Reboot

Hello! Time for a reboot. It has been quite some time since we posted anything here. Readers might have come to the conclusion that we had stopped running. We have not. It would take too long to complete all the details of what has been happening, so I shall give you a quick summary for now. Thoughts and reflections will follow later. Here are the highlights for me:

  1. I completed the Chester Marathon on a warm, sultry day last October. I was slow and felt unwell towards the end, but I learnt a great deal about myself, running and what I need to do next time.
  2. I extended my race programme for 2017. By the end of this year I shall have (I hope) finished the Great Manchester Run 10km (May), the Stockholm Marathon (June), the Bolton Community Half-Marathon (September), the Chester Marathon (October) and the Great Langdale Marathon (October).
  3. Yesterday was the Great Manchester Run, which I ran with my partner, Lawrence, who was running for the first time.
  4. On Saturday, it’s the Stockholm Marathon!

So, there’s lots to tell! Springathink is back up and running. More updates will follow.

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Success, failure, achievement

It was a moderately warm, still day, with a light drizzle. Perfect for running. But I did not run 20 miles. In fact, I only ran just over 10 miles; I just felt low energy for the second half. Now, the question I face is: should I be disappointed with this and call it a failure? I think, not. I had a good run – 10 miles is no short sprint – and I enjoyed the lovely autumn air and atmosphere around the reservoir. Yes, I didn’t ‘achieve’ my plan and will still have to train to 20 miles before mid-September (to accommodate the tapering of my training before the marathon), but overall it was a good run and one that added to my total running this week. My longest run is still around 17 miles. I shan’t be beating myself up.

This is another lesson from running. A target is an aim, and it is good to have them for the purposes of training. But every run is its own event and has its own life. Some time ago I decided to run as I felt in the midst of it, regardless of what I planned. I guess this is another aspect of running in the now, and it works for me.

Autumn

There has been a long gap since my last post. I cannot remember what I intended to say about Zen when I promised to post about it when writing again. For this, I apologise. I shall have more to say on that topic, but not just now.

The summer is over, and September is already bringing cooler days and evenings. Although the late summer flowers are still in bloom, many are turning to seed, and the super-abundance of verdant July and August has slipped into a yellowing ripeness and fullness. September always feels like both an ending and a beginning, though; the excitement of a new academic year still gets me, even though I do not work in a university anymore. I always feel the start of September is like a mini New Year, an opportunity to renew and refresh commitments and resolutions.

Throughout the summer I continued to run and to increase my distances on the weekend long runs. The fear of being unable to stagger through a half-marathon has faded into memory, although it was only a few weeks ago that I withdrew from the Southport race. Tomorrow, in the rain, I shall attempt twenty miles; this will be the longest distance I will aim for before the marathon on 2nd October, although I might repeat it in a couple of weeks. It will be a new record for me (provided I finish). But it will be a new marker for the future, rather than a completion of something from the past: the point from which I shall be able to call myself a long-distance runner, in my terms at least. From this, I shall have a point to start a ‘new year’ of running.  I hope I can do it. Wish me luck!

 

UPDATE: it was raining so much today I deferred until tomorrow morning, Sunday. I suppose I’m a wimp, but over long distances there is chafing from wet gear to consider.

Back to form

In the end I didn’t run in the Southport half-marathon, which was held on Sunday. I felt I was too far behind where I wanted to be in my training and that it would have been just a macho effort, rather than a race I wanted to run, if I took part.

However, I am now running again and it feels good to be out in the summer air. My pace is a bit down on where I was a few weeks ago, but distance feels fine. There is no knee pain either, which is great. So … onwards and upwards. There’s just about 90 days to the Chester marathon: a scary thought!

My next post will return to a Zen theme.

