Using meditation to keep running when all you want to do is stop

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Training for Rome Marathon (for real this time)

Week 1 Day 5

So, not bad going this week: a run every day since Tuesday, notching up a total of 30.5 km.

It was touch-and-go getting out of bed this morning, though. I woke up at 5:45 for some reason or another – I think it had to do with the puppy. I know I got out of bed, my eyes still closed, and went to open the door for him to go outside. Through one sleep-addled, slitty eye I spotted a runny poop on the floor, mopped it up and went back to bed. The alarm went off 15 minutes later. I smacked it shut and carried on snoozing.

It had been another late night last night, watching movies on TV, eating pasta with homemade basil pesto and washing it down with a good Sauvignon Blanc. A restless night followed; another night of not being able to sleep, and of running, running, running in my mind, running the same few metres over and over, never getting any further.

The Significant Other pouring a splash of Sauvignon Blanc

The Significant Other pouring a splash of Sauvignon Blanc

This is definitely not the ideal way to prepare one’s mind and body for a long run in the morning.

At 6:35 I opened my eyes, looked at the time, and stopped the thought ‘It’s too late now, I may as well stay in bed’ from fully forming. ‘Up, up, up! Let’s go!’ I told myself instead. Looking at the words here, they seem a whole lot more energetic than they really were.

In the meantime, in the bedroom next door, Ashleigh, my daughter, my running buddy, my inspiration, my sergeant-major, was settling in to going back to sleep. She had come to my bedroom door earlier, had seen that I was still sleeping, had secretly rejoiced and gone back to bed.

But I was up and dressed and heading for the door. Who said you need a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast to run for an hour?

‘Wait for me,’ came the small, muffled voice from the bedroom.

‘It’s late,’ I said. ‘You’re not going to be ready in time,’ I added as she came walking out of the bedroom, cap on head and shoes in hand.

‘I’m ready,’ she said, hacking a lung-shredding cough from her chest. No need to ask her how she was feeling.

So the two of us set off, bleary eyed, breakfastless, neither one the picture of good health and vitality.

But we turned up. And what a glorious morning it was for a run. Nice and cool, blue-blue skies, fresh sea air, no wind. Wow. We are so lucky to be living here and to be able to run, walk, cycle in such beautiful surroundings.

This was Ashleigh’s first real run after two months of battling shin splints, a bruised foot and various colds and infections. The group set off at a fairly brisk pace, although it was meant to be a conversational pace. I suppose under six minutes a km is conversational for some, but not for recuperating runners and runners who are trying to run at a marathon pace. So we got into step alongside each other, me trying to rein her in, as she tends to get ahead of herself, and trotted out 5 km. I left her back at the lighthouse and continued towards the Hotel School to try to run the full hour.

The Embark Training girls striding off along the Promenade

The Embark Training girls striding off along the Promenade

And I did. I ran the full hour. I didn’t walk and I didn’t give up. Of course I thought about it. I thought running 50 minutes would be just fine. I thought running 45 minutes or 55 minutes would be as near as dammit to an hour, and would be just fine too.

But that was my head speaking. That voice that lives inside my skull that likes to tell me to give up. The one that likes to tell me that what I have done is quite enough, more than I was able to do, even. It tells me that my legs are tired and that I should really just stop now, or maybe walk for a bit.

Scott Jurek , who runs for miles and miles, says that guys like him who are out in front have the same negative thoughts as guys like us who are right at the back. He says the way to pull away from those negative thoughts is to come back into the moment. He does this by focusing on his breathing and by paying attention to his form. He checks whether his shoulders are relaxed, whether his back is straight, and how his feet are striking the ground.

I have tried this but the negative voice in my head probably speaks a lot louder and is clearly much more persistent than Scott’s, and so focusing on my breathing and my form keeps my mind occupied for, oh, about ten seconds or so. So I have tried a new technique, one I learnt during a meditation course some years ago: I focus on sounds.

I catch the sound of an oncoming car, for example, and focus on only that. I focus on the sound growing louder as it approaches and keep focusing on it as it fades into the distance. Then I catch the next sound, which could be anything: the conversation of approaching runners, another car, a skateboard. And if nothing else approaches, I listen to the sea or the wind or the sound of my own breath. Doing this keeps me from looking at my watch and thinking how much further I still have to go.

My negative voice is still quite tricksy, though, and so it manages to filter in through this meditation after a few minutes, but I am getting better at it.

And so this morning I made 8 km. I made it through a full hour of running, with no stopping or walking. It’s the longest stretch of running I have done since the dreadful Growthpoint Sundowner 10 km I ran on 18 December. That one took me 1 hour 10 minutes and I hated every step. So this run is pretty slow by comparison, but that’s fine. I need to train myself to run no faster than 7 minutes per km, anyway – there are going to be no 5-minute kilometres included in my Rome Marathon!

End of an hour's run - the Embark Training girls stretching and deciding where to go for coffee

End of an hour’s run – the Embark Training girls stretching and deciding where to go for coffee

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