Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tao of the Treadmill

I promised myself one last long run before WDW marathon weekend, and the workout happened to fall when I was in Connecticut. Cold, cold Connecticut. I’d done a bit of running outside for shorter workouts, but I wanted to long run to be +2hrs, and the thought of my big ears freezing in the wind was enough to keep me inside.

Only option, aside from running in place? The Treadmill. Aliases include: The Treadie. The Dreadmill. The Hamster Wheel. None of those are particularly positive nicknames...

But for this workout, I decided to shift my focus – instead of solely concentrating on the miles, I took the opportunity to practice some mindfulness – flexing the mental muscles along with my calves, quads and hams.

See, all of the time I spent in the airport this week afforded me the chance to dig into some great reading.

you are here by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most well-known Buddhist teachers, and in the past three years, I’ve tried to incorporate bits and pieces of his teachings into my life.

A few days before the treadmill run, I started you are here. And the first chapter touches upon shadow feelings (as termed by psychologists and psychotherapists, not TNH) and how to embrace them. Shadow feelings are the negative feelings – pain, anger, jealousy, guilt, etc – that we turn our backs on because we don’t want to feel or acknowledge them. Yet, when we ignore them, these feelings grow bigger and eventually rear their heads in monsterous ways.

He writes, “When you are dealing with pain, with a moment of irritation, or with a bout of anger, you can learn to treat them in the same way. Do not fight against pain; do not fight against irritation or jealousy. Embrace them with great tenderness, as though you were embracing a little baby. Your anger is yourself, and you should not be violent toward it. The same thing goes for all of your emotions.”

So I took this mindset to the treadmill – I am going to feel the boredom. I am going to feel the pain of the workout. I am going to feel the fatigue, and I’m not going to block them out. Instead, I’m going to embrace them and move beyond them.

I logged 16 miles in 