Posts Tagged ‘mindfullness’

“When I walk beside her
I am the better man
When I look to leave her
I always stagger back again

Once I built an ivory tower
So I could worship from above
When I climb down to be set free
She took me in again

There’s a big

A big hard sun
Beating on the big people
In a big hard world” – Eddie Vedder ‘Hard Sun’

I have not made any secret over the last year that running is, for me, something much more than just running.  It’s a spiritual experience, but in my obsessive quest to get a buckle at Leadville, I think I started to lose sight of that when I would step to the line at races.

All of the money that would spend to get there, all of the people on the course competing, the reliance on manufactured aid, and strict courses and cut offs would get into my head. I would get caught up in the need to compete with the runners around me, and lose my ability to stay connected to what I was seeking when I started running ultras.  Then I walked up to the starting line at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly and everything changed.

I ran through the Canyon with its towering walls surrounding me, teeming with life, and joy, listening to the shouts of other runners echoing throughout, pushing myself to go further not because I wanted to get a time, or a buckle, or a shiny new medal, but because I was on the trail to experience the journey.  I remembered that this feeling is what I am running towards when I go out for a run.  I remembered that my destination is not supposed to be a finish line, but the realization that I am part of something bigger, and that I am the only person who places limits on where the journey takes me and how far. It reminded me of the mantra from Jeremy Wolf put out into the universe in a yoga class I have quoted so often, “My mind is empty, and my body is as vast and as expansive as the sky”.  I know this mantra is true, but how do I really make it real?

Since the race I have thought a lot about what all of this means.  I do love races, the environment, the cheering volunteers at Aid Stations, having logistics taken care of, and the comradery of running on a course with my fellow Runners Roost Teammates, having my friends and beautiful girlfriend out cheering… all of that is something I will never get tired of.  That being said, I have struggled to figure out how I keep this feeling of freedom I experienced in Canyon de Chelly alive.

Yesterday, while I was driving to work, listening to the “Into the Wild” Soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, the answer struck me and it was simple.  I do this by doing something that pushes me into that place where you only have yourself to rely on while facing a monumental task.  I could do this by running 100 miles, unsupported in the Colorado Rockies.  To do this, I would need to leave behind my attachment to the frills of a race, the comfort of aid stations, the surety that course markings and pacers provide.

I had the thought that maybe, just maybe, some of those external rewards and trappings of races have diverted our attention away from what many ultra-runners are trying to find in their experiences.  The buckle at the end, the shirts, the bibs, the status of finishing a given race takes our attention off of the journey.  And even if we try our best to maintain our focus on the journey, inevitably our attachment to the external rewards will take over at some point and contaminate the experience.  If that’s true, or even possible, then to really understand I would have to do away with all of those things, and head out onto the trail without them, or the hope of those frills as a way to keep me going.

So, I now have the goal of finishing a 100 mile unsupported run through the Colorado Rockies.  After putting up a post stating this goal on Facebook, one of my friends and Runner’s Roost Teammates Ben Reeves chimed in saying he has wanted to do this for some time and even has a route.  It would run trail from Denver to Breckenridge.  It would be epic.  And it will be a goal of mine to make this happen before the end of 2014.  There may some others who join me for this journey, but the purpose will remain the same; to maintain purity in running through the wilds of Colorado.  I am not walking away from races, but this is definitly a primary goal for me now.  More to come!

It’s always amazing to me how quickly time goes by.  As I excitedly get my gear ready for the race this year, it doesn’t seem like it was a year ago that I was preparing to go up to Leadville for my first go at the Leadville 100.  Its strange, because the race last year impacted me so much, and in the end so positively, but of course it always takes time for the positive impact to be felt.

As people reading this might have noticed has been spent chasing the Leadville 100 this year.  Last year, going in, I was so confident I would finish that when I didn’t get that buckle a type of self-doubt I had never had before in regards to running crept into my mind.  That doubt caused me to be much more critical of my training, my pace, everything.  This self-defeating thought pattern was reinforced by 1-1:30 min/mile slower paces at races, and training runs.  It was also reinforced by the romanticizing of my training runs in 2012.  As I walked to the start line at Silver Rush 50 this year, that same thought pattern sat firmly entrenched in my mind, and it really destroyed the first half of my race.

After the race, I was determined to figure out what was going on.  So I started pondering this idea, and it started to click on a rainy Sunday

training run on Hope Pass.  I had gone out for what was supposed to be a double crossing of the Pass, but after climbing in cold rain all the way

a Flower and the Rainbow that emerged from the downpour I was expecting as I started my run at Deer Creek Canyon

a Flower and the Rainbow that emerged from the downpour I was expecting as I started my run at Deer Creek Canyon

up to 12,100, we decided it would be smartest to turn back.  Jim is an incredibly talented runner, and he is fast.  After we turned around and were running the new Winfield Trail, I decided that I did not want to hold Jim back, so I started diligently looking for ways to make it so I could go faster.  I started to focus on the moment I was running in, and it felt good, I was almost keeping up, then we found the new trail cutoff the race is using this year.  It is a well graded, super soft, pine bed trail, perfect for running with little restraint.  Jim opened it up, and went cruising down.  I wanted to keep up, so I intentionally shut my brain off and let loose, and kept up.

