We all must learn endurance at some stage in our life. We will have to endure pain, suffering, waiting, seeking, wanting, not having…until we learn the ultimate lesson of endurance, which is to let go to the very thing we are enduring, even while we are enduring it.
In my own life I have chosen the path of the endurance athlete. Long distance triathlon, including Ironman, and then marathons and ultra marathons. (I have completed 20 plus of them, all over the world) On the rational plane it makes no sense to subject body and mind to hours, or days, of extreme physical and emotional effort, all in the name of fun.
Speak to an endurance athlete and behind the craziness you will find a sense of reverence. In their trials of endurance they discover something transcendent and unexplainable. Often there is some form of spiritual experience. To transcend limits and go into the realm of the unknown. For me my ultra running allows me to slip into a space and place of no-thingness. Timeless, beautiful…beyond effort.
It is no surprise then that a few weeks ago in my contemplation when I questioned what was happening in my life, I heard the word endurance. I am learning endurance as part of the day to day existence, and not just as a chosen way of being an athlete.
Oh…I said to myself. I know how to do that. I know how to endure. I have been practicing endurance in my sport for 21 years and I have a level of mastery around it.
Surely I could use this skill and apply the lessons of endurance running to my own life?
Here is what I do when I plan an endurance running event.
1. First I choose the event and the distance I am training for. There is a big difference in mental and physical preparation between a marathon (42 km-26 miles) and a run of 96 km (60 miles). (Actually the physical preparation is about the same. Even if you are running an ultra marathon, marathon training is about the longest run training I do. To go out and run plus 4 hours week after week exacts too big a toll on the body to be of much use. So the main distinction is the mental and spiritual training.)
Applying this to my life…in the choosing of my pathway as an Integrity Architect in a world where the major systems, leaders and institutions shun integrity, will invite much to be endured, not the least of which is hard core criticism and trolling.
“Inspiring people to live their truth and integrity in mind body spirit and work”…has always been what I have been about, and to do this via coaching, teaching, writing, speaking and especially through the way I live my life.
A big part of this is to support people to be able to speak up…speak up to themselves, as to what is their truth, speak up to others, to Dare to Care to speak when speaking up seems risky, or dangerous. I have been true to this path in one way of another, pretty much from the start. Many times it has felt difficult, even hard. Often I have been the one to name he/she who should not be named. Often times I have felt extremely challenged. Sometimes I have gone off course.
Going back to my endurance running as metaphor, the mental and spiritual preparation for an endurance event is critical. This has been a gift for me, because I have never really had to work at this. I have just known that it was in me to go for a very long time, to persist and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Part of this has been the strategy I set for myself as a discipline. I do not think of how far we have to go. Never. I stay in the present. The next step, or at most, the next kilometer. Staying present is critical. Countless writers over the centuries have spoken about the need to practice present time consciousness as a way of being. And I go inside and run at a pace that I know will hold for a long time. Just a fraction too fast and things will start to break down. Too easy and my mind becomes lazy, and quitting looks like an option.
Pacing is critical, and I am great at it naturally. So many people run out too hard, and never make the distance. I always pass them…the longer the run, the more I know I will pass them. It is the tortoise and the hare and I am very clear about who I am.
In my running pacing and staying present is easy–like an old and beloved jacket that I slip into. In life…well..that is another matter entirely. I am always examining my position from where I should be. I have trusted less my ability to stay the course. I have gone too hard in many starts, or too slow… I have compared myself relentlessly with others. This above all else has created the struggle. The comparison and the lack of certainty and trust. Comparison kills spirit.
2. In my endurance running I do the training. Without fail and with full commitment. Up at 4 am, 7 days a week. My morning practice of meditation and contemplation, then my running, or swimming (I swim three days, run 4 days). Consistency is key. I can rely on myself to show up, and almost always to show up with enthusiasm. Full of spirit and happy to be running.
This was not always the case. In the early days I had to do mind games…the best one being to ask myself, as I was warm and snug in bed…if I stay in bed, how will I feel in 2 hours if I do not get up? How will I feel in 2 hours if I do get up? How will I feel by the end of of the day if I do not get up? If I do? Most of the time the answer would be that I would feel lousy. Lazy. Guilty, fat, indulgent, cheating myself, unreliable. So I would choose instead to be vitalised, empowered, happy. Occasionally my body needed the extra rest, and staying in bed would make me feel great. This is rare.
In my life I also do the training. I stay open to learning in every domain, I keep my inner practice up every day, I keep applying myself with rigour.
