There’s truly nothing like running to work on my mindfulness practices! (By the way, I have definitely written about this topic previously… ) This morning I was able to get in a lot of exercise while spending time with God in prayer and letting my feelings ebb and flow without trying to control them. Over the last several years of running, I have accumulated tips and techniques to maintain presence so that I enjoy the act of running, not just the feeling of having accomplished a run.
Sometimes, not always, I’ll choose to leave my running watch at home. That’s what I decided today. I was headed to Miramar Lake, which is a 5 mile loop, so I can basically track my distance without the watch. Having my mile times staring me in the face often causes me to pick up the pace. It also has the effect of measuring my activity in a way that can detract from the prayerful, meditative atmosphere I so enjoy.
Along the same lines, I didn’t set out to accomplish a certain number of miles. Time and again I have gotten a particular mile goal in mind, only to become frustrated and disappointed when my body, the elements, my blood sugar, or some other factor caused me to cut the run short. Much better to start running with the mindset that I’ll run as much as I feel like running, that day.
I love how running long distances mirrors the ebb and flow of life. There will be several moments in any given run when I’d rather be doing anything else! Little aches, feeling sluggish, and obsessing about how much father I still have to go are just a few of the things that can get me down. However, there are also many moments where I feel elated, energized, happy, and free. In those moments I feel like I could run forever! The trick is, you have to push through the moments of struggle and pain in order to experiences the running highs. Just like in life. Rarely do we succeed or accomplish anything difficult without some challenging moments when we have to dig down and give more effort. Another aspect of changing feelings is the realization that whatever I’m currently experiencing is temporary. I may ache and feel like quitting right now, but give it another mile or so, and that feeling likely will have changed. This too have implications for life, in that we shouldn’t make major life altering decisions based on potentially fleeting emotional states.
Listening to music provides the background to my thoughts and feelings throughout a long run. I love setting the shuffle feature to my running playlist that includes a little bit of Justin Timberlake and Green Day plus a lot of MercyMe and Micah Tyler songs. The mix keeps it interesting and the Christian music helps maintain a prayerful heart. It’s fun experience that little moment of anticipation between songs when you wonder “Which song will play next?” Also, I love letting my pace and energy level change to match the tempo of each given song. Often a couple fact paced songs will be followed by a slower tempo that naturally provides a recovery period before I pick up the pace again.
While running, my thoughts come and go so easily. One minute I’ll be thinking about work situations, another I will remember something we need to do for the kids. Certain songs will make me reflective about my relationships. Others will touch my heart and help me surrender more deeply to God’s plan for my life. The ability to let my thoughts flow from one topic to another without getting “hooked” into rumination has been a huge part of my growth. Running is such a great activity for practicing this mindfulness technique. When I start fixating on the pain or frustration of running, I can simply change the focus of my attention to the world around me. I’ll notice the beautiful lake water, the sound of birds chirping, smile at other runners or walkers as we pass by, or simply focus on my breathing or running stride for several steps.
Today’s run was a really good one! The weather was wonderfully overcast and even a little chilly for summer in San Diego – great running conditions! I thoroughly enjoyed running, praying, and my meditative mindset this morning. Since I didn’t go too fast on the first lap, I was up for running another full lap around the lake for a total of 10 miles. Not too bad for a Wednesday morning!
This past Sunday, I accomplished a goal that I’d been working toward for several months… I ran a marathon! I’m sitting here on Tuesday afternoon with slightly sore legs, trying to assess how I feel about achieving this goal. I suppose I feel proud and contented, but it honestly feels a little anticlimactic. The race itself was harder than I anticipated. After some really strong training runs, I may have built up a little overconfidence! I ran into some challenges during the race, which made me feel proud for not giving up and pushing to the end.
Mostly though, though my training I realized how much I love to run. The goal of running a marathon wasn’t just something that I wanted to do so I could cross it off my “bucket list.” It may have started out that way, but the training process sparked something in me. This phenomenon is pretty common – the running group I recently joined even joked about it last week. The main coach asked for a show of hands from the first time marathon runners. Then he said, “You probably think that this will be your only marathon. Yeah, we all thought that too.” Then everyone laughed.
