Sunday, October 27, 2013

Running Wind Horse

English: "The Tibetan LUNG-Horse" (D...
The Tibetan LUNG-Horse

I ended last week's post claiming that I had found my Wind Horse on that cold, rainy half-marathon.  What exactly did that mean? Sakyong Mipham, an esteemed marathoning monk, has applied the five Shambala animal practices of meditation to running, helping the runner achieve full awareness of themselves (tiger), their surroundings (lion), the challenges and adventures they face (garuda), the compassion and altruism their running represents (dragon), and the freedom, peacefulness, and full embodiment possible as these four animals all go to work simultaneously and we let go of attachments, all while remaining fully aware, mindful, and present in the here and now (wind horse). It sounds a little complex, and it might be one of those experiences you need to have on your own.

But the reason I'm so interested in exploring the concept and trying to explain it, is because the experience of Wind Horse is the answer to the questions,"why do you love running so much?" And "how the heck do you enjoy running so many miles?" I've been running for less than a year and half, but this form of movement, these long slow distances, have significantly changed my life and helped me to find a deeper appreciation for places and moments and people. For instance . . .

Sunrise in Kona, Hawaii
Sunrise in Hawaii
During a recent vacation to Hawaii, I benefited from the early morning wake-up leftover from jet lag: I'd rise at 5 am, complete a yoga series on our Lanai listening to the waves, lace-up my running shoes, and then head out into the dawn chorus of birds wearing only my soles and a pair of swim trunks. In his novel, Cannery Row, John Steinbeck coined this time of day as "the hour of the pearl," and it surely shares the qualities of a pearl as a time of magic and beauty, of peacefulness, of being connected to our breath, to the earth beneath our feet, and to the grand cosmos of stars fading as the sun sneaks over volcanic ridges to the east.

Napili Kai Beach
Napili Kai Beach (by dvanvliet)
Usually I'd run for the pearl's full hour on the roads or resort paths that bordered the beaches, staying in sync to the ebb and flow of the tide. Often times I would have the whole sandy expanse to myself, left alone to move my body in its most primal form through the evolving colors of morning. And at the end of the run, all I had to do was toss my shoes and socks in the sand and plunge into that same ebb and flow for a transcendent swim, my solitude accompanied by a few Green Sea Turtles and the wind touching palm trees.

As I'd emerge from the refreshing Pacific waves, the awe and wonder of it all became quite clear.  Sure, there were many other ways to enjoy this dawn, this aquamarine ocean, this sunrise . . . but for me, I find my Wind Horse through the rhythms of running.  And what matters most is that you find yours through your very own stride.

Sea Turtle
Sea Turtle (by dbaist5)
English: Green Sea Turtles, Chelonia mydas bre...
Green Sea Turtle of Hawaii

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To the Edge

English: An aerial view of the Fraser Valley i...
Aerial view of the Fraser Valley
by Matt Gray

Over the past six months I've made the habit of listening to the TED Radio hour while out on long runs . . . I might actually say I'm a bit addicted to the program as they splice together three to six TED speakers, and accompanying interviews, into a 50-minute show about a certain topic or theme.  The result is often mind-bending, reality changing, paradigm shifting, and most importantly, it helps me through some of the more mundane training runs.

Back on the Fall Equinox, I ran a 17-mile course from Fraser to Granby up in Winter Park.  Most of this run captured the high drama vistas and terrain of the Rocky Mountains at 9,000 feet, but a four-mile section ran parallel to the roar of traffic on U.S. 40 (only a two-lane road, but on a Saturday in September, the cars and trucks are consistent, and loud). It seemed like the perfect time for a TED Radio Hour fix.

For irony and fitting distraction, I tuned in "To the Edge," an episode which captured the stories of a solo expedition to the North Pole, an unsupported paddle across the Atlantic, deep cave exploring in Mexico, and a French tight rope walker famous for his stroll between the Twin Towers in the early 70s. Needless to say, my highway run didn't compare to even the first moment of any one of these journeys.  I had to remind myself to make the best of the training miles, and I know that they are in preparation for a much longer run in November: the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Diana: Ford Lake
A foggy lake, Photo credit: M. Callow
But this afternoon I went out for what I thought would be another "mundane training run:" a half-marathon course around three of my neighborhood lakes.  It's not that this run isn't pretty and doesn't have some of its own unique challenges, it's just seemingly a long ways away from any sort of edge. At mile 8, all that changed.  During the second of three laps around the largest of the lakes, the sky darkened, rain started to fall, and the wind picked up. I contemplated cutting the run short and heading home, but I decided to enjoy the challenge of running in dropping temperatures.

By mile 11, the rain turned to sleet, the wind chill dropped the temperature to below freezing, and I found myself still two miles from the car, wet, cold, and running at an eight-minute mile pace (two to four minutes faster than my usual long-run stride).  And I wish I had a picture of the smile on my face as I headed up the hill of mile 12, woofing down some high energy waffles and increasing my pace. 

Mile 13 is a low-grade descent during which I took off into my version of a sprint, and then had to do a series of high-step lunges to keep warm at the really long signal light that curses the last half mile. People in passing cars surely thought I was crazy. I just felt driven.


And when I reached the car feeling like I could go on, I looked down at my watch to discover I'd run my first sub-two hour half marathon beating my previous time by eight minutes.  Is a 1 hour and 56 minute time competitive?  Absolutely not.  Is a nine-minute mile average something to brag about in the running world? Not in the least. But was I at the same edge of the man and his team who descend 30 kilometers into caves on multi-day spelunking expeditions?  Surely not.

But I had reached the edge for me, for this day, on this run.  I had found my bliss; I had discovered my Wind Horse.
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