Three-and-a-half months of training, 13.1 miles covered in steady rain, and I even managed to run up the hills — albeit at a snail’s pace.
This 50-year-old body of mine held up pretty well, but mindfulness training played an even bigger role in completing my first half marathon last Saturday.
The irony is that a very unmindful act on someone else’s part is what got me to sign up for the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in the first place.
My training partner for last year’s Army Ten Miler (ATM), a delightful British woman named Chrissie, had cajoled me into running our town’s 10-K Turkey Trot a few weeks after the ATM.
Knowing that Chrissie would be moving back to the UK the following summer, I expressed regret that I wouldn’t be able to run with her anymore. The truth is, I don’t really enjoy the running part of running. It’s my running girlfriends who keep me coming back.
“Why don’t you do the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon with me next March?” she had asked as we were huffing and puffing our way through the 10K (6.2 miles).
“No way!” I said, before she even finished her sentence. “I have no interest in doing a half marathon — especially that one.”
I had heard from others that the Rock ‘n’ Roll route through Washington, D.C., was especially hilly. My refusal — also linked to having recently run 10 miles for the first time in my life and being more than happy with that lifetime accomplishment — was non-negotiable, so we left it at that.
Chrissie posted our finish photo from the 10K on Facebook, both of us celebrating with arms held high, thrilled to be crossing another finish line.
And then this happened…
A male neighbor of hers back in the UK commented on Chrissie’s race photo:
“Looks like you are enjoying the American food….. Lycra not a good look for you….”
You can imagine the response when Chrissie shared this with the 1000+ members in our Vienna/Oakton Moms Run This Town (MRTT) running group. To her credit, Chrissie took the high road:
“Running is not about looking good. I do it for myself, to feel good about myself, to empower myself, to challenge myself, to get the most out of this aging (and yes, overweight) body of mine while I still can. I run and race for those who can’t, those who are wounded and have no legs or have lost the use of them, those who are fighting cancer, those who are old and whose legs/knees can’t carry them anymore. [He] can say what he wants about how I look in this photo but I am a BAMR and proud of it. (Bad Ass Mother Runner)…”
HIGH FIVE, GIRLFRIEND!
So where does mindfulness meditation come into play?
When I started meditating a few years ago, it was all about me. I wanted to reduce my stress levels and clear my head. I wanted to feel less overwhelmed and I wanted to boost my writing output. And I wanted to learn to connect with whatever deeper source of intelligence might be within me (or “out there” — depending on where you stand on the spiritual spectrum), to help guide my writing.
Very early on in my meditation training (initially through reading books and eventually by signing up for Andy Puddicombe’s program at Headspace.com), I learned that compassion and empathy are pretty prominent themes in traditional meditation practices.
I wasn’t terribly interested in that part of the program.
“Those” types of meditators were the ones who renounced all their wordly possessions and ran off to an ashram in India. Sure, it would be nice for my kids if I yelled at them a little less, but my main goal in learning mindfulness was to help myself feel better.
Little by little, though, as I followed Andy Puddicombe’s guidance at the start of each mediation session to think about those who would benefit from a calmer, more aware Martha, I understood the power of the practice. I found the process much more fulfilling when I became aware of how my own meditation practice impacted others.
Without a doubt, my children and husband would be better off if I were less stressed. My friends would benefit if I were a net producer of positive energy rather than a toxic source of negativity. And my readers would benefit if I were better able to produce inspired, helpful writing that supported their mind, body, and spirit well-being.
So I stopped resisting the compassion and empathy exercises. And little by little, opportunities to take supportive action presented themselves.
Inspired by Chrissie’s response to her neighbor — which articulated so well many of my own reasons for running — my initial burst of anger evolved into this announcement in the MRTT Facebook discussion:
“Can he run 10 miles? Does he have the abs of a teenager? Has he carried and given birth to three children like you have? Anybody with the slightest idea of what it takes to get to where you are would never say such a thing. I will channel my anger into running the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon with you (dammit).”
Now that I was doing it for somebody else — not only Chrissie, but for all bad assed mothers (runners or not) out there — it sounded like a fun challenge.
And so we started our winter training (see last week’s post about that here if you missed it). Before we knew it, we were standing at the starting line with 25,000 other runners.
10 More Ways that Meditation Powered My Half Marathon
Much like running or other exercise is a workout for your body, meditation is a workout for your mind. By the time race day arrived, mindfulness meditation had prepared me to:
- Accept the reality of “what is” and not waste energy worrying about things out of my control. It rained from start to finish, for example. We did what we could to stay dry before the race, then simply got on with it (my Pacific Northwest roots helped too).
- Reject any negative self-talk. I never once questioned my ability to complete the race. Even if I ended up walking, I would still be covering the distance.
- Stay in the present moment. As we waited for the starting gun, I reveled in the fact that I had been able to train well and show up for this race. I remember thinking, “Just by standing at this starting line I’ve accomplished a goal that had been unimaginable to me a couple of years ago.”
- Listen to my body. If I thought I was getting tired, I checked in with each part — lungs, legs, feet. Each time I did this, I found everything was still working and I could, indeed, keep running.
- Breathe. Breathing techniques like the ones I had learned through meditation practice kept me focused and centered during especially tough stretches (hills!).
- Stay focused on the positive, instead of falling prey to head games. Rather than telling myself, “Oh my god…I have another ten miles to go,” I reminded myself, “You’ve run three miles! That used to feel long to you!”
- Recognize my connection to others. I’ve only entered a few big races, but each of them has reaffirmed to me the power of collective positive energy. It’s one thing to show up on a rainy day for the race you’ve paid to enter. It’s quite another to volunteer or just come out to cheer on strangers. The spectators make all the difference (shout out to the man wearing the cow costume exclaiming “This is udderly ridiculous!). The line of volunteers honoring fallen soldiers by holding American flags (in the pouring rain) on the steepest part of the course humbled and inspired me to ignore my burning quads and run to the top of that hill.
- Be grateful for my health. Remembering how weak my body was during my cancer treatment five years ago, tears of gratitude welled up unannounced several times that day.
- Be grateful for my friends. Chrissie and I were running with two other British friends, Olly and Victoria. The four of us stuck together, sharing stories and offering encouragement along the way. We were in it together and nobody would be left behind. (Dozens of other MRTT women were also at the race, eliciting shouts and high fives that served as energy boosts just when we needed it most).
- Be grateful for my family. At the end of an emotional 13.1 miles, the best part of the whole day was seeing my husband and two sons at the finish line, soaked to the skin but cheering me on. My sons probably didn’t realize how much they had prepared me for that rainy race. But having watched them both persevere through countless grueling soccer games in rain, snow, sleet and hail, I had their example to follow. We had come full circle.
Have any race stories of your own to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
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