The thing is I’ve wanted to train for a marathon for years. Between having babies and adjusting to motherhood, buying a house and raising kids, the timing just never seemed right. Then, after going through my awakening and learning to live in the moment, I didn’t trust myself to start training so intensely. I feared that the planning, training, and working toward this goal would take over my life; that I would prioritize training runs over what really mattered to me. My newfound joy in being present and connected to my family was too precious to risk, so I put off the marathon dream for another year or two.
Then I prayed. I prayed for God to guide the timing of making this goal. I prayed for insight and wisdom in how I prioritized competing activities and ultimately how I spent my time. Then, I set the goal at the end of the year with my sights on the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon in early June. One of the first blessings I discovered during training was how running helped me practice being in the moment. It was pretty amazing! This realization made me feel that long distance running was something that could enrich my life, if I kept proper perspective.
When my mom came to visit last March, I was already doing long runs on Saturdays to prepare for the marathon in June. One of our favorite activities is taking long walks, especially around Miramar Lake, which is a 5 mile loop. When she first arrived, mid-week, I was mentally in “training mode” and thought perhaps we’d go to the lake on Saturday morning and I’d run while she walked. Then I prayed. The answer was clear – here was a chance to prioritize what really mattered most to me. Connecting with the people I love should trump my others plans. A goal to run 10 miles that Saturday was infinitely less important that spending that 90 minutes connecting with my mom. We went for a long walk.
While finishing our loop around the lake, I told my mom how I felt about that decision. In giving it voice, I realized that marathon training would enrich my life best if I prioritized relationships and connection with others over getting in the training miles. This focus on relationships played out beautifully over the next two months.
Around the end of March, I was out for a weekday morning run when I passed one of the partners at my firm. Mike and I passed one another and did a little double take. Later that week, back in the office, we started chatting about training. I knew Mike and his wife had run several marathons and were involved in a local running club. I balked when Mike suggested I come out for a group run with the club. “Oh, I can’t keep up with you,” was my response. He explained that there are several different pace groups, so I could run with others at my speed.
Honestly, I spent an embarrassingly long time agonizing about whether or not to join the club for a run that Saturday morning out at Moonlight Beach. I’d been doing so much of my training alone and I didn’t know these people. What if I couldn’t keep up? What if I my blood sugar got low? What if…? But, there was also a part of me that was super excited at the prospect of showing up and running with this group. I remembered how much I loved running with my friend Leslie recently. Also, I reminded myself of one of my awakening lessons – I’m an extrovert through and through. I totally get my energy from people and this would be a good way to pass the miles while meeting new people.
I went. It was awesome! The coaches and other runners in the club were super welcoming. I met up with Heather, an ex-auditor at my firm who’d left to attend law school. We ran with the Catalina Group which included paces between 10:00 and 12:00 minute miles. For the first 10 miles, the pace was quite a bit slower than I’d been running on my own, around 10:40/miles. I so enjoyed my time chatting with Heather and running along the beautiful coastline! After 10 miles, however, Heather insisted that I go ahead without her so I picked up the pace.
When I talked to Mike later about the run and explained that I’d run the last 6 miles at closer to a 9:30 pace, he suggested I move up to the next pace group – Marine Corps. I figured it was more comfortable to be doing well in the slower pace group then pushing myself perhaps past my ability level. I missed a couple weeks of running with the club due to my trip to Humboldt and then running with Dennis one week…
At the end of April, my mom was visiting again, so Dennis and I took the opportunity to go for a long run together. I so looked forward to our running date! Dennis and I used to run together all the time, back when we were dating and then once we were married but didn’t have kids yet. It’s a great way to reconnect and enjoy one another’s company. We did 12 miles on a drizzly Saturday morning and it was wonderful! I’ve felt more connected to Dennis and he’s been more engaged in my marathon training ever since our long run together; such joy.
My next long run with the club was around Lake Hodges on the first Saturday morning in May. I’d intended to run with the Catalina Group at 6:15 a.m., but I couldn’t find the meet-up spot! Since I knew that the faster groups, including Marine Corps, weren’t starting until 6:45 a.m., I drove around aimlessly for a while until Mike emailed me the correct address. It was fate, rather than ambition, that forced me to run with the faster group!
