I am brimming with gratitude for sitting on my comfortable sofa after enduring 13.1 miles of the Bath Half Marathon yesterday. One of 12,000 runners, I ran with my sister in aid of Wherever The Need a charity who provide toilets and clean water to those who need it most.
Being a newbie at the marathon party, I was fairly overwhelmed by the whole carnival atmosphere and was swept along from the start line in a sea of fellow competitors, despite countless previous admonitions to ‘slow down at the beginning’ – I found myself running much faster than my usual snail-like practice jog. The streets were crammed with spectators shouting encouragement, a colourful sea of smiling faces, waving arms and flags, a dizzying sight as i ran head on into the hot spring sunshine.
The nervous gulps of energy drink pre-start meant we had to stop at the first portaloos, schoolboy error I’m sure.
It was so much further to Queens Square than I’d anticipated, stitch in my side, fast walking up the incline, I heard the samba drummers energetic beat and forced myself to jog. As I ran on attempting to catch up with my sis whose pace is much faster than mine, I heard people shouting my name and turned to see my dad, my other sister and fiancée cheering me on.
It turns out I had vastly underestimated the effect of encouragement and support from others, which parallels my unhelpful habit of rarely asking for help! Marathon lesson number 1, don’t try and do it on your own.
I lagged behind Ellie til the end of the first lap and she then took off (with my blessing!). The next few miles were a blur of lucozade, jelly babies and encouraging shouts from bystanders, all of which helped immensely in the struggle to keep one foot in front of the other.
When professionals talk about ‘the wall’ I imagined it was a short period of pain that could be overcome with a burst of determination. If that was the case they would probably call it ‘the picket fence’ or even ‘the big step’. No, it is called the wall because it is similar to encountering a large, solid brick structure right in the middle of your path and not being able to see any way round, over or through. This is what happened at the 10 mile mark, my hip flexor which had been aching somewhat for the last 3 miles now burned like hot metal ropes with every step I took. I walked, the pain increased. I stopped to stretch forward and the pavement swam as my beating heart propelled lucozade and lactic acid around my body. I was starting to feel very nauseous. I met others who were struggling and keen to share a sentence and their own thoughts on reaching the end. I was so grateful to these people and not once did I ever hear an echo of my own thoughts that they wouldn’t make it. Marathon lesson number 2: what you think affects your performance (duh!) control it.
Reaching the 12 mile mark was a good feeling, now I knew the end was in sight. Seeing a friend who had already finished – pint in hand was a sweet and sour moment if I’m honest!
Mile 13 and the 2 ladies who pulled me along up to the finish was the start of the reserve tank I didn’t know I had, my partner and his sister shouting me on and my son running with me down Great Pulteney St marked the beginning of the end of my journey. Suddenly my brain took over, my body just did as it was commanded. I lost all sense of time and space, just one tunnel vision of the finish line and that amazing sound of the chip sensor going off as I crossed over the line.
Marathon lesson number 3: Sometimes you can do things you thought were impossible.
I cannot finish this without also mentioning the best placard I saw during the race…
‘it’s you against you, the paradox that drives us on’ thank you that man – how very true.
So today, dressed warmly, sitting and occasionally lying down, I think of my experience and I am proud to have completed the Half Marathon in 3 hours 12 minutes. There were stages when I definitely thought I wouldn’t finish and there were times when I wished I’d trained harder but more than anything it’s the people who cheer you on, surround you and encourage you that make it so worthwhile and make you able to carry on, which brings me to my final and most important marathon/life lesson number 4: most people want you to do well, use their support to push you on, appreciate them.
Serene blue skies, frothy white clouds and beams of sunlight mean that we can finally kiss winter goodbye. In two weeks I am off to study the sequence synonymous with yoga flow – the sun salutation or Surya Namaskar A. I have a love/hate relationship with this particular vinyasa…having recently attended an Anusara class where we did 41 rounds non-stop with variations, I was painfully reminded that my competitive streak was alive and kicking when I could barely raise my arms above waist height for the next 3 days. Had I been listening to my body instead of my head, I would have taken childs pose at around number 30 and felt a whole lot better the following days. So it brought out the fire in me, the challenger, the headstrong, stubborn one. To achieve and to progress in life, we need flow and momentum and we do need a fire, a passion, a will to push on through. But to maintain balance and stamina it is important to keep our awareness. Powering through pain may be helpful when running away from a large lion, but when our focus is to live life to the full, enjoy and contribute, to be, do and give our best – we need sustained strength, we need to know when to work and when to rest.
Developing this awareness and understanding of what our optimum state of flow feels like can lead to a feeling of connectedness, wholeness and a deep sense of calm.
I had another experience of multiple sun salutations (sounds like code i know…) that was brilliant. That time I was aware of my limits, I honoured them and was completely mesmerised by the rhythm, lost in the repetitive movements and my body felt free and as if it was moving in the perfect way, I felt I was born to do this. The difference between the pain of one experience and the bliss of the other is ethereal and fleeting, hard to grasp – I know it concerns the breath and a feeling of openness in the heart and head but it’s very difficult to define. I have a strong feeling it has a lot to do with me and how I receive the practice…
I am looking forward to learning more with Jonathan Monks in London on the 25th…I’ll let you know what happens…
Pigeon pose requires a very deep stretch of the hips and does not respond well to tensing or determination and most certainly can’t be done half-heartedly either, rather it requires a quiet persistence balanced with the acceptance that you may need to back off if it becomes too much. So much metaphor here I hardly know where to start…
What thoughts come into our minds when we encounter a situation that we think is a challenge? What is our first reaction? Is our reaction always the same and if so are we getting the same results? To get a different result requires that we try a different action. (“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is definition of insanity” – Einstein)
We are thinking beings and as such, a thought always precedes action even if we are unaware of that thought at the time, maybe it is fleeting and subconscious, nevertheless it is there. Maybe our nature means we relish a challenge, we give it all we’ve got, we keep pushing and trying, expending every effort – showing the world how strong and capable we are, ignoring everything else in our lives until we are finished, exhausted, spent with nothing left to give…Maybe our reaction to challenge is to turn away, to imagine all the difficulties and pain and to make up our mind before we start that we will fail so we don’t try…Maybe we try a little and then stop because we believe we can’t do it…
Can there be a balance? Can you find your edge? There is a point where our boundaries lie, an almost imperceptible line, like a piece of fine thread that can be felt only when we slow down and pay attention. This line, maybe the edge of our comfort zone, can be gently adjusted but it is fragile and delicate and easily damaged. As a muscle fibre once snapped can be repaired, it leaves us with restricted movement for a time and is painful when we overstretch. Finding our edge means we know when to push and we know when to relax and give in. There is no extra merit in either action. Pushing too hard leads to damage and pain and ultimately back to where we started from.
To stretch the arm overhead or to relax it by our side are just two different options, one is to push up and one is to relax. In our life situations that feel challenging, we often believe from past experience that to push on is always the right thing and to relax, rest and surrender is a weakness. It sounds ridiculous to say that stretching your arm overhead is better than relaxing it by your side – it’s just an opposing action. In the same way, there is a balance to be found in life between effort and reward, challenge and surrender, softness and strength, activity and stillness – neither is better or worse, each pair compliment each other and cannot exist without the other. If there was no light how would you know it was dark?
To be aware of our thought choices, our actions, our bodies and wellbeing, to pay attention to what feels right, to what we give out to others – this is a challenge and somewhere within it, this is where we find a place to surrender and return to who we really are.