Perspective and mindfulness

Perspective and mindfulness

Hard to believe August is already here, which means that now both Chicago *and* NYC are in fewer than 100 days. Chicago

 

NYC marathon

I began officially “training training” (you know, similar to when you’re in high school and you “like” someone… but then you “LIKE like” someone else) just about two weeks ago now, and so far, things have been going swimmingly. As I write in my DailyMile entries on an almost daily basis, I’m really concentrating on being present in the workout and not getting ahead of myself. When I’m in the throes of a hard tempo, or about to close out a long run, I’m training my mind to be THERE, in THOSE miles, and not thinking about how I might be feeling 20 minutes from now (especially hard when I’m doing speedwork and beginning to tire) or what next week’s workouts will be like.

It’s really hard, but it’s a work in progress.

To that (tangential) end, I’ve recently read two memorable articles about focus and perspective that I think merit sharing. The first, Pete Magill’s “Tao of Running” adorns my fridge these days–sorry, family–so that literally every. single. time. I open the fridge (or freezer) door, I’m reminded of a few really critical points that, well, really, are worth being reminded of on a daily basis. Truth be told, all his points are magnificent–not being hyperbolic here–but these last three just blow me away. I think I’m going to make mini photo-copies and stick them in my wallet or something. Behold:

“Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist.

I can’t count the times runners I’ve coached have complained about injury-prevention routines included in their schedules — they don’t have time, they just want to run, and besides, they feel fine. It’s roughly the same number of times those runners have complained about physical therapy bills, the loss of fitness while injured and the inability of injury-prevention exercises to double as injury-reversal exercises.

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Fitness doesn’t happen in a day. Nor in a week, month or year. Fitness is a lifestyle. It happens the day you no longer seek it. It appears while you’re living it.

Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame.

So let’s agree that this is the end. And the beginning. Yin and yang.”

I think these points strike me not necessarily because I’ve had a propensity for injuries (knock on wood) or that I’ve crashed and burned and failed miserably lately (though of course, not every workout is as successful as I want it to be); really, I think Magill’s points here really jibe with me because their overarching theme is one that I sometimes lose sight of once I get into my training grind–and that, my friends, is perspective.

Perspective is what keeps me coming back for more.

Even if one workout isn’t as effortless as I want it to be, if I recall where I was a year ago (or however long ago) when I attempted the same (or similar) workout, more often than not, I’m humbled.

And I quickly, quickly get over myself.

I think time, and experience, has gotten me to this place with my training, and with my running, in general, wherein I realize that “one bad workout (or race) does not a runner make”… or something. I distinctly remember poring over every single mile split, for every single training run, for many of my first marathons (lowballing here, but I was probably this way for at least my first 5). When I was in the final mesocycles of my Eugene training, I boldly proclaimed to the blogosphere that my training for mary #19 made me realize that I was no longer the same runner that I once had been. In the winter, with the guidance and encouragement of a ton of runners whose opinions (and friendship!) I value, I slowly began to look at my running on a more macro level and, in the process, began to appreciate the strides (ba-dum-CHING!) I had been making, and made, since… ever, and since resuming running post-childbirth.

Experience, and research, and time have all collectively made me a much smarter runner than I’ve been before, and what is likely a huge contributing factor to this new-found intelligence is a greater sense of perspective related to my running career.

Try it on for size.

Assuming you’ve made it this far through my diatribe, the partner to perspective that I’m working hard on cultivating is its cousin, mindfulness (or attention, whatever you’d like to call it). I mentioned this earlier, that I’ve been trying to stay in each moment of my run and not let my mind wander too much, particularly if I’m doing a workout with a very (time) specific goal in mind. We all know how crucial it is to pay attention and heed our racing strategy come race day, but what about all the other days of training that come before? How can we expect to be there mentally, when we’re expecting to execute, if we haven’t worked our mental muscle all along?