3. In my endurance running I build a support team. This includes the people I train with. They make training fun, sociable and they stretch me. In my swimming I have my coach, Raelene. She keeps me always learning. Still, after 17 years of swimming three times a week I am learning. I love that I am always learning. In the endurance events your support crew are vital. They give their time in complete service to you on race day. It is a very selfless gift and one that makes all the difference. Your family at home who tolerate your crazy hours, sweaty and smelly clothes, and all the other accoutrements that come with a discipline.
In my life I have only in recent times consciously built a support team. For most of the last two decades, my inner mantra has been some crazy idea that I can do it on my own. Some heroic and impossible delusion. Finally I have woken up to this. No more heroics, no more.. the joy of life is doing things with great people. Partnering, supporting others, getting supported. Putting your hand up…asking for help…building a team. This has been a big change in my recent life. And one I am still working on…solo is an illusion and just plain silly.
4. Get to the start line in good shape... keep healthy, eat great food, get lots of rest, keep your body and mind in alignment. Chiropractor, blood tests, heart checks, dentist… Hmm..check this box…always can do with some tweeking here and there, but for the most part I do this well. My health and its maintenance has been my number one priority for most of my life.
Race day. The ground work has been done. Months if not years of training behind you. Now you can relax. It is time to go inside, to trust, to pay exquisite attention to your body, to heed the signals and make adaptations. Work with your team. Fine tune. Stay the course. Notice pains and sensations…question them..do they need attention or action, or do we need to let them go?
Often during a long distance run there will be occasions where you feel like %$#@!!. I have learned that if you focus on the &%$#@!! feeling, you will get more of the feeling. I do not ignore it, because that is not healthy. I may need to make some minor modifications–increase or decrease fluid, eat, change socks, etc…but often what I need to do is switch my focus to something else, like the beauty around me, and let my attention on the the feeling go. Usually, at some point, I notice that I am feeling good again. This cycle of feeling good and bad can happen half a dozen times within a single event. Just like life…
In life I have tended to focus on the feeling way too much. Give it too much attention. Hold onto it. It stays with me for days/weeks.. I am learning to dialogue with it, make the adjustments, take the actions, and then let it go. Focus on something else. The other day I did just this when I fell down some stairs while running in the dark. I landed very heavily on my right knee, and had difficulty weight bearing. My mantra was to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. Get to the bottom of the stairs, keep moving. Hobble..keep moving. Within about 10 minutes I was running normally, with no pain. I was paying attention to the pain in an objective kind of way..as a means to gather information. However I was not focused on the pain itself. If the signal was such I would have stopped. I had zero swelling, and very minor residual pain, which was taken care of after a visit to my chiropractor. I know that if I had of focused on the pain I would probably have not been able to walk, my knee would have become swollen, and all sorts of issues would have arisen…
5. Don’t get caught up in other people’s race. Wow! I do this so very well in running, and have done this so very badly in my life. I have spent too much time in comparison. Look what this person is doing, how well they are going. What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong? BIG lesson here. Again, don’t ignore what others are doing, learn from them, but if you have done all the work, then trust yourself more. A lot more.
In my running I know I will prevail. It is not even about winning, although I am very competitive with myself. In an ultra-distance event, winning often becomes secondary to enduring the event and finishing in the best way possible – in my life I have doubted that I will endure and often felt like I have not made it. The best runs I have ever done were runs where I completely let go of the outcome, ran my own race, stayed the course and enjoyed the experience. Often in a personal best time.
6. And this is a big one…enjoy the experience. Even when it gets hard, I know that this too will change. And it does. The overall experience is what matters. Its the rollercoaster…to get the highs I have to experience the lows. Its just the way it is. I love it all.
7. Finally, there is the finish line. A place to celebrate. Pause, reflect, breath. Share the journey with your crew. And rest. I am good at this in my running and rather shabby at it in my life. Little celebration and little rest. I just keep going, afraid that if I don’t something will fall down.
In my resting I take a week off, then have a few easy months. Then I choose another event, and the process starts again, with new obstacles, new lessons, constant improvement, different players, different conditions…
In summary…what have I learned when bringing the experience of endurance sport into my life.
*That I do endurance well…it is part of my path…some people are sprinters, some are stayers…
*Build a great team.
*Be very clear on the target goal, the finish line for this particular race.
*Do all the pre-work, the training, research, data gathering.
*Trust and relax more because I have done the work. Know we will prevail.
*Do not get caught up in other people’s events. Stay true to my own.
*Stay the course. Endure the highs and lows…this too shall pass.
*Celebrate. Enjoy the success, no matter what outcome. If you have done your very best, then celebrate.
Easy. Of course. And very hard. But that is the fun of it.