The weather was absolutely perfect. Sunny but on the cooler side. A bit breezy at times but definitely a great for both running and spectating. The great thing about a relay is you get to be both a race participant and cheerleader at the same time! I spent the first part of the morning on my bike, riding around to find my teammates on their legs and celebrating them. This was great as it gave my body a chance to warm up too! I have been running for years. First tied up my laces to go for a jog at 13 years old and have run on and off with varying levels of seriousness since then. I did 800 and 1500 m races in elementary school track and field, ran cross country in high school, started participating in local road races in university, did a marathon in my 20s and have completed various 10 KM runs, half marathons and triathlons in the ensuing decades. So the scene is familiar to me though each time I enter into an organized run I don't cease to be affected by the amazing positive inspiring energy, buoying me up and getting me motivated. It is quite spectacular, all of the many different participants with their different shapes and sizes, from young to old all with their own beautiful goals. It truly is a wonderful experience.
Now I am not a fast runner. I am definitely a middle of the packer. I enjoy chatting with other runners, waving to aid station volunteers, high five-ing the kids watching from the sidelines. I run to finish and to feel the buoyant feeling of accomplishment that comes when I set a goal and make up my mind to achieve it.
I run for the experience of running.
Yesterday's run was one of my most incredible experiences. To be quite honest I really wasn't in what I consider to be "running shape." Normally by the early fall I have logged quite a few running miles, however this year the weather has been so absolutely incredible that I have been pretty much a pool rat at my absolute most favorite place Wascana outdoor pool. It is a beautiful 50 yard pool nestled in the very tall spruce trees just on the edge of Wascana park. From 8 am to 1pm it is open for adult lane swimming. No music, no extra noise, just the quiet peaceful sound of swimmers methodically taking their strokes back and forth under the ever-changing summer sky. Rain or shine there are swimmers out there, myself included! In any case this lovely place drew me in this year more than others and so I often chose swimming over running. Altogether I had likely ran a full 8 or 10 times all summer.
What I have learned to do, over time and through practice is to simply just show up and meet myself where I am at. For whatever it is that I am about to do: be it a work out or work or a social engagement or even just starting out my day I try to pause, to breathe, to check-in with myself. I ask "how am I feeling in this moment?" and I simply observe the answer. I allow it to bubble up hopefully without judgment. I am sleepy, I am energized, I am feeling anxious, I feel joyful, I am sad... whatever it is I simply observe and be in the moment with what I am sensing within myself without trying to change anything. Simply giving whatever is coming up a little space to just be.
What is interesting about this is that my body tends to just shift into a more comfortable space when given this acknowledgement and permission to simply be.
So when it came to my run yesterday I knew I didn't need to get myself too worked up about it if I simply allowed myself to run "where I was at" without any judgment. I knew that if I could do that I would be able to run and enjoy the experience of the run. A couple of weeks ago I had a run that was absolutely "awful". I put "awful" in quotes as it wasn't really awful in that it was an experience. But if my human mind wanted to categorize it it might call it awful! I felt like I was pulling a piano behind me. I couldn't do much more than shuffle along and it felt like my chest were going to explode. Basically it was a pretty "off" day. However since I was out there I chose to make the most of the experience of being out there. You can see how if I allowed myself to get into my head and start judging the experience "wow, this sucks, are you ever out of shape... why are you even bothering? what is wrong with you? look at that you were passed by ANOTHER runner... you used to be way faster than this..." I would get anxious and sad and frustrated and the run really would be awful! Instead I allowed myself to get as grounded as I could. I allowed my body to pick a pace (albeit slow) that it felt more comfortable at. One that felt a little less like I was running in quicksand. I decided to take my attention out of the stories in my head and instead focus on my posture and form. I brought my awareness into the moment of my experience: what does my breathing feel like, what does my body feel like. If I simply observed rather than judged what came up suddenly my breath felt easier and my body straightened up. I began noticing what was around me: sunlight, twinkling water in the creek, the faces of other people on the path... mindfulness completely transformed the experience from an "awful" one into a "beautiful" one. It still took me a long time to do the run but my experience was drastically different when I began aware rather than lost in my thoughts.
So basically I knew that even if I shuffled through my entire 10.6 km I would be okay. It was great that my team was in it to finish and not to win! no external pressures. Without the internal pressures I knew I would just have fun and allow the experience. As it turned out the energy from being a part of a team, the energy from the other runners, volunteers and spectators and being in a compassionate head space towards myself must have given me an extra boost as I actually felt pretty good! It was a much different run than the one two weeks ago from a physical perspective. When I tuned my awareness in yesterday I felt strong, my breathing came much easier, my heart didn't feel like it was going to explode! one might say I felt "better" however I don't like comparing like that. Mindfully speaking I simply noticed these observations and went with them: I ran a little faster, I pushed myself a little harder. I worked with the state of my body, just like I had done in that training run: I met it where it was at and worked with it there.
Our states are constantly changing and that is what the practice of mindfulness has to offer us. We learn to become aware of our state in any given moment, with non-judgement and compassion. We allow comparisons to drop away (with others or even with our own past self) and we meet ourselves exactly where we are at. What this does is brings us into the reality of our existence without the chatter of the mind telling stories and pulling us away from what actually IS.
While I was running yesterday a memory came back to me: in 2007 (or thereabouts) I had signed up for the hypothermic half marathon (21.1 km of running in the middle of February) with two of my friends. One was visiting from Ontario and she is without a doubt a fast runner. Like Boston qualifier fast. The other was a friend who was likely my pace. She would be faster than me some days and me faster than her others. The day of the run I was definitely not in my body, In fact the whole week prior I had been living in my head, anxious about the run, nervous to run with this friend that was so much faster than me. Not that we were even to be running her pace! She knew she would be slowing her self right down and was totally ok with that. She simply wanted to run together and experience running in Saskatchewan in the middle of winter! However my head was making up stories and yelling at myself that I was so slow, so out of shape... basically convincing myself that I was not as worthy as a person because I couldn't run as fast as my friend. It was also trying to tell me I was ruining her run by being so slow...that she would be mad that she signed up and wouldn't like me as much when she found out "just how slow I really was". It was quite the dramatic story! And with this energy I set out to run the race. Minus 25, slight windchill snow on the ground... no one was breaking records that day. The prevailing attitude was "let's just do it!"... well not in my head. The stories continued and I would have these incredible moments of panic well up inside of me that would literally cut off my breath. I would be completely stopped by being unable to catch my breath. Tears would get stuck in my throat and choke me. All the while my head was using this as evidence as to the truth of its stories: I really did suck, my friends were really having a miserable time, it was all my fault...
We crossed the finish line, together, finally, some 2 hours and 20 minutes later, but I have to say that other than being a very important learning experience, it was an awful experience. I allowed my head to win with its judgments, comparisons and stories and I didn't allow myself to experience the reality of the 21 kms: hundreds of runners and walkers that had summoned the courage and inner resiliency to subject themselves to the cold in order to complete a goal. Myself and two dear friends with the chance to spend over two hours together, chatting, laughing, just being together. Sensing the cold on my face, a brisk reminder of being alive. Feeling the sun and seeing in form diamond glitters in the snow. Appreciating the faces of the spectators - out to cheer us on wrapped in sleeping bags and sipping mugs of hot drinks.
It could have been an entirely different experience.
I contrast it to the runs of late that I described and it reminds me that we truly are the ones that determine the quality of our experiences. We can choose to resist our experiences, create our own internal suffering with stories and drama about our experience, desperately wish something was or wasn't happening to us. Or we can choose to pull these experiences a little closer. Lean into them a little. Get curious with them. Get present with them. With kindness and love work with what the gift is in the experience. Find the bliss.