Zen and running: reply

 

David, I like this blog post. And it got me interested in Zen meditation. I meditate as well. But I’m just a beginner and currently in search of what suits me. I tried some guided meditations, where different techniques are involved. For example, one technique is focus on one’s breathing, and if thoughts do arrive one notes them and returns to focusing on the breath. That technique is the one that I favour. Perhaps it is related to what you write in your post Endurance and ordinary life. There is another technique, visualisation; this technique is more difficult, I think. Focus on the breath is pre-definition and an endless activity (in the sense that there is no goal of the breath besides to take another one, and if that happens to be the last one, well … ) Visualisation is however more goal-orientated, I believe. And I think that breathing is more my cup of tea as you say. Anyhow, David please write more about Zen meditation, that seems really interesting.

 

But, in your blog post about Zen you made the comparison between meditating with others and running with others. That really got to me. It is now more than twenty odd years or so since I took part in a race. It was fun, but due to some problems with an injury the fun was blurred, and it all became a mixed experience for me. Therefore, I’m very uneducated about races and what they are about. In media and general talk about running there is also a tendency to aim at times and performances. And I’m not a fast runner, not a long runner, but I like to run. To me the focus on times has a somewhat intimidating effect on me. I’m also not that interested in competing with others. I’m more interested in doing things as well as possible; and just because a person is a winner is not necessarily the same as that they accomplished a great race. I know that there are a lot of different opinions and views on this, and I’m probably way off in my thoughts and to be honest not clear what I think regarding these questions. However, the way you describe a race, David, like meditation with others, is not primarily focused on running fast and breaking records. This way is more appealing to me. So, perhaps it is time to look for a race this summer. Thank you David!

Stoppable

Having claimed I am occasionally unstoppable in my last post, I am conceding here that I am very stoppable at the moment. It is ten days since I last went for a run. The cold (or flu – it has been quite nasty) that held me back initially has settled temporarily on my chest with a full cough, tightness, and some mild breathing difficulties. I understand it is ill-advised to run with such symptoms because it only adds pressure to lungs and heart. I still feel fairly rotten too. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be overly concerned because it doesn’t take too long to get up to speed after a lay-off, but I am supposed to be approaching the peak of my training for a half-marathon, scheduled for 2nd July. The only positive thing I can say at this stage is that I am not running for any particular charity for this race, so I would not be letting anyone down if pulled out. But I really would rather run.

I’ll keep you posted.

Endurance and ordinary life

Yesterday I wrote about Zen and running and said that I thought there is a kind of endurance common to both that is not goal-oriented. This is the opposite of what most sports psychologists would say we should be doing: “Imagine the achievement and clearly visualise yourself finishing and collecting the medal; comprehensively explore in your mind what it would be like to have that sense of completing such a distance in a record time.” So what did I mean?

In life and in running we have goals. I plan my routes for each run, although I always reserve the possibility that it could be longer or shorter; I plan aspects of my life, so far as I can. And, yes, I do imagine what the run will be like before starting, and getting a mental ‘feel’ for the distance. When I have entered organised races I have visualised the finish and the high at the end when I cross the line. However, life and running are not in the plan, the fantasy, and the imagination, but in the execution, the real-time ordinary moments, and the in-the-midst of it all. That is why I noted that when I set out on a run, once I am out of the door, the end is put to one side, precisely so that I can just run: one step after another, in the moment of the action and the effort. This is the point where Lars and I are in complete agreement, I think. The endurance of running is a habit of everydayness, of the ordinariness of keeping going, of returning to the pace when you falter, walk or pause for breath. At those times the realisation that there are five, ten, fifteen more miles to go can be very draining, and the run seems impossible to accomplish; the fantasised end makes little difference. But being in the moment instead, just doing it, one step, another, another, is entirely possible. That is how running is done, and that is how life is lived.

Running teaches us many things. It teaches us about ourselves and our limits. It teaches us about ordinary endurance as a life habit. We learn that those limits are, often, like the imagined goals, merely passing mental boundaries to be put to one side once we are in the hurly-burly of the actual running. I’m no great athlete. I’m tall, heavy, middle-aged, and prone to injury. But sometimes, just sometimes, when running in the moment I am unstoppable.