When most people are enjoying a lazy start to their day I am 10 miles into a marathon distance race in northern Spain and I’ve already gone to the dark side. My body is holding up fine but my mind desperately wants to stop already. I know this is bad news as I’m unlikely to be feeling much better in another 10 miles.
I try and notice my mind state and realize that it’s a running commentary of negativity. Why on earth am I doing this? This is horrible! When is this going to end? So I try and trick myself with positive thoughts. This is so fun! I wish I could do this all day! But I’m not fooling anyone and my pain stubbornly persists.
Then I remember the practice of mindfulness and centering the mind. I have a go at focusing on my next step. Nothing else, just one foot in front of the other and the breathing that accompanies it. There is an instant release in tension. I realise that I’m onto something here. But my mind soon lapses back and I must center myself again.
I’d love to say that mindful running turned my race around, but in truth I could only do it for moments before slipping back into a narrative of negativity. Centering of the mind requires practice and training. Just like running, without putting in the hours I could hardly expect to get a result.
And so the pain continued. Further down the road I suffered a little for not hydrating myself sufficiently but otherwise I practiced putting one foot in front of the other and crossed the finish line in a time of 3 hours 27 minutes.
When I finished I was overwhelmed by emotion. Not the emotion of joy, disappointment or anguish – it was more raw than that. In my experience, doing something like a marathon strips me back. It lays me bare and exposed. I’m so depleted that I don’t have the energy to keep my usual defenses up. In a way it’s quite liberating.
The 24 hours that follow are both horrible and wonderful. My body instantly seizes up and I can barely move. In fact, this is the stiffest my body has ever been after an endurance race. It’s a small insight into what it must be like to be very old and I don’t like it one bit. Dealing with stairs, getting out of bed and long walks become problematic.
On the other hand, my mind is incredibly still. I take greater pleasure in my morning coffee and the amble around San Sebastian exploring the town with my girlfriend and friends who did the race with me. And then, like an incoming tide, the quietness of my mind slowly returns to its normal state.
Running the San Sebastian marathon has left me with an insight about the mind. I was in a bad place during the race because of my mind, not my body. But because my mind hurt, my body hurt. The mind and the body are connected, and yet we treat them separately. I don’t know of any marathon training programs that focus on mind training. I believe this works the other way round too: if we want to be mind fit, our bodies need to be at their best. This doesn’t mean running marathons as I don’t believe they are good for your body. I mean that we need a regular practice of moving our bodies in a way that brings us joy. We are made to move.
Finally, I am left with a question. Why do I need to go through the physical trauma of running of a marathon to experience a stillness of mind? I’m curious whether a regular practice of mindfulness will enable this for me, without pushing my body to the limit of my capability.
I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts or questions. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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