I wish I was an Ultra runner
Not quite, but in my training to be a ChiRunning instructor and now a practicing ChiRunning instructor, I have been intrigued in meeting these ultra marathon runners. For those who do not know the term, these are people who run more than a marathon distance for an event. Some events like the Marathon des Sables run across the Sahara for 150 miles, or other events, like the Itarod trail, run the 1000 miles across the Alaska wilderness following the husky race track which is used in the winter for the sleigh race. Some of my ChiRunning colleagues regard this as small fry! My friend Purna ran 3500 miles around the same New York City block in 50 days, his aim was to achieve a form of transcendental meditative high. Another colleague, Marion, thinks nothing of running for 6 hours on a beach or running for 24 hours around a 400m track. I am an infant in the eyes of these distance running monsters 🙂
I am smiling as I write this because when I discuss the reasons why I love running with these people, they are fundamentally the same as the reasons why they love running. Increased clarity of thought, focus, sense of balance, mastery of breath and improved feeling of well being.
I , though, have an obsessive background. I have a feeling that if I pursued ultra marathon running or iron man events I would ask all to follow in my wake, my sense of personal balance would be lost.
Also I have the t-shirt in two ways, one physical and one mental. In my brief stint in the armed forces, I spent two weeks surviving in the New Forest. We were chased by Royal Marines, starved, forced marched for 24 hours and I lost about 2 stone in weight, I know about exertion and focus and to be honest I survived. I come from the generation whose parents fought in World War II. My Father never talked about it, but I got the sense that because he survived the atrocities and true horror of war he was content with this so called mundane life. He would repeatedly say, “You have no idea!” Perhaps because our path is not full of life and death choices that some of us strive to be questioned in an extreme manner? In addition nursing a terminally ill child for two years leaves deep scars that heal well if you know what to avoid. Running to the point of extreme endurance I think would open these wounds again. Leave well alone :). But you enjoy them ok!
Another key issue that seems to reappear in the distance running literature is achieving a sense of enlightenment, a sense of deep realisation of who you are and your place in the Universe. Many people come to running after surviving ill health, psychological problems or simply feeling overwhelmed about their responsibilities in the world. A good way of thinking about this is seeing a stable and wholesome self as securely suspended by strong cables. These cables would represent love, family, community, relationships and basic needs. If you replaced these cables by very many fine threads then perhaps you could see these threads as quick fixes, short relationships, meaningless friendships, materialism and a sense of always reinventing yourself according to your immediate position. It takes a great force to break many thick cables and sadly it does happen but more often than not a simple swipe of a sharp blade will cut many or all the threads. Many people have a life suspended by a multitude of thin threads. They feel that these are required and that allowing more thin threads to further suspend their lives will bring meaning and purpose to their lives.
I have been challenged to re-think and re-script many times in my life. My conclusion is that one needs to identify those threads that need to be replaced by strong cables. However, and this is important, if you are not compassionate to yourself, allowing yourself time to grow in physicality and emotional maturity, then you will never find these cables out. In other words, what do we really need to live? The level of maturity a person has is how much they can dispose of and still be content.
Unbelievably, running does just that. If you allow yourself to focus on running as a process for you and not simply an outcome to be squeezed into a challenge frame of mind, then you learn to be compassionate to yourself, your awareness of who you are becomes heightened and, if following a form-based approach to running, then your understanding of what a moment can bring becomes clear. When I teach ChiRunning I emphasise that I am not teaching a static, fixed running movement that is rigid but an awareness that the window of balance is fluid, this moves depending on the surface, gradient or just with you.
This has strong links to Iyengar yoga asanas where the appearance of a static posture is very deceiving, when in posture the movement is either internal, focusing on energising lines and alignment or external by focusing on small body corrections to allow for the further flow of energy to run smooth across and around your body.
An example in my own running practice has been focusing on my hands during running. Such a small thing, I hear you say. Well, my right wrist has a habit of dropping and my thumb does not point “thumb to nipple” … instead it moves horizontally. It takes a good deal of concentration to focus on correcting this, but strangely my running feels more fluid when the alignment issue has been corrected. The parallels to yoga practice are clear. It took me a good two years to turn my arms correctly in a certain yoga posture. The result? A more aligned, controlled and engaged running technique that was controlled by me.
So much to think about , in the next article I am going to give you my secrets on how to defeat stress and anxiety and allow a more compassionate self to flow out into the open.
Resources to help you master the ChiRunning basics: