Went for a run today. It was the first time I had the chance to do a run in five days (so disappointed in myself) and it almost didn’t happen. Work has been crazy busy and getting in at 7am doesn’t guaranty I’ll be out the door by 4pm. When I did finally leave, the temp on my car thermostat read 101 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun was in the western sky, but it was still brutally hot.
Funny thing about hot weather, it seemed to bring out a few not-so-welcomed inhabitants into my usually pleasant running space full of bunnies and deer. First, while changing into my running gear in the ladies restroom, I noticed an enormous black beetle sharing my stall. It had to be as big as a silver dollar and yuck it was gross. It was also likely the only thing I could assuredly outrun out today, which I did, and right quick.
From there I proceeded to run three hot, long, and sweaty miles. It was in my last mile that I ran into, almost literally, a snake almost identical to the one pictured above. He seemed to come out of nowhere, emerging confidently from the depths of the long hay-like grass, towards the running path (and me). I was struck by its colors and markings almost immediately. Cool, amazing creature. Then I noticed that we were both still moving forward and on a crash course. When I realized that he didn’t see me and we were going to run into each other (he was moving a lot faster than I originally anticipated), I slowed and moved to the opposite side of the trail assuming he’d stop and turn around. It’s funny how what we visualize in our heads is often so different than what happens in real life.
The snake was visually startled by my trajectory and sudden movement to get in front of (and past) him. Instead of turning around, he pulled his head and a good portion of his body off the ground, which started to freak me out a little. Now all of this happened in a few seconds, but when you’re super present, time can almost come to a stop it moves so slow.
When I saw him get taller, I ran faster and jumped over him as he continued moving on his way. It was a weird exchange. Probably the weirdest I’ve ever had with a snake. After googling his colors and whereabouts, I identified him to be a California King snake. Kind of a stud in my opinion. And ultimately not poisonous. Thank God, but I’d be a little tougher right now if he actually was poisonous.
While jogging away, I was silently congratulating myself on successfully dodging (and leapfrogging!) a slithering snake, a serpent of all things, and would live on to tell the story. I looked back just in time to see him sort of doing the same thing. The adrenaline helped me to forget about my aching foot for a minute (blister from last week), but that’s a different story.
Thanks to a book called Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham, running has become more meaningful to me. Not that preparing and training to run the marathon wasn’t meaningful already. When I was thinking about my grandmother, how this run will honor her life, how it will raise money for LUNGevity to support lung cancer research, and hopefully help others, running has meaning. But this incredible book also helped bring to light the concept of how running, like meditation, requires good form, posture, and even part ceremony to really be meaningful as well – and to get better at it, you have to keep doing it the right way.
It started with breathing the right way. In the past, when I ran, I just moved my legs faster than I did when I was walking, swung my arms, and hoped at some point I would catch my breath. I struggled, huffing and puffing, and felt miserable during most of it. That was my experience of running, so I took it at face value. It was hard and exhausting. But in the book, the author talks about deep and mindful breathing while running, so inhaling for as many steps as you comfortably can, and then exhaling the same way. Once I tried it, I found longer inhales and exhales helped immensely. Previously, “finding my breathing” meant an inhale would take two steps followed by an exhale of two steps, inhale – one, two, exhale – one, two, and so on. When I started inhaling deeply with multiples steps, then exhaling fully through several steps, I was less tired and less winded. Running became – dare I say – pleasurable.
Today was hot. My car thermostat said 100 degrees fahrenheit when I left work. It dropped a few degrees by the time I got to the trailhead, but it was full sun and steamy. I had some water with me but I knew the run was going to be exhausting. And it was, but I ran it better. I breathed through the heat and pain, stayed present, and all was right with the world. And this run, with my focus on my breath, became meaningful in a different way. I can’t really explain it yet, but I felt like I could endure, even in the 97-98 degree weather, more. What’s even scarier is I found pleasure in it. What’s happening to me?
So I’d like to gratefully thank Sakyong Mipham for opening my mind to the concept of focused, but gentle running. While I’m in the phase of the tiger, I can feel the seeds of each phase expectant in me waiting to be unleashed. And I’m running.
It was my long run today. 6.2 miles (10k) and it was amazing! I don’t know if it was because the paved trail was relatively flat, it was near water, my sinuses are almost back to normal, or yesterday was a day of rest after a day of hurt. But it doesn’t matter – my two weeks of training paid off. It felt oh so nice to finally get a run in where it didn’t feel like I was dying. In fact, I felt strong and – dare I say, happy, to be loving the run. Oddly, I drank only half as much water as many of my previous runs, even though I ran double the distance.
