Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Three Things I Learned From my First Marathon (and didn't expect to!)

I learned a lot from running my first marathon. I spoke about it here. But there were three things I learned from my first marathon that I didn't expect!

Running a marathon isn’t easy. Ever. It’s not supposed to be. Some would say it’s the hardest of all the races: a half marathon is definitely doable – run for one to three hours and you’re done. An ultra is longer (much longer!) but you can take little breaks. But a marathon is 26.2 miles of pushing yourself to get your best time in a long, long distance. I learned three things running my first marathon that I didn't expect to.

I thought I would learn stuff from the process. Like, how determined I can be (very, it turns out). I started a 26-week training program in November and trained through the whole winter, and winter was a doozy.

I ran outside in frigid temperatures. I did my last long runs in April, when I still had ice crystals snapping at my face. I ate well. I went to bed early and did my runs, even on the treadmill if I had to.

I learned about how fast I am. I’m kind of average, for my age (my marathon time was 13 minutes slower than the average woman 60-69). I learned how great it feels to beat your PR: one of my training runs was a 21 k so I decided to run the Hypothermic Half and beat my PR by 7 minutes! I learned how it feels to run a marathon. It feels good, hard, inspiring, and a little daunting.

An unexpected bonus to this achievement was a sense of accomplishment that lasts. I don't feel self-conscious about my body; my shyness level has gone down; I feel more self-confident, because I know that I can run 26.2 miles.

I also learned a whole lot more that I really wasn’t expecting.

The Three Unexpected Lessons I Learned (and some philosophical ponderings)

  1. Running is Life

I didn’t know. I didn’t understand the extent that my daily, lived experiences mattered to the outcome of my race. I learned that you can’t separate what happens to you: to your body, your mind, your emotions; you can’t separate your experience from your running being.

In that sense, as a midwife, I see more and more that the act of running a race is so much like the act of giving birth. When a woman gives birth, she is the product of everything that has happened to her up until the moment she births her child. How she gives birth is hugely affected by her life experiences up until that moment. Of course, in life there are random exterior factors like a grumpy nurse, a blister, bad weather, or an unforeseen birth complication. But generally, in my experience, the way that birth unfolds is pretty much a continuation of how that person’s life has unfolded up until now.

And, of course, time and existence being what it is, everything that has happened up until now is also happening now, so how I am reacting to the “now” and to the past, and to everything I have experienced or I am now experiencing, also blends into my experience as a whole; how it unfolds, and also how I feel about it unfolding (which in turn affects the “how”). So in birth, I can be terrified and traumatized by past events, and I can let those events dictate how I will feel during the primal experience of giving birth. With the right support, and a sprinkling of luck, that fear and trauma can be transcended. But without support, education and training, the main emotion throughout the experience will be fear and that will color the memory of the experience and the experience itself.

Racing is Birthing?

But I didn’t give birth; I just ran a marathon! Yes, true (I did give birth actually, five times). Obviously giving birth to another human is more primal, more important, more useful than running 26.2 miles. But the dynamic is the same. Everything I had experienced up to and including the race profoundly affected the race, my feelings about it, my body, and my ability to succeed.

The Nitty-Gritty?

Okay, here’s the nitty-gritty: the story that must be told so that you can figure out what I’m really talking about. My training went okay. I started in November and dutifully crossed the days off as the winter progressed. I felt good. I was getting faster, or at least I was feeling stronger. I got a little time out of the cold in January, went away for a week to a runner’s paradise – Lisbon. By March my long runs were increasing and by early April I was starting to feel tired. Not tired, well yes tired but just “blah”. Like, blah about training. Blah about everything. I spoke to a trainer and she rewrote my program a little, added some longer runs, suggested I do timed runs instead of distance for the really long ones, suggested a taper (that’s when you start running less as you enter the last two to three weeks before your race). I felt a little nervous after I spoke to her. “Can I really do this?” “Am I gonna finish in six hours???”

Mid-April, things were starting to turn against me. I run a café, it’s amazing, business started to boom like never before (Yay!). I was up at 6:30 every morning to open, and my runs were after work with a long run on Sunday.

I was dealing with some emotional issues during the last weeks of April. I couldn’t shake them; felt sad, down, and fatigued. I know that May is my sad month. I have no idea why. Do y’all feel this way at a certain time of year? But I kept training, and kept doing my long runs.

I fell apart during the taper, filling up the time that I spared from doing long runs with extra busy work at home and at the café. I stayed up late on weekend nights even though I didn’t want to. I started feeling physically sick and missed a really fun race (WingsforLife) because I couldn’t get out of bed and make it down there. And because I figured I’d be the oldest person there, and everyone else would be French (Google language issues Montreal).

I still didn’t get it. I uber-organized. Booked the Airbnb, the flights, planned the food for the weekend. By the time I got on the plane, I was exhausted. I slept the hour flight. Coming down the stairs at the airport I tripped and almost fell. When I got to our place, I realized I hadn’t packed warm enough clothing (luckily Mother Nature smiled the day of the race and my gear was perfect for the weather). I was so tired I spent Friday night and Saturday in a daze. Sunday morning I got dressed and headed to the race. I wore my hydration pack, just like on my training runs. In the back of my head was the rationale that if the water stands closed down I would still have water. The race limit was six hours; of course I would have water!