Enter “The Role of Attention in Racing,” taken from the blog, “The Logic of Long Distance.” Much like the Magill article, this article mildly blew my mind the first several times I read it. I don’t even want to summarize it much here, or give you my reaction to it, because I think you should read it now, before your next training run, and again in the days leading up to your target race. A preview (and this is before the really good stuff!):

Paying attention is crucial to the sport of distance running. I think we all know this intuitively: so much of racing and even training is sustaining a hard effort, and what sustaining requires is attention, first and foremost. You might even say that at a very fundamental level, attention and endurance are the same thing: as goes our attention, so we go.

Attention is a trainable quality — like the rest of our lives, it has an aspect that is inborn or genetic, but it is also governed to a great extent by habit. When we examine human attention carefully, we see two things immediately. First, it it is always directed somewhere. Common expression says that sometimes we aren’t paying attention at all — but this is never true. It’s more accurate to say that the attention is turned elsewhere than that it goes away entirely. Consciousness can be distracted or dissipated. It can lose focus and intensity, but it never quite goes away so long as we are conscious — even in sleep the attention conjures its own images to keep itself occupied. Second, we notice that the attention only rests on one thing at a time. [ … ] We never actually attend to two things simultaneously […]

So, when it comes to attention in the sport of running, the question becomes how can we optimally occupy the attention, given that it is firing constantly? How often should the attention shift? And to what should it switch when it does? Once we’ve answered these questions, we can then turn to the question of how to train these habits of attention.

Weekend reading, kids. Enjoy them both because they’re goodies. Promise.

What say you? What articles have you read online lately(that are at least tangentially related to running) that really struck a chord with you? Do you plaster them on your fridge, too?

4 thoughts on “Perspective and mindfulness

  1. wow! I feel like the readings require a proper response, but I am neither proper or attentive enough to do that, but I love the articles! I can’t say that I look for good reads on running like this, but I am glad you did for us!
    Not so much an article, but just a running question threat about how do be a morning runner and how you do it (http://redd.it/1jijo6). Lots of good tips, but tips are useless unless you have the will to do it, as someone so gracefully said in the responses: Healthy dose of “man the fuck up” as I crudely call it. I actually meant to has that out in a my blog but forgot until now!

    Keep up the smart running and training (and reading)

    1. thanks, Declan! There’s a lot of trash on the interwebz related to running advice, so I get excited when I come upon something legit; thus, the need to share it with the masses 🙂 And that’s a hilarious Reddit threat. “man the fuck up” sounds about right… makes me think of this awesome song from the Book of Mormon musical (warning: swearing, NSFW probably- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg-YM4O7XlA… read the lyrics!) 🙂

  2. That’s some good stuff about attention – I like that. I think “focus” is synonymous with attention – when you’re in the midst of a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon you have to be thinking the whole way – monitoring your body, pace, etc and making adjustments.

    The most interesting running-related thing I’ve read was actually in my latest issue of Runner’s World of all places. They had an article about how Kenyan distance runners train and how it’s different that how we Americans typically train. For instance, the elite marathoners will head out on a tempo or fartlek run and a large group of aspiring runners will tag along and simply see how long they can hang on — when they reach the end of their rope, they drop out…but that’s a successful run for them. We tend to approach a workout in terms of “how fast should I go in order to ensure that I complete x amount of miles?” They just go as fast as they can until they can’t go anymore. It made me think, “how much more quickly would I improve if I didn’t have any preconceived notions about how fast I “should” be running?” or if instead of approaching a workout in terms of a set amount of distance I just ran until I couldn’t? It’s a little impractical, but maybe it would be fun to try?

    1. ooo, thanks, Adam! that’s really interesting stuff you’ve got there. It’s kinda wild when you think about it, because we know of numerous ways American vs. Kenyan (or East African) training differs, yet we’re still (seemingly) stuck in our ways. I think one of the best things I’ve ever read before that “originated” in some East African elite runners’ training groups was to run the easy, easy, and the hard, hard… like almost make the easy days damn near playful. Kinda resonates with what you said earlier about _____ the shit out of your workout that day 🙂

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