It turned out to be a fortunate twist of fate; the 15 mile trail run around the lake was so much fun! I kept up with the group well and felt challenged too. While we stretched after the run, Mike asked me whether it was a good fit. I agreed that it was and felt proud when John, one of the coaches, said, “Oh yeah, she’s fast. She belongs with us.”
Running with the club really helped prepare me for the marathon. The “train run” we did in mid-May involved taking the train up to Oceanside and running down the coastline, back to Solana Beach. We added a loop around Oceanside to get the total miles up to 21! It was my longest training run and I was super excited to accomplish it at an average pace of 9:32/miles! Running with these faster runners pushed me and being with people made the time go by quickly and the effort feel less strenuous.
Looking back, I realized that I’d never have joined a running club, had I not gone through my awakening and learned to be present in the moment. I would have felt too awkward. Also, learning to feel different emotions over the past few years taught me that connecting with people makes me happier. So, even though I was still nervous about putting myself out there, I knew that pushing through that feeling of awkwardness would be worth it when I connected with these like-minded people and enjoyed running together.
There was another way that this marathon journey kept me focused on relationships and connection with others. My almost 96-year-old Nana has been in declining health for a while. She broke her hip in late April and has had two surgeries to repair it and ease her pain. Things were not looking very good a couple weeks before the marathon, and I had to consider that I may have to travel up to Humboldt for my Nana’s funeral and it could potentially conflict with the marathon. There was not a moment’s pause in deciding what to do. My relationship with my Nana, mom, and extended family was way more important than racing that particular day. There would be other marathons. My prayer has been that Nana makes it at least to her 96th birthday in July and we could see her one more time a few days later. She’s very strong and is thankfully still with us.
It’s amazing what God can do, when we put our faith and trust in him. My fear that marathon training would take over my life and undo all the growth I’d gone through in being present and focusing on connecting with my family and the moment, turned out to be unfounded. In fact, I feel more present and a deeper connection with my husband, children, family and close friends through this marathon journey. Praying for proper perspective and reminding myself on a daily basis to be present, thankful, and balanced in my approach to running turned out to be a wonderful recipe for success.
For those of you who are interested – my official time for the marathon was 4:40:40. After running a few miles with my wonderful friend Christina (who ran the half marathon), I ran the next 23.2 miles alone. Being that it was a Rock & Roll Marathon, I decided not to bring my headphones and listen to the bands instead. However, there were long stretches without any bands. So, after running so many long runs with people, or at least with music, the miles passed slowly! I had some cramping around miles 17, 18 and 19. I bent at the hip to stretch my hamstrings at one point and got a terrible abdominal cramp. Ouch! I had to breathe through it and start jogging again for it to pass. I learned that I need to hydrate differently because I’m sure I had a sodium deficiency that caused me to cramp early. At mile 20, my insulin pump decided it was out of insulin (even though it wasn’t out of insulin!). I had to perform the cartridge load process while running. Other than those challenges, my blood sugar management plan worked out well.
Last Saturday morning, I did my first 20 mile run. It was fun, hard, exhausting, and motivating! Once again, I found myself reflecting on how long distance running is a great metaphor for life.
Although it’s natural to be optimistic and runners always hope to feel good on their long runs, the truth is that sometime during those many miles, you’re going to be in pain. You’re going to want to stop running. It’s going to be a mental struggle to keep going. But, then you’ll start to feel better, stronger. You may run a few miles that feel great, even effortless. However, discomfort and exhaustion are likely just around the corner.
I can’t overstate how much running has helped me to practice and adapt to being “in the moment.” That said, I still spend a fair amount of time thinking ahead or trying to anticipate how I’m going to feel on, say mile 14, when I’m back running mile 3. But, I’m aware of it, and often can get myself to refocus on my footfalls, my breathing, the scenery around me, so that I can experience (and hopefully enjoy) mile 3 while I’m there. I often have a mantra running through my head that reminds me: “Run that stretch when you get there”.
