When I reflect on the concept of spirituality, it becomes clear that it is a phenomenon which provides two main experiences: an anchor which grounds us to the small gifts and blessings of our existence, however pedestrian it may seem; and a portal through which to transcend the daily habits of living and click in to a soulful and almost celestial sense of interconnectedness across time, people, and place. I think about this a lot, because I am a nonreligious person… although there are times that my spirit is well watered and fed by the simplest of things. One of these sources is running quietly in nature. The primal ingredients of enduring a long run thrust me fully into my own humanity. The expansion and contraction of my lungs and heart surface awareness of my own mortality. I marvel at the finely engineered machine that is the routine and familiar sensation of bones and muscles propelling the body across surface, through space and time. Running practice provides both the gifts often hidden by the mundane (a drink of water from a park fountain becomes a cool and sweet elixir), and the ability to transcend the stress of the day and return home with a renewed appreciation for deep peace and organic exhaustion.
I think a lot of people around me misunderstand why I run. “You’re so dedicated to your health and fitness,” they will comment. Or, perhaps the daily miles are shrugged off as a trifle obsession. I find I care less and less about the opinions of others. From my perspective, running is my old friend. She is there to comfort me when I am sad, and to uplift me when I feel defeated. She has seen me through months of sleepless nights with a young child, and has helped me to overcome deep waves of worry and stress. She is patient with me, and allows me to engage her in a number of different ways. She does not judge me when I do not perform as I desired. She celebrates me when I exceed my expectations for myself.
One day, I might not be able to run comfortably. There are a myriad of reasons why I might have to cut back or take a hiatus. While there would be sadness in that change, the gifts of running will never leave me. I have learned that the dedicated practice of nurturing the mind-body connection is deeply enriching to life, and to the spirit.
On Saturday I ran 13.1 in under two hours. I haven’t accomplished that time since February, when I ran the Birch Bay Half. Unlike my experience in February, however, I was not incapacitated by couch potato-itis the rest of the day. Instead, I came home, showered, drank some coffee, ate some lunch, and drove down to a wedding.
Comparing these two runs interested me because they are almost exactly a half of a year apart. Although it seems like Birch Bay was just a few weeks ago, many months have passed. It is a congratulatory reminder that my dedication to a running practice of regularity and frequency is not short-lived. It is also reassuring that, even during the long days of marathon training, I can still pull off a sub-2:00 half marathon.
Sometimes training foists a complicated set of expectations upon a relationship with running. The pure enjoyment of the experience of running is muddled by the formulaic necessity to achieve a certain amount of designated miles and long runs per month. The activity can seem obligatory and monotonous. A three mile run, easily accomplished most any day, is suddenly Homeric and cumbersome. The feet and legs threaten to halt to a walk, even though the lungs and heart are capable of going further. These difficult runs do crop up, and perhaps more noticeably given the increased amount of time that is dedicated to the task.
In the midst of this reality, I am grateful for the recent memory of a triumphant and beautiful long run. A run that contributed toward my perceptions of my own efficacy and esteem. This was a small but significant reminder that I have improved… that six months of nourishing my practice has made a difference. As a parent, a professional, and an athlete, I have come to cherish the following mantra: Something is better than nothing, but that something doesn’t have to be everything. While my instinctive urge is to dwell on the future, I am reminded of the gifts of meeting the present with open arms. I am also reminded of the metaphor which has carried me for many years through distance running… that of a jug filling with each drop of rainwater. Some drops are harder won than others, but the jug fills nonetheless.
As a runner, I don’t generally consider the treadmill a necessary evil… there are lots of ways to maintain a solid running practice without ever using cardio equipment or walking into a gym. Most of my running has, and hopefully will continue to be, outdoors on roads and trails. I find, however, as a working professional and parent, that the hour I need each day to get in my miles (assuming it’s just a short 3-4 mile run) isn’t always feasible in the evening before dinner or the morning before work. Furthermore, when I am at work, it is really nice to have access to a shower after I exercise, so I can return to my office feeling clean and refreshed. Enter: indoor running. I would say that running, either on the treadmill or on the indoor track, now comprises at least one run a week for me. This summer, for example, I use the treadmill on Thursdays during my lunch break, because I prefer to spend Thursday evenings attending concerts in the park with my family. A fair trade-off, I’d say.
The following are my guidelines/tips for treadmill running. Once again, I am an irregular treadmill user. I know some runners use a treadmill almost daily—all the power to them—but I have to work hard at it to make it enjoyable. Here we go:
- Television? Music? Check. I use the treadmill as an opportunity to indulge in daytime cable that I would otherwise never get the chance to watch. Although I have lots of choices, I am usually drawn to the lunchtime Star Trek TNG marathon on BBC America. I’ve got the captions going so that I can read along, but listen to my music.
- Run/run intervals. Always wanted to run that 7:30 mile? Well, the treadmill gives you god-like powers to do so, given that it’s got a belt more or less pulling you along. I do what I would describe as run/run intervals. I will run an 8:00/mile on the treadmill, and then turn the intensity up to a 7:30 mile for 3-5 minute intervals throughout the 30 minute run.
- Adventures with a slight incline. The treadmill is a great place to practice patience with a gentle uphill. Usually I turn the incline up just slightly (+1.0) at the beginning of the run, and totally forget about it. It doesn’t really feel the same as a real-life hill.
- Brain dump. No cars to watch for, intersections to cross, or tree roots over which to avoid tripping. Yep, there’s not much going on during a treadmill run (besides Captain Picard’s steady gaze). I use these runs as a time to try and empty my brain of all preoccupations.
- Not too long. I rarely go beyond 30 minutes on a treadmill. I love distance running, but not indoors. At this point, a half hour is enough to get the miles in and a good sweat going. The bonus of being in the gym is that I have a little extra time and can tackle some of the things that I need to be doing, such as lifting weights and stretching.
Those are my thoughts on the treadmill! It definitely does not have to be a dreadmill, although, admittedly, it is my least favored way of getting the miles in. Speaking of which, I completed July with 116 miles for the month, and August is off to a good start.
Happy trails, roads, belts, beaches, and whatever else you might be running on!
Today marks the beginning of August, a month of turning inward and preparing for the marathon. I believe this will be the month that will be comprised of the highest intensity of training. I plan to give myself a generous, yet active, tapering before the early October marathon. August, another long month. Like July, but different somehow. I woke up today and the clean sunlight filled my room. The air was crisper than it has been, almost bereft of humidity. I could smell the bay, but very faintly. The breeze was sweet and cold. The drive along the water’s edge to work, I observed the trees flirting with the idea of changing their hues… the assorted yellowed leaves, dried from the hot sun mixed with the vibrant green ones, shyly admitting the slightest red pigment. The blackberries are ripe and juicy, the wasps are aggressively finishing the season’s business, and the fat September spiders are beginning to spin their dewy webs off the fence posts, branches, and behind the compost bin. We take our cues from nature. These are the days to stretch; to accomplish what we can in the final weeks of the long warm days. Fruit is ripening, and so do we. Running becomes a meditative prayer; the routes and distances too familiar to cause bother. The trails which were once entirely verdant and overgrown are now brittle and painted by new colors. Late summer metamorphosis.