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Mindfulness and Marathon Running

Along with all the other hats I wear, I teach indoor cycling. There was a six month period where I was teaching four intense classes a week (which is just about the recommended maximum before exposing your body to injury). So after running my first full marathon (26.2 miles), this was how I was getting my cardio in.

Out of the blue, a close friend calls me up to ask if I would be interested in filling her spot in the Mt. Tamalpais Trail Run. It was to happen on that upcoming weekend. I was nervous since it was so last minute but also excited about the challenge of running my first trail run.

And boy, was it a trail! We ran over fallen tree tracks doubling as bridges, climbed up muddy ladders, and crossed paths with 40 K trail runners (I made sure to not look them straight in the eyes lest they somehow convert me to their way of life).

Since I had not been running (at all) —only cycling—I chose not to take this run too seriously and attempt to have as much fun as possible. This led to the discovery of a new mindfulness practice (for me) and a whole lot of fun on a course that could’ve been miserable.

Mt. Tamalpais is beautiful. It hugs Muir Woods and connects to its’ trails. It’s the kind of place where faeries would live if you believe in their existence. Magical ecosystems surround you—the very picture of sustainability where everything present lends itself to a larger picture. In the place of so much purpose, it’s easy to get inspired. And I did.

I started by focusing on the trees surrounding me. How were they different from each other? How were they changing over the course of the run? If they could have a personality or character, what would that look like? And how would they choose to cheer me on? What words would they use?

Suddenly, cheers erupted all around me to keep going, don’t give up, relax your shoulders, stick out your tongue. Affirmation after affirmation began pouring into my brain and I got a mental and physical high.

I then shifted to the ground. It looked a rich shade of dark brown and felt spongy under my toes. But then it changed to a lighter shade of brown and more dirt kicked up with each step. I was getting higher altitude-wise and the air was getting dryer.

I focused on the temperature of the air I was breathing. Before, it had been cool. And the smells were water cradling wood. Now, it was arid like a desert. How could I interpret the land’s character now? Was it mischievous—laughing whenever I tripped over a stem?

Or serious? Holding its comportment in the most efficient positioning to maximize sunshine receipt?

What purpose did I play in running over its’ trails? Was I mixing the ground up beneath my feet and contributing to the chaos or was I exactly where I needed to be right at that time?

Many runners don’t need to listen to music as an aid. Without consistent training, I very much needed music. So I began to match my tempo with the beat.

And I experimented with the uphills and downhills, noticing how they felt differently to the small muscles in my feet and the larger muscles in my body. Where was I carrying my weight? Was I favoring one leg over the other? How could I even it out?

All of these small acts of deepening my awareness—combined with the natural beauty of where I was—and of course the endorphins that result from running and doing something out of the ordinary…led to inner relaxation and comfort in whichever situation I was. Since I was not tracking my distance, I didn’t realize that I had already completed 95% of the entire half marathon.

If you had asked me at the time, I would’ve sworn that I only ran half that.

So, filled with a reservoir of energy and bliss at being told I had under three miles left, I finished the half marathon with a sprint. I maintained this pace of a sub-7 minute mile pace for the entirety of 17 minutes and blasted my personal record with a BANG!

Mindfulness does not have to mean standing still and noticing. It can also look like slipping into the flow of daily movements like walking, running or singing.

I hope you find your flow today!

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