It’s so bizarre how much hard work it took to finally get to a place where running wasn’t painful. It was downright enjoyable. I was smiling at other runners and I meant it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not assuming my future runs won’t be challenging. I know they will. But this one was fantastic – and the longest I’ve run thus far in my training. I’m on cloud nine. Now all I need to do is running 20 more miles and that will be a marathon. Yikes. At my pace, I’ll be lucky to do it in six hours. I need to get faster. But first, I need to rollout my tired and tight legs. Happy days.
After work I ran the San Francisco hills today. And they kicked my butt. My fitness doesn’t feel like its improving. I don’t care that this is the second week, I want to be better, faster, not so out of breath all the time with my muscles feeling like they’re on fire.
The thought of running 26.2 miles still freaks me out. All of the doubts that I’ve been trying to push out of my mind sometimes just come crashing down on me like a torrential rain, pelting my spirit and weakening my ambition.
Will I really be able to do this? My heart grows heavy with the anticipation that, no, I won’t.
The hills are discouraging and humbling. I was tired and sore while running them. Now I’m even more tired and sore from running them. The silver lining (I hope) is they could make me a stronger runner. Definitely not faster (or more confident), but ultimately, like some of our greatest challenges, they can make us stronger. I should be thanking the hills. But mostly I want to flip them the bird.
They, the hills, are indifferent. They don’t care if I love them or hate them, glide over them gracefully or painstakingly stumble up and down their uneven paths. They simply are. But I’ve just realized that the hills are a lesson. I cannot change a lot of things, like my grandmother’s passing, the climate shift, animal cruelty, other people, but I can change myself. I can choose to despise or embrace those hills. Despising means avoiding them, cultivating even more fear, and ultimately feeling destructive. I want to level those hills. Embracing means engaging, understanding, and learning from them knowing they’re making me stronger. I want to learn from those hills.
Seems like a lot of problems are like running hills. I think I’ll try them again tomorrow.
In light of all that has happened over the past few days, running has taken on a whole new meaning. My training and my purpose for running the Chicago marathon was to raise money for lung cancer research through LUNGevity Foundation while honoring the most influential person in my young life, my grandmother. We called her yiya (Greek for grandma). Yi for short.
That reason was big enough for me to attempt what seemed (and still feels to be) the impossible. Running 26 miles and 385 yards all at one time and before the race shuts down. (I need to finish.) It seems so big to me still. Yet, on Monday, tens of thousands of runners lined up and attempted to do the same in Boston. The turn of events was tragic, but the outpour of support, help, and unity has been incredible. It makes me proud to be a runner. And to attempt the same distance race.
When chatting with a friend on Monday night, she asked me if I still wanted to run the marathon in October now that everything has changed. Immediately I responded, “it makes me want to do it even more.” I refuse to be scared or threatened in my own home town, on the streets I grew up on, by some unknown – I don’t know what else to call it but – evil. I will run with even more determination and resolve than before. Together, runners, family, Chicagoans, we are so much bigger than this.
Yesterday and today again, the nods and smiles I exchange with other runners reassures me that we’re together in this. There’s a newfound or maybe just renewed camaraderie that I find comforting. I had another painfully slow run today, but kept going regardless of the aches and pains. Simply knowing there are runners all over the world feeling what I feel inside, and experiencing the same aches and pains throughout their journeys, makes me feel like I belong. Like I’m a part of something bigger than just myself. So what more could I ask for.
Photo is of the 2011 Hot Chocolate Race in Chicago. Coincidentally, I ran it with the same friend who asked me if I would still run the Chicago marathon.
There will be a lot of media coverage, analysis, speculation, and chatter as we start to understand who, what, why, and how it all happened in Boston. Detonating two bombs at the finish line of a marathon is an insane act. When senseless tragedies like this happen, I have to wonder if some people just happened to be born without a soul.
In the book Journey of Souls, author Michael Newton talks about the process of a soul entering a human being’s body in utero. He says, “the soul will touch and join… with the impressionable, developing brain of a baby.” (p.266) So what if the soul changes his mind and decides he doesn’t want to be joined after all and abandons the baby? Or if it’s possible for it simply not to take and that soul returns to heaven or finds another baby thereby leaving the original baby human of course, but soulless. If that’s the case, it would explain some of this and help me understand that some humans among us are simply soulless, and they cause the rest of us to search for meaning on earth.
Ah, but that would be the easy way out. The harsher, and more likely, reality requires us to understand why someone with a soul, a higher self, a purpose, finds himself carrying out such heinous acts of hate and violence. That’s where I get lost. It makes me angry and sad, but soon I realize I’m no better if I give in to those feelings. Instead I let them go and wonder how we as a society, as a human race, have failed him. With so much still to ponder, I take a deep breath, sit down and close my eyes. I begin to watch my breathing and meditation sets in. That’s when I know that everything is going to be okay. Eventually.
Prayers, love, and healing to all those in Boston and affected by this tragedy.