The next day, as I was getting ready for what I thought was going to be another rainy run at Deer Creek Canyon on my own, I started to think back on my run with Jim the day before.  What had happened?  I decided I would go out today, and set my intention on figuring this out.  As I got out of the car, there was a huge rainbow, and the sun came out, I was energized, and I just ran.  As I worked my way up the switchbacks, I started to think to myself “don’t let your heart rate go too high, conserve for later”, and then stopped myself.  What the hell was I doing?  My mind was looking for an excuse to go slower.  That moment was the key that unlocked a huge realization for me.

The best runners are not out there looking for reasons to slow down; they are looking for ways to go faster.  Even when they power hike, it’s a question of how fast to power hike, not a question of slowing down.  So why was I doing this?  I contemplated this as I ran and realized that last year I had nothing to judge myself against while training for a mountain 100.  I just went out and ran.  I ran with all my heart.  When it was tough, I pushed on, and didn’t think about how hard it could be, or should be, I just ran. This whole past year, because of the doubt that last years DNF put in my mind, I was convinced that if my runs were not at least as good as last years in regards to time, and how I felt, I was going to fail at Leadville.  What I didn’t realize is that was setting me up to fail.  There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ mountain run, they are all tough, they all feel hard, but because last year I had nothing to judge it against, it all ‘felt good’ so I expected the same this year.  When I would go out and it felt hard my desire to chase my perception of the prior years runs would feed the self-doubt and I would start thinking about how much farther I had to go, then I would start finding reasons to slow down.  It was a mental trap that was literally the equivalent of pouring led into my legs.

At that run in Deer Creek Canyon, as I spiraled up and around Plymouth Mountain, I found myself running in the moment again.  For the first time in a year I was able to truly let go of the doubt that had plagued me because I understood where it came from, and how to beat it.  I was able to stop chasing the ghost of the runner I had been, and focus on being the runner I am.  I focused on reasons to go as fast as possible, and as I focused on being the best runner I could be in that moment, I found myself flying up and down the trails with a feeling of utter freedom.  I was seeing the beauty of the trails again in a way that exceeded anything I had ever experienced before.  As I looked down at my watch when I got back to the trailhead, feeling energized, fantastic, and like I could run another 100 miles, I also saw that I had run that route faster than I had ever run it before.

There is a quote from the Buddha that I really love, and feel applies to this situation perfectly:

“Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future is yet to come. Look deeply at life as it is in the very here and now, dwelling in stability and freedom.”

As I walk up to the starting line this Saturday at 4am, I will take this with me.  This year I know that the ghost of the race last year is just that, a specter that lives in the past, behind me.  I have already passed him long ago, and I do not have to worry about surpassing him, I already did that.  I will also walk up to that line knowing that no matter what happens, I will be the best runner I can be, I will be the best runner I have ever been.  When I am running through the beautiful Colorado Mountains, as long as I stay focused on every beautiful second, I will have the most amazing race I could ever hope for.

“My mind is empty, and my body is as vast, and as expansive as the sky”

That was a mantra that was given to me during a yoga class on the first week back to training.  I guess I should rephrase that; my first week rebuilding.  I had taken a full month off from hard running, keeping my miles to 4 or less during the week and 8 or less on the weekends.  I was ready to fall in love with running again, I was excited to get back to one of my biggest passions, running.

When the yoga instructor, Jeremy Wolf, guided us through our intention that night, he told

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

Taken on a beautiful April Trail run going up the Dakota Ridge Trail

us that we would be focusing on finding form by being formless.  Rather than focusing our minds on holding the asana (or the pose), we were to focus on our breath, and on the mantra I lead this post with.  Why?  Well, what I distilled from it was that if you focus on the task, on the idea that you will be holding Triangle Pose, or Warrior 3, or Horse ect for a minute or more when you are already tired, then your mind will become overwhelmed by that idea and your form, and your ability to hold the pose will suffer.  If instead you focus on your breath, and the fact that your body is capable of anything, as long as your mind doesn’t get in the way, then you can hold the pose, correctly, for much longer periods of time, thus truly gaining the benefits that the pose has.

I walked out of that class feeling lifted up, and truly excited about the miles I had in front of me.  In fact, my run home was one of the best runs I had done in a long time.  If I could incorporate this idea into my running as often as possible, how would that help?  What would that do for me?  As I push my miles ever upward, as I move towards the larger goal this summer of finishing the Leadville 100, how much more powerful will the experience be if I can successfully shut off my mind.  What if rather than focusing on how many more miles I have left, or what time will I finish in, I focus on letting my mind empty of these distractions?  What if I do this and I am able to discover (I mean really discover) that my body, and what it is capable of, is truly as vast and as expansive as the sky?

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

Running across the snow covered hills of South Valley Park the afternoon after a snow storm

As I have worked to rebuild my miles in the month since that class it has been my mantra.  When I have focused on that idea, I have been able to push forward.  When it slips from my sight, so does my progress.  This year, it will be all about destroying the mental barriers that slow me down, that bring me down.

So, as I prepare myself for my first trail race of this season, and as I pull on my Runners Roost singlet, and approach the start line at Deer Creek Canyon Park in two weeks, I will plant that mantra firmly in my head.  It will be my guide, and will open my body up to its possibilities, as opposed to the limits my brain puts in place and no matter what the outcome I will have an amazing race; which is, after all, the point.