Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The (Running) Journey

Everyone know the cliche - "Life is about the journey, not the destination."

We all hear it.  We all "know" it.  When someone says it, it sort of washes over us and through us.  But the only way you really learn it, the only way you really feel it, is through some sort of significant personal experience.

In this particular context, I am, of course, talking about running.  This is a lesson that's been painfully (literally) slow to sink in for myself, and it started with the marathon, subsequent injuries, and more importantly, the subsequent journey into the world of physical therapy, mobility work, and strength/cross training.

Runners hear all the time about the importance of strength training, but I kept myself stuck in a narrative that said that I "can't" do strength work on my own.  I can do it under a teacher's guidance or in a class setting where I have someone to impress, someone to push me harder than I'd push myself, but I just don't have it in me to do it by myself in my living room.  Running is so easy by comparison - you decide how long you're going, and you just go.  No agonizing of decisions over how many sets, how heavy, how long, when you can cheat and when you can quit.

Even after my PT "graduation," after plenty of time of faithfully doing my PT strength homework as assigned, doing that work still felt somewhat temporary.  I regarded it as just a warm-up to do before a run and as tune-up to do when I started to feel any nagging pain.

However, my painful and slow, but ultimately healthy, half marathon last month finally hammered it home.  If I really want to run for the rest of my life - to say nothing of running next year's NYC Marathon - I have to accept so much more than running as part of my journey.

Listening to a special episode of the best running podcast ever, Two Gomers Run for Their Lives, articulated this as well.  One of the Gomers got a lecture from his physical therapist (PT's to the rescue, once again) about how runners and athletes, especially younger ones, put all their energy into the race or the sport/activity itself, and nowhere near enough emphasis on form and technique - aka STRENGTH.  Injuries happen as a result of this - sometimes permanent injuries.  Your speed or personal record race time is not an accurate reflection of being a healthy, well rounded athlete - just as being able to do a headstand is not an accurate reflection of being a "true" yogi.

It means spending less time actually running, and it demands so much more honest awareness.  I used to think that because I taught and practiced yoga, that was all the "cross-training" my body needed.  I felt like I got a pass.  But repetitive motions of any kind, even the sainted practice of yoga, can cause imbalances and potential injury.  The real work of keeping our bodies healthy and active for the rest of our lives is not that exciting.  It's not in the moment of crossing the finish line, it's in all the boring, sometimes tedious, but sometimes tremendously rewarding little moments that lead up to it.  It's all the little moments where you show up - where you foam roll for a half hour in front of the TV instead of sit.  Where you decide to no longer short change the warm up or the cool down.  It's an honest, thorough assessments of points of pain, points of weakness, and facing them unflinchingly.

And of course, it's all a metaphor for life too, isn't it?  We have watershed moments, the big milestones in the personal and professional realms.  But without the hard work to build us up to those moments, they wouldn't exist.

I've been a runner for nearly nine years - but in some ways, I feel like a complete novice.  I feel like for the first time I'm treating my body responsibly, like the fragile and finite - and strong - thing it is.

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