This post is NOT just about running, so read to the end even if you don’t give a hoot about my stinky sneakers.
In a panicked effort to prepare myself for my first full marathon, I carefully hit every single workout. I feared that missing even one would spell certain disaster come race day. This caused me to sometimes run when injured, tired, and in bad, bad weather.
The sneaker hit the fan the Friday before last, when I set out for a 27km run on what appeared to be a sunny morning wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. Within 1 hour, a cold front had swooped in, dropping the temperature dramatically, lashing me with wind and rain and then pelting me with hail. Despite being frozen, wet and capital-M-Miserable, I finished the remaining 2 hours and 45 minutes of this run. There was nothing fun about any moment of it.
As I headed into that weekend, I knew I was in trouble. Everything ached, including, and most importantly, my soul. I sat with my training schedule on my lap and had the very first thoughts of ”I can’t make it.” When I entered the words “over training syndrome” into Google, I learned that everything I was experiencing from irritability, insomnia, lack of joy during workouts, old injuries flaring up, and a sense of heart-wracking despair, could be attributed to doing too much running and too little of anything else. The treatment: Take a few days off from running and cross train instead.
As scary as this was for me, it felt like the correct solution. This did not feel like a Wall I needed to push through. Rather, it felt like treading water in the Atlantic Ocean without a flotation device. I was sinking and I knew it.
So the next Friday, when my schedule said “19km” and I woke up to rain, I packed my gym bag and headed off in search of my lost endorphins. First, I laid my mat down in a packed, early morning yoga class. As I slowly stretched muscles and rotated ligaments, I realized with a thud, what had gone wrong with my training. Then, in the following hour on the spin bike, dripping with sweat and laughing with joy, my suspicious were confirmed:
I had vacated my body.
How could it be possible to lose touch with my physical vessel when training for a marathon? Well, several things happened. Firstly, those training runs are LONG. In some cases, 3-4 hours long. To stay present in your body for that long, well, it never even occurred to me! I had been thinking the goal of passing that time was to get lost up in my head, in the beat of the music and the matching cadence of footfall. I would make periodic scans of my body: how’s my head, my mental state, my temperature, my hips, my knees, my feet, my toes… but those were just quick visits and back into my head I quickly retreated.
The second culprit was how far away my mind was taking me. While running I was not entirely conscious of my whereabouts, as evidenced by the number of times I accidentally crossed on red lights and barely dodged angry drivers cursing and honking at me. I was always surprised, “But surely the light was green! Or was it…?” I was always thinking about the next section of the run, the terrain, how much time was left on my watch, what race day in Tel Aviv would be like, how I would feel on THAT day.
Last Friday, first in Yoga and then in Spinning, I was fully present in this, the earthly home of my soul, for the first time in a long time.
It felt like a Homecoming. ”Hey girl, welcome back!”
There is greater significance to this story than just marathon training. People who do not exercise regularly, or engage in any sort of mindfulness practice like meditation, yoga, tai chi etc, often spend entire lives cut off from the body. Driving around all day, sitting at a desk at work, always thinking of what needs to get done next and how much time we have to do it, we stay all up in the cerebral and far away from the Now, the present moment and the bodies we inhabit. When a diagnosis comes of disease or injury, or we find ourselves having gained weight or gotten out-of-shape, we often look down at our bodies in surprise for the first time “What? You needed tending? But you seemed fine without me. How can you betray me like this?”
We eat when we are not hungry and we overeat when already full. We ignore hunger and try to live on meager calories. We stay up when tired. We sleep when depressed. We eat meals while reading, while driving, while doing the crossword puzzle. We watch tv while having sex and think about what we will make for dinner while we are meditating.
Not surprisingly, I checked out during race training and traded my mojo for a tempo count.
Today, my first day back after my little running break, I shut off my music and listened again to my breath. I went down into my legs and watched the muscles stretch and contract, stretch and contract. I observed my feet and ankles instinctively making minor adjustments to keep my balance over rough terrain. I felt my heart pumping hard and my lungs filling and emptying. I sensed my skin reacting to the warm sun striking it. All of this had been happening and I had been completely oblivious to the grandeur of it!
I found my bliss again. It was right here, just below my neck, the whole time.