This is a post from a blog I used to run, but I feel it might be useful to add to this site.
Mindfulness meditation, or at least as far as I have experience it, teaches us to do two major things; to observe the constant internal and external changes we experience and not to react to them.
This morning I ran my second 5k ever. It was a major personal achievement for my to run my first 5k, which happened a couple of months ago. I took that achievement and sat on it though, having barely run since. Yet as the weather here in Iowa has gotten unbearably hot I decided to pick my running back up and start training for my first ever 10k. This decision came at the beginning of this week, and I decided that I would look at events to give myself a clear deadline.
To facilitate getting back on the horse I registered for four 5k's, one of which was this morning, with plans to run seven by the end of November. I'll sneak a ten-er in there somewhere once I find a fitting one.
Now, I have run a 5k before and made it through in no small part with the help of a friend. I smashed my time on that first run and it felt great. But, this one didn't go quite so well. I was operating under the assumption that I would be able to press through, having done the distance and time before. I would just need to beat the mental games that one plays with themselves when running.
Well, I couldn't run the whole thing. I had to stop for a big portion after the first mile and had to take the rest of it in decreasingly long bursts of running. I could legitimately have done the race just fine, but what happened?
Stacking the deck against yourself
My underwhelming performance at the race was all due to prep. I had gotten very little sleep every night that week save for the night before the race. That night I had dinner with a friend and decided that I would cheat on my vegetarian diet, having oily and delicious chicken with at a Chinese restaurant.
In the morning the chicken was sitting in my stomach like a rock and as a result I didn't have much breakfast or have many fluids. I was also dopily tired and forgot to put on sunscreen, making the shadeless run all the more unpleasant.
So, I hopped on the start line with an upset stomach, little hydration, little calories in my system, feeling mentally sluggish, and the intense sunlight beating down on my skin. During I felt nauseous, light headed, and could practically feel the sun giving me a smarting burn. My muscles protested with almost every step, and I just couldn't summon the willpower to do better.
Now, running is all a mental game. If you can keep telling yourself that you can do it then you will be able to go farther, but if you have too many other things to focus on it just won't work. I was having to not only cheer myself on mentally but also keep myself from hurling, worry about whether I would pass out etc., etc.
This is really true for a lot of things that we encounter. Our attitudes can be truly poisonous to our ambition or to our interactions. We close ourselves off for any number of reasons and stack the deck against ourselves. Perhaps we want a promotion, but never get enough sleep to be truly present at work. Perhaps we want to ask a certain someone out but can never muster the courage because we down talk ourselves.
Really, we spend a lot of time handicapping ourselves that could be modified. There are probably a hundred moments in any one day where we could make a different decision to make things better in the future. It would take more willpower than we have to lead an optimal life in this respect, but the 5k has made me realize that approaching my decisions mindfully can have a really profound effect in ways we may not realize.
Now, I had a great week and all things consider had a good 5k. I was up late watching movies with friends, up early working a job I enjoy, and got to catch up with two good friends on Friday which was great no matter the effect my dietary choices had on my race. While my 5k did not go as I had hoped I got to spend a lot of quality time with good people, which was the optimal choice in my mind because interpersonal interaction ranks very high on my list of values.
Also, the 5k went pretty darn well with all of the negative factors. I did it in 34 minutes, which while being more than my last time of 30:22 is still better than my baseline training time. I was also averaging about an 8:30 mile while I was going, which would have put me nicely below my goal to do a 5k in under 30 minutes. This is performance that I'm sure I can replicate as I prepare for this weekend's race.
Approach your decisions with just a little bit more mindfulness. As yourself, will this decision further my goals? Will this potentially lead me to something that matches up with my values? These decisions might just help you, or hinder you, in ways you may not yet realize.
I have been into self-improvement for a long time now. For almost five years now I have religiously followed a number of authors who speak to becoming a bigger, badder you.
However, the pursuit has always felt a little hollow to me. Becoming a better you has always felt to me to necessitate an overly inward eye. Many years ago I took a pledge around a campfire to live my life for others. While I was just a kid at the time, the pledge is still something that I take seriously, something that has been fed by my activities since.
This campfire experience is one that came back to me several years later when I sought to learn more about Buddhism. My interest was academic rather than spiritual, but I was struck by something on a deeper level nonetheless. I was watching a video series with basic information about what it was to be a Buddhist, and I was struck by a statement the monks said ad the beginning of each installment. "... to achieve enlightenment for the betterment of all beings..."
That is how self improvement reconciles with altruistic, charitable living.
That is how I want to live my life.
This post is for all the weekend warriors out there – anyone who participates in running, cycling, triathlons or other “race” events.
Whether you participate in these events competitively or not, we each want to do our best every time we go out. Chasing a PR (personal record) is what these events are all about for most of us, even if we tell ourselves that we only signed up so we’d be motivated to train regularly. If that were the case, we’d just lace up our shoes and go run, bike or swim against the watch on our wrist, right? There is something about that “official” time and the environment of competing with hundreds or thousands of other people that ups the ante. That’s why, when a race goes badly, the disappointment is so much greater than when you just have a bad workout on your own. This happened to me this past Saturday.
I ran the Fargo marathon on Saturday with the hopes of breaking 4:30:00 (yes, that’s four hours and 30 minutes – I don’ run so much as plod). I told myself beforehand that if the race were going badly, then I’d settle for just a PR – my previous best time was 4:38:40. My brother and I were running this race together and had been training at similar speeds, and we both thought that 10:00 to 10:05 miles were possible. Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case.
For the first 18 miles, we were nailing it, but at mile 19 my left leg started hurting badly, aching all the way from my heel to my hip. Shortly after mile 21, I walked slowly through a water station, and when I started jogging again, serious pain shot through my left knee. For the next five miles, I walked and jogged at or below 14 minutes per mile, limping the whole time. Much to my chagrin, my brother waited for me. I told him to leave me and try to get his PR (4:42:00) but he wouldn’t. We crossed the finish line together, step for step, at 4:47:28 – my slowest marathon time ever.