Setting out for a long run feels like an embrace of living life to the fullest. I spend time praying and listening to music that evokes varied feelings of melancholy, joy, excitement, and even rage (Eminem is oddly motivating in his anger!). Not knowing how I’m going to feel throughout the run is part of the allure. Suspecting that discomfort will inevitably arise and I’ll have to overcome the desire to stop running at some point, I am able to feel those feelings and remember that they will pass.
Certain songs will motivate me to run faster or bring a smile to my face when they evoke memories of my husband or kids. I’ve run through many Spanish ranchero, disco, and Tom Petty songs out of loving devotion to my husband. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” reminds me of Sienna, as it instantly calmed her as a baby. Right now, Teo is obsessed with Sara Barellies’s song “Brave”, so when it played during my 20 miler, I smiled and thought of him singing at the top of his lungs.
Long distance running involves a constant ebb and flow of physical, mental, and emotional states. Whatever you’re feeling at any given moment is likely fleeting, so you can’t get attached to that euphoric feeling of effortless running or caught up in the pain of a hill that seems endless. You’ll reach the peak. There will be a downhill to recover. And, then the cycle will begin again.
And that’s how running is a metaphor for life. Our thoughts and feelings are constantly changing. All we really have is the “now” – the moment we’re actually living. By staying focused on the moment, you are in the best position to act to improve your life or reach your goals. Worrying about the future literally robs us of the energy and focus to perform well in the present.
Back in December, on one of Dennis and my many trips to Target, I picked up a 2016 planner. I hesitated and debated this purchase. Was I ready for a planner again? Would the presence of this simple item in my life trigger a relapse to my ultra-planning ways? Could I be trusted with it?
I decided that I could.
“I’ve come so far,” I reasoned. “I know that planning doesn’t mean that I ultimately control my life. Plus, I’m happier living in the moment. I won’t return to living disconnected from my family and friends, living just to plan the next moment.”
Three weeks into January, I just threw that planner in the trash. Turns out, I can’t be trusted with a physical paper planner.
Let me set the context a bit better…
Back in college, I started keeping a planner. I LOVED it. The feeling of comfort, peace, and security that would accompany my planning sessions – entering dates and events, looking forward to upcoming activities, and generally organizing my time – was addicting. If something didn’t feel good in the present, I could easily pull out my planner and think about future events, times, and places where I imagine I would be happy. Also, the act of putting something in my planner and then fulfilling that task, activity, or commitment would bring me a sense of control.
Throughout my early 20s, I had Suzy’s Zoo planners. I still have 3 of them stashed away for nostalgia. They’re cute and they now provide a diary of sorts. Moving to San Diego, dating Dennis, and planning our wedding are all documented in those annual planners.
Okay, so what’s the big deal about keeping a planner??
First of all, being organized and having a “plan” for the day is generally productive and good. However, I have lots of other methods for keeping track of dates, events, and “to-dos”. My work and life are well integrated, so I have everything on my Outlook calendar. I keep a very detailed Task List in Outlook too. Also, we have a family calendar on the side of the refrigerator for all the activities we need to track together. Actually, when I got this planner and started adding events and activities, it felt incredibly redundant. I already had many of the items on both my Outlook and home calendars.
Another thing is, my life is fairly disciplined and we have well established family routines. I’m going to exercise most days of the week, cook healthy meals, keep my kids bathed, Sienna will do her homework, we’ll clean things that need it, etc. I don’t need a planner to remind me to do these basics.
Okay, so the problem is: there’s a mindset that accompanies the keeping of a planner, for me. My daily life begins to be too structured, too theoretical, too “in my head”. Once I put something down in the planner, it takes on a sense of importance that is disproportionately high. I begin to think of each day as a series of tasks to accomplish or items to cross off the list. Then, when my husband or children don’t fall into line with my “plan” I feel frustrated, irritated, and life feels out of control.
This weekend, a subtle feeling of anxiety lingered over me. I felt irritated with things not going “to plan.” I hated feeling disconnected from the present moment. Through prayer and reflection, it occurred to me that the planner was part of the problem. I missed the sense of unknowingness and wonder that goes with not knowing what the day ahead holds. I have come to love spontaneity and letting my loved ones dictate what we do and enjoy the feelings that come from surprises and new experiences.
