beginner’s mind: having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions
After a three week layoff from a back injury, that perfectly coincided with the last weeks of my teaching career and temperatures rising into the mid to upper 90’s, running has become tough. Not only have I not run for three weeks, my weekly mileage the past three months has barely been half of what it was before my last marathon in February. This was deliberate. I wanted to take a much needed physical and mental step back from running and training, a running pause, if you will, knowing full well that my overall level of fitness would drop.
Now I’m wondering if it was worth it. Brain and body don’t seem to be working together anymore.
Body liked the step back and comfort of little to no running. It really enjoyed all that time spent relaxing on the couch. I could get used to this! it said. Brain has not liked the past several months at all. At first, it spent most of its time berating its owner: You should be running! You’re going to get fat and lazy! Everyone else is running hills and you’re spread out on the couch! It was good at making excuses. I’ll run tomorrow when it’s less windy. My allergies are horrible today. It looks like it’s going to rain . . .
I knew it was time to take action to get Brain back in the game. It was time to adopt a beginner’s mind attitude to running.
What does this mean? Beginner’s mind running simply means to run like we did when we first started out, before we had any preconceived notions of what running was really all about. It’s when we ran because we had never run seriously before, and weren’t really sure if we could, but were willing to keep at it, mile after mile, because we loved the way it made us feel. It’s when we ran without knowing or caring about our pace, when we ran just because we wanted to challenge ourselves and see how far we could take it. It’s when we ran and the mind didn’t turn it into something it wasn’t, like a means to an end, miles to be put in that would bring us closer to our weekly mileage leading up to a race. It was just running, nothing more, nothing less.
In essence, beginner’s mind running is like pressing the rewind button on the brain, erasing every “should have,” “why didn’t I,” and “if only.” It’s when we put all the training plans, pace expectations, and disappointing race times on the shelf. We leave the guilt, the excuses, and the expectations behind, and we remember what it was like to be a beginner again, taking those first tentative baby steps towards the runners we have become.
Now that I think about it, shouldn’t we almost always run this way?
Working to regain my lost stamina and conditioning hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been all bad either. I enjoyed not having a training plan to follow and no races in the immediate future. I needed to look forward to running again, to miss it, and I have. I’m running for no other reason than the pure enjoyment of running, just like I did when I first started out five years ago.
The training plan, the speedwork, the hillwork, and the races will all come down off the shelf soon. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and start at the beginning.
Somehow after running the Boston Marathon last year, my blog–and my running life–seemed to run out of steam. It wasn’t so much that I lost interest in things, it was more like letting the air out of the balloon, very, very slowly. Last summer was much hotter than normal, and I ran a lot less because of it. I got slower, and I lost my running spark. Many of my friends were training for the NYC Marathon and I felt cut adrift–and a little sad that I wasn’t going with them. I bailed on running my planned marathon in November and focused instead on training for the Death Valley Marathon this past February (which will be an upcoming blog in the very near future). I struggled to keep up with my training partner on our midweek sort-of-long runs and couldn’t figure out what had happened to my joy of running. Unlike the Lucinda Williams song that laments “you took my joy, I want it back,” I couldn’t just “go to West Memphis and look for my joy.” Mostly I wondered, what is going on with me?
I suppose everyone goes through cycles of good running and bad running, but this was larger than that. I wasn’t depressed, everything just seemed off. It all seemed to go back to Boston. I was extremely disappointed in getting sick days before the marathon, but in the end it wasn’t a big deal. Qualifying for Boston was a bigger deal to me; running the race was the icing on the cupcake. I remember feeling the same way when I graduated from college. I had busted my butt for four years, taking it all so seriously and checking my GPA over and over, only to find myself in cap and gown wondering, that’s it? I wished I had allowed myself to have more fun in college. In hindsight, I think I did the same thing to myself with running. I had pushed myself mile after mile, always trying to get faster and stronger, but I had forgotten to have fun.
So here I am, still looking for my joy. Though I still seem to be struggling with my running, I have made some changes. It’s Spring Break and I haven’t run once the entire week. Some of that is because of my allergies, but most of it is because I just haven’t felt like it. And you know what, I’m not beating myself up for feeling that way. The pre-Boston me would’ve been mortified to take off from running for a week, but the post-Boston me is okay with being an occasional schlub. I have also decided not to run another marathon for awhile. Six is good for now. As a matter of fact, I’m not planning on racing at all. Most, if not all, of my runs will be for fun and at a comfortable pace. My Garmin died about three weeks ago and I have enjoyed running without thinking about my pace every few minutes. I have also bought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves, which are similar to Vibrams without the five fingers, and enjoy running in almost nothing on my feet. I’ve even run a mile or so barefoot, and loved feeling like a kid again.
Will it all work? Will I be able to return to the days when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tie up my shoes and hit the pavement? Will I find my joy again? Only time will tell, but chances are good I will, as long as I don’t forget to have fun.