Sunday, May 11, 2014

Remembering the Tiger: Negotiating Injury

by Matt Gray

So far during my two years of running, I've gone through four training cycles (building and preparing for a race or a featured event after a period of rest).  And each one has seen an injury, or at least something painful enough to keep me off my feet for a while.  My most recent focus event, the Cheyenne Mountain 50K, almost didn't happen because of this training-injury cycle.

In early April, I went out for a mellow Saturday morning run around one of the near-by lakes.  But less than a mile along, a shooting pain on the outside of my knee (the notorious tell-tale sign of iliotibial band syndrome), struck.  I resorted to walking for a distance and then trying a slow jog.  After two or three iterations of this it was clear that the pain wasn't going away.  I had over-trained, run too fast, listened to too many other people's approaches to running, worn the wrong shoes, not fueled properly ... something.

For the next ten days I tried various healing methods, including stretching, a massage roller, different shoes, and some very, very slow shuffle runs on flat dirt roads. Nothing seemed to prevail until about two weeks later when I was on the phone with my brother, griping about shoes and still not finding the right structure and balance. He stopped me mid-sentence.

"Have you gone back to your stride?"

I made excuses for a minute, bringing up all the other external factors that had caused my injury. Within moments though, the image of the tiger from Sakyong Mipham's "Running with the Mind of Meditation" arose quite strongly.

Despite writing about the other animals from this Shambala meditative practice, I had abandoned the foundational tiger practice of mindfulness and looking inward. I realized that I had not been focusing on my breath, or the appropriate 180 strides/minute for a clean mid-foot strike. Instead, I'd been tuning into podcasts and music, trying to find the perfect shoe, and worrying about which pack to buy.

The next morning I took to the trail without anything but shorts, shoes, and shirt.  I focused on my breathing rhythm, my posture, my footfall ... I focused on the act of running and gliding through the world as a tiger: poised and graceful.

The pain still comes back as a shadow, my iliotibial band remains precariously tight. But when I return to my breath and mindfulness, my body relaxes, and I continue on down the trail thankful for the tiger-reminder that I am running.

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