For example, with exercise, what is enjoyable, healthy, and balanced can become unenjoyable and imbalanced when I focus in a very specific plan. In looking towards running a marathon, I started planning days to run, days to swim, days for strength training. My runs were less fun and I trudged through the miles. I was running to check something off my list, not because I felt inspired and excited to get out and move. I know I’m going to work out several times a week (and actually, the long run on Saturday mornings have become a cherished habit, so that’s probably around to stay). But, overall, I’m happier when I let myself do what my mind and body feel like doing that day, rather than force myself to stick to a program. Does that mean I may not meet my marathon goal? Maybe. But, I’m okay with that. If I go out and enjoy running on a regular basis instead of diligently following a plan, I’ll be more likely to run 26.2 miles this summer. For that matter, I’ll be more likely to stick with running long term, not just meet the marathon goal and hang up my running shoes.
I’m sure many (maybe most?) people can have a daily planner and not notice these ill effects. But, I’m apparently not one of them. Remember, I once drafted an “ideal day plan” document. The logical extension of planning “a day” lead me to try to control my happiness by repeating that same day over and over again. I now cringe at the thought.
When I decided that the planner needed to go, I felt relief… peace… freedom.
I feel like I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still true so I’ll say it again… I want to start blogging in a more free flowing, stream-of-consciousness kind of way. I’ve gone long stretches without writing anything here because life was so busy I didn’t have the bandwidth to think of a topic and write a well constructed post. But, really, blogs started out as online diaries. You don’t have to do a lot of prep work before writing in a diary or journal!
So, let’s talk about 2016. A New Year! I didn’t make any formal new year’s resolutions. But, I did walk my kids and my husband through a goal setting process on New Year’s Eve. Wouldn’t it be a cool tradition to set goals, both individually and as a family, each New Year’s Eve?! I think so.
The kids actually got really into it. Well, Sienna did. Teo spent much of the session crying because he couldn’t write his list as quickly as Sienna and I did. But, in a way, he was working on his personal goal for 2016: “Learn letter sounds”. Believe it or not, I helped him with that goal. He needs to know his letter sounds when he starts Kindergarten this August. Oh my goodness.
Our family goals include: 1. Learn Spanish, 2. Pay off Debt, 3. Play more “P.E.” Together (Sienna contributed this one, it means play more sports, hike, and run around outside), and 4. Try New Foods – especially Paleo. Sienna suggested the final goal too. I was excited when she remembered the goal that evening and loved the Paleo corn dogs I made. Yay!
My personal goal for 2016 is to run a marathon.
I’m halfway there. A couple days after Christmas I ran the Holiday Half Marathon, that started right near our house. I’ve been training pretty consistently since late August, extended the length of my weekend long run until I ran 15 miles the week before Thanksgiving. I was pretty excited about that new distance record for me!
However, I’ve been experiencing runner’s knee on and off. It flared up in December and I had a couple rough runs where I had to stop and walk back. A week before the race I finally bought a band to wear around my leg (those ones that sit just under the knee cap to support it). I did a couple moderate runs with the band and it seemed to help a bit. I iced my knee, rested a bunch, and just prayed that it would hold up for the race.
Thankfully, it did! I wore the band and my knee didn’t hurt for the 13.1 mile race! I originally had a goal of finishing the race in less than 2 hours. But, with my knee issue, I thought better to baby it at first and focus on a goal of just finishing the race. As the miles ticked by and I could see that I was holding a decent pace, the 2 hour mark seemed reachable and I picked up the pace. The other day I finally checked my “official” time (it was a few seconds faster than the time I tracked on my watch): 2:00.11. Looks like I’ll need another half to achieve the sub- 2 hour goal!
The San Diego Rock N’ Roll Marathon is the first Sunday in June. When Dennis and I lived downtown, we’d get to see (and hear!) the race pass by our apartment each year. Rock bands play along the course to keep runners motivated. For years I’ve considered training for this race. So, hopefully 2016 will be the year!
I’ll be sure to blog about my training progress! Please share if you have any words of wisdom on training, marathons, or anything. 🙂