Why would anyone want to run 100 miles?
You're right. That's a REALLY, REALLY long way to run and 24 hours is a long time to be on your feet. Hey, 24 hours is a long time to do anything even lying down. I didn't do it for the exercise, or to get healthy, or to be macho (heaven forbid!). I mostly did it to challenge myself to operate from a place outside of purely physical effort. Running 100 miles is not, as one might think, primarily about physical effort. Although it is obviously an important factor, it is more about using everything you have: your experience, your will, and your ability to sense and identify what your body is going through. When I approach running and racing in this way, it demands that I carefully listen to what my body is telling me instead of getting caught up in results.
Running can be a vehicle to learn how to sense and move yourself from a deeper, more subtle level, but it takes lots of practice to learn to listen well and even more practice to respond correctly. Out of 450 people that started this 100 mile race, only about two-thirds crossed the finish line. I would be willing to bet that some of those runners who didn't finish could have extended their run or even finished if they had listened to what their body was trying to tell them earlier on and made an appropriate adjustment. It could have been anything: a dry mouth, a hunger pang, or a little pain somewhere. It starts by teaching yourself to pay attention to the little things. In other words, learning to focus your mind.
In our culture, we've become great at ignoring the messages our bodies send us. We feel proud of not eating when our body tells us it's hungry. We brag about how we pushed through fatigue to finish a work project. We're terrible at listening to the early signs that are warnings for illness, injury, disease or burnout. If you learn to listen to your body and to respond appropriately, you can actually get more done, and you won't feel as depleted.
In my T'ai Chi lesson this week, Master Xu was once again trying to get me to initiate my movement from my spine and allow my arms and legs to just follow along. It's a lot of work to keep my attention on my spine. When I can do it I stay much more relaxed and fluid in my movement. When I'm not focusing, my effort level doubles or triples in the blink of an eye and without me even knowing it. It's a lot of work because it requires me to be continually vigilant with focusing my mind. When I was silently whining the loudest he threw a great line at me The body wears out intelligence lasts forever.
Run with the focus and looseness of a cat, not with the blunt force of an ox, he has told me. So, I run to strengthen my mind and to relax my body.
My wife just turned me on to a passage in a book she's reading by Stephen Covey author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People". In his follow-up book, "First Things First," he says,
"Most people report that one of the greatest benefits of regular physical exercise is not in the physical, but in the spiritual dimension the increase in integrity and character strength. The mental dimension learning more about health, thinking healthy thoughts, and reducing stress powerfully impacts the effectiveness of this physical goal. Exercising with friends or family members can create a rich social as well as physical experience. Increased heath empowers us in the physical, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions of all our other roles."
One of the things I try to do with my running is develop an ability to focus my mind. For example, if I'm feeling tired, and I can focus on what I need to do, I can actually recover my energy while I'm running. When my running feels a bit clunky I can use the focus of my mind to get my form back on track. The specific area of focus that I'm talking about is the ability to watch what I do and make corrections as needed.
It has been labeled by many esoteric teachers as Self Observation and it is an important key to making changes on any level. If you can't see what you're doing, then you can't see what you need to do to optimize a situation and you are left with little ability to effect an outcome.
Watching yourself while you're running is a great way to learn how to sense your body so that you can improve your weak areas. Learn to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I holding tension?
- Am I relaxed?
- What doesn't feel right?
- Is there some part of my body that is not working as smoothly as it could?
- What was I doing when I felt the best and what am I doing now that's different?
- What does this situation require of me?
- What's the lesson here?
These questions, if asked earnestly, will help to guide you down a more productive path with your running. Interestingly, all of the above questions can be asked anytime, whether you're running or not.
Growth, whether it be physical, personal, or spiritual, doesn't happen accidentally. It is most often the result of questions and observations and efforts put forth by those whose emphasis is more on quality rather than quantity.
As Master Xu has told me many times, Don't run to win the race, run to be a better person.