As I started my race, I put on my music (just one earbud, like they said). I just didn’t get into the groove. Not one of my favourite tracks was getting me going; in fact looking back I don’t remember any super fun moments from that race. Of course, I remember with huge gratitude and love when my husband met me at the halfway mark, and when he greeted me at the finish line with flowers (it was Mother’s Day). And when my sister rode what seemed like a huge bicycle up the trail and cheered me on for my last four miles. But for every other race, and many of my runs, I can hear a song and remember exactly where I was running when that song bounced into my head. Not for this race. Not one.

Which leads me to my next lesson: Body is Mind
  1. Body is Mind

I learned that you can’t just train your body and ignore your mind. We don’t understand how every single thought and feeling dips into our physical existence. But it does. I felt fit. I felt strong. I felt capable. But I was planning to wear my hydration pack, just in case. Somewhere in me was a thought, or a doubt, that I would be so slow that I needed to carry extra water. Emotionally, I was sad. I was spinning in tired circles wondering about how to be a better person. I wasn’t feeling bold and strong emotionally or mentally. I was feeling tired, run-down, and in need of a vacation from everything.

So what happened when I started running my first marathon? I had been spinning in such worried little circles that by the time I was ready to run, my mind switched off and stopped working for me. In a good race, your mind and your emotions do fifty percent of the work. You feel good, you run well; you feel better; you run better. Your music is right; everything feels good. You are on top of the world; you run straight and tall. Your breathing comes naturally, your shoulders are relaxed, your gait is fast and natural.

My mind switched off because it couldn’t stay on and run a race. I was too full of questions and worries: work, home, family. Nothing could quieten my scrabbling mind so it decided to check out. And what was I left with? My body! And, of course, it could run a marathon. I ran the distance. I plodded to the finish line. My shoulders drooped, my legs wouldn’t move right, my spirits were low, but I did it!

Now I know that physical training is not enough. I have to train my mind and my emotions to work with me and for me when I run. And when that is happening, then another wonderful thing happens. Life itself gets better! When I will myself to run tall and listen to my breath, I feel better and I can run better. When I change a feeling of resentment or anger into one of gratitude or love, I feel better and I run better. When I start to practice these transformations so that I run better, they naturally spill over into my life. It’s pretty easy for me to feel really good about the time I ran – I’m 61, I’ve been running seriously for about four years, and I did my first marathon in 5:34. Yay! It was harder the other day when I felt like my husband was being controlling. I started to feel resentful, then I switched it around in my head and started to feel grateful that he was organizing the thing instead of me having to. And of course I felt better, he felt better, and I’m sure our feelings ran in our blood to make our bodies better and stronger.

So, life influences running influences life. The mind and emotions are deeply and profoundly caught in our bodies. But just knowing this and being able to write about it and do it aren’t enough:
  1. Training Really Counts!

No matter how great I’m feeling, even if I’ve managed to completely eliminate negative feelings, train my mind to work for me and my emotions not to jeopardize me, I still need to train right.

This just means that you have to find a program and follow it. Find a program that works for you, or if you can afford it and you need it, then get yourself a trainer who can personally help you reach your goal. Once you’ve found your program, stick with it, and do exactly what it says. Speed work is speed work. Track work is track work. Do the work that you are told to do – it will make a huge difference. Strength training is also something that its easy to forget about, especially if you don’t have time and you’re already putting so much time into your runs. But it’s essential to help your body move through those final miles with grace and speed.

Most importantly, train yourself to have fun when the going gets tough. For my first marathon, the going got tough way before I even started, so I was running into a headwind made up of my own emotional fatigue. Love every minute of it; teach yourself how to experience joy even when your run is hard. You’ll see; joy will spread.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Sieze the Day!

I am litrail runnin in Italian hillsterally surrounded by nature. I’m gazing at my laurel tree that we transplanted a few years ago – check out this hilarious YouTube post! The trees are making a soft sound in the breeze. My handmade wood chime is also singing softly. The wild hollyhocks are just starting to bloom; my rose is in full flower; all around me are medicinal herbs feeding the honey bees and waiting for me to harvest them, or not.

I sleep so well here! Okay, I can sleep well sitting on a chair in a crowded waiting room! Nevertheless, sleep comes easily and is filled with pleasant and sometimes profound dreams.
The other night, we watched the full moon rise and we realized Mars was visible just below it. We set up the telescope and wow! There it was, a beautiful orange planet.

The trails here surround our house, which is high in the hills at 875 metres above sea level. We are safe here: if you go for a run or a leisurely walk you probably won’t see anyone unless it is the old lady from down the road looking for mushrooms. You will see abandoned stone houses, set deep in the chestnut groves, deer running on the trails ahead of you, birds everywhere.

I am inviting you to join me here this summer. Retreat 2018 runs from July 24-31. I have a group arriving on the 23rd and I have space for two more women. Send me an email at mbcdoulaschoolatgmaildotcom for more details.

Come and find peace! Seize the day!

Cinque terre happiness