, could be a more even-keeled mental attitude and a more consistent pace. Through zazen, we begin to understand the impermanent nature of our bodily sensations, as well as our reactions to them. Zazen is probably the most interesting and easily accessible personal laboratory for exploring discomfort, pain and our emotional responses to both that I know of. And the lessons learned on the mat easily translate to the roads and trails.
You don’t have to be the Buddha to be a bodhisattva, and you don’t have to be Scott Jurek or Deena Kastor to be an elite athlete. By becoming intimate with our pain, rather than trying to run from it, we can improve our performance — and, even more importantly, perhaps even gain a better understanding of ourselves and others.
I dropped from the Palo Duro 50K after 18.5 miles. Overconfident after a really good half marathon the week before, I attacked the canyon trails way too aggressively too early, and the canyon quickly chewed me up and spit me back out for my brashness. After previously completing two 50Ks and a 50 mile in the canyon, you’d think I would know this. But such is the dark power of ego and delusion.
At any rate, a rookie mistake by someone who was neither a rookie to ultras or running in Palo Duro Canyon. Now it’s the Rockledge Rumble 50K in a few weeks — a race I’ve completed twice before — with pretty much the same course profile: no big climbs but an almost continual short, sharp up and down. And, like Palo Duro, I know I have to respect the course, or I’m going to end up with the same result.
Patience and experience are my friends; ego delusion is my enemy. Forward!
I had a wonderful weekend. It was our younger daughter’s first half marathon – part of the Tyler Rose half marathon, marathon, and 5K in Tyler, Texas – and I ran it with her. We had a terrific time. It was such a pleasure to see this young woman – who used to say, quite firmly, she would never run a step in her life – moving through the lovely old brick streets of Tyler’s historic district with such effortless grace and enjoyment. Cheered on by my mother and sister, we finished within a few minutes of each other and thoroughly enjoyed the day: cool weather and a beautiful, well-shaded running route wrinkled with gently rolling hills.
It was a good shake-down cruise for my upcoming attempt at the Palo Duro 50K, and all systems appear to be “go.” Running felt easy throughout and I finished strong, with plenty left in the tank at the end. I’ve peeked at the 5-day forecast for the canyon and the skies are looking clear and cool. Fingers crossed, for whatever good that crossing fingers will do.
Watching our daughter cross the finish line of a half marathon was an unforgettable experience, a reminder that our influence on our children can often run deeper and more positively than they sometimes want to lead us to believe. I’ve come to the late realization that parenting is much more a matter of simply being yourself and living a good life than it is about pushing, admonishing, or prodding. Most children are smart enough to observe and absorb, and most are also smart enough not to tell you just what they’re absorbing – until you see them begin to mature and make their way in the world. Your influence can suddenly surface in quite wonderful ways.
For our sangha’s 16-month journey into the Buddhist precepts, which begins this Sunday afternoon after I fly back from Amarillo, our teacher sent a short reading for our initial discussion, titled “What is A Bodhisattva?” To me, anyone is capable of being a bodhisattva, simply by living an authentic, compassionate life. And as I watched our daughter cross the finish line of her first half marathon to the clapping and cheers of the crowd, I realized I had acted as a running Bodhisattva. Her roommate has also taken up running, and according to my daughter she has completely transformed her life in a highly positive way. They may both continue to inspire others. And so it goes, like the ripples from a stone tossed into a pond.
Sometimes it seems like just being yourself is far from enough, that more active intervention is needed. And, it’s obvious that, in some instances, it is needed. But with my “official” parenting almost done, I realize now that being ourselves, living honestly and with full awareness, is quite often just enough. We’re being watched. And not always, as it may seem sometimes, with curled lips and rolling eyes.
This will be my last post on the “Run With Mu” off-season/recovery/rejuvenation running practice. It’s basically a very simple program at heart – that’s sort of the point – and we’ve already discussed most of the basics. There is a lot more to say about incorporating and deepening the philosophy behind running with Mu into your training and racing, but hey, that’s what the rest of this blog is for.
In my original post on the practice, I said that it would require a commitment of six months without racing. I’m cutting that in half to three months. For many of you, going a month without a race will feel like an eternity, so I feel that three months is probably sufficient!
1. No racing or race training for three months.
2. Run with Mu “training runs” are always done without mp3 players, GPS devices, or any other electronic devices .(A stopwatch is okay, but only to track total time for your run. Please try running without one, at least some of the time.)
3. Do not log your run other than to just record “run” and perhaps briefly note the weather. Don’t judge your run by logging it as “good” or “bad.” No mileage and no split times please!
4. Never run more than 5 times per week, and never for longer or harder than it takes to get pleasantly tired.
Week 1: No running. Focus on basic mind-body awareness. 5-25 minutes of zazen every day; supplement with 20-30 minutes of yoga 3-4 times/week.
Weeks 2-4: Continue zazen/yoga. Begin running at a relaxed pace for no set distance, just until you feel pleasantly tired, 4-5 times/week. Integrate 5-10 minutes of kinhin pre-/post-run.
Month 2 — Continue as weeks 2-4 above, plus:
Weeks 1-2: Incorporate a Gear Change run into your routine once per week.
Weeks 3-4: In addition to the Gear Change run, incorporate a Steady State run into your routine once per week.
Month 3 — Continue as Month 2 above
For month 3, you’re incorporating everything you’ve done in Months 1 and 2, bringing together zazen, yoga, Gear Change runs, and Steady State runs. If you want to, feel free to try running in neighborhoods or trails different from your usual routes, or dip a toe (well, maybe all ten would be best) into barefoot running. I heartily recommend running “barefoot,” but if you do decide to try it, please take it carefully at first.
Please bear in mind, however, that running with Mu is not about running barefoot, or running in different places, or running slower and finishing last. All of those things are okay, but so is running in shoes, running the same route every day, and finishing first. Running with Mu is not an “attitude” or an “approach.” It’s not so much about doing things differently, but simply reconnecting with the essence of what you already do and how and why you do it — and coming back to the realization of what a special gift it is to have a pair of working legs, heart, and lungs that can propel you forward in a way that brings you release and joy.
After three months of running with Mu, you can consider the program officially over, but I would encourage you to continue running with Mu both in spirit and in practice, for your training and your racing. No matter what the race situation or your personal circumstances, at any given moment, you can always return to Mu.
If done with right intention and right effort, running with Mu is a life practice that will continually bring you back to a healthy, thriving relationship with your running and yourself, no matter what your personal goals are.
Enjoy your running!