Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I've Been Thinking...

I've been thinking recently about running and bigger picture sorts of things. After looking back at all the left-brain analysis I did of my last race I have to remind myself that's a very incomplete picture of what's going on here. Being the very analytical, living-in-the-rational-world sort of person I am, it's easy to allow that side of my brain to take over. The challenge for me is to give the right side its space. Time and space to perceive, and feel, and create unique insights into who I am and my place in the world.

It's interesting, because when I'm running it's all right brain. (Except occasionally when I'm doing intervals and have to actually think about how fast and far I'm going.) On a long run, the left side just checks out and the right side just soaks up the experience. I think that's why I never listen to music when I run. The left-brain would wake up and be all "hey, i got something I can do now! i can listen to this song and think about the lyrics. go away right-brain." (Actually, the only time I listen to music is when I have to do a workout on a treadmill at work. Not because I want to listen to music. But because if I don't turn on the radio, the next person walking into the gym will inevitably turn on the TV. Ack! Evil!)

Running is a complete endeavor for me. It embodies all aspects of my being. It's obviously physical. In training for and running a marathon, I'm pushing my body to its physical limits.

It can be social at times. Even though I relish my time alone on my runs, it was a blast running the Arizona Rock N Roll Marathon with thousands of other runners and spectators. And despite being pretty much an introvert, sometimes I enjoy running with other people.

It's certainly emotional at times. There's nothing quite like finishing that first marathon! But the lows are there as well. Dealing with injury can bring on significant depression. But even those feelings imform me how important this running is to my well-being.

And it's mental as well. Time is spent analyzing past performances and setting up training plans using the latest scientific results from exercise physiologists (courtesy of some folks I'm very grateful for who do this for a living). Apart from all the analysis I like to do, there is also a mental discipline in running every day. It's not unlike a daily meditation practice. Which leads me to the spiritual aspects of running...

Running is for me, at its most sublime, a connection with the earth and that divine presence behind this material veil. A time when I dissolve into and become one with creation. A time when "self" disappears and I'm aware of everything around me; the way the light filters through the trees; and a narrow spot of sun illuminates a random grouping of dead leaves on the ground; and the edges of those leaves form an infinitely complex pattern; and in that moment, that instant of perception, I hear a bird alighting from a small branch in the distance; and I don't see it but soon I register the smell of decomposing leaves; and then I am aware of my breathing, and the crunching of my footfalls, and my spirit is one with creation, and my run is a re-creation, or a co-creation with the universal divine. And what's even more amazing is that I don't have to be out on a wooded trail to have these sorts of revelations. It could be a run through a city, or the suburbs, or a two-lane country road. It can happen anywhere. Of course it doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes I'm just tired and aching and just want to get through the run. But when I touch that spark...

[The left-brain would everyone to know that we did cross training today: 1 mile warm-up, 20 minutes cycling, 15 minutes rowing.]


Blogger Anne said...

Given your next marathon is a low-key affair amidsts natural surroundings, it sounds like you're in the right mindset. Good luck with the training. If all goes well for you in Washington, I may have to check it out next year.

1/31/2006 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Following your Arizona experience vicariously has taught me a lot. Thanks for sharing.

I read somewhere (maybe a Runner’s World article on mp3 players?) that some runners are disassociative. They find it easier to get the run in by listening to music or otherwise amusing themselves to move out of the experience. The diversion provides a way to avoid being overly conscious of the effort, strain, and pain of the run. Though they enjoy the results, they may not thoroughly enjoy the process.

Others are associative runners. They are completely caught up in the experience and have no desire to be distracted by other stimuli. The process is as enjoyable as the results.

Most of the time I tend to be the latter. I run for the sheer joy of running and identify with the thoughts you expressed in this post. But there are occasions when I find a diversion helpful (especially towards the end of a long run when the glory of the experience dims a bit with the onset of fatigue).

For me, running is definitely a spiritual experience. There’s time to meditate and to consider one’s place in the world and how we relate to it. After a good run I generally feel blessed to know the gift of life bestowed by a will greater than my own. Running brings a peace and tranquility that helps me to sort through life’s challenges, to arrive at new perspectives, and to interact more fully (and I hope more effectively) with the world and the people around me.

I imagine it will be a while before I read a better piece of writing on the running experience than the one expressed in your last paragraph. Thanks for sharing the right brain’s perspective and for doing it so well.

1/31/2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger boiledpnut said...

What a rich and thoughtful analysis. I bounce between extremes. At times I cast my eyes skyward and watch for birds circling my head, leaves rustling in the trees and clouds lumbering across the sky. And other times, often after the first half mile, I realize my eyes are super focused on the ground. When I ran the half in December, I probably saw 10% of my surroundings. I'm not sure why I start with a heightened awareness of nature only to have it drift down to a focus that precedes my steps by a foot or two, but it make for a environment ripe for listening. I'll tune into the sounds of the water or birds... or more recently, books on tape. It's interesting to note how my mind becomes a sponge while my brain is sort of checked-out and in run mode.

1/31/2006 9:04 PM  
Blogger boiledpnut said...

oh yes, what celebrity do you most resemble???

1/31/2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger Tammy said...

Wow... that last paragraph was beautiful! What you're describing here actually has a technical term in sports psych, it's called "flow".

I read the associative/dissociative thing mr is talking about in "The non-runner's marathon trainer". I alternate running with and without my ipod. It just depends on my mood and motivation level. In some instances, if it's the right music, it can facilitate flow for me, but most times, the music is a distraction on those last miles of a looooong run. If I'd had my ipod at that first marathon, I think it would be sitting in a gully in Phoenix to this day! :)

2/01/2006 1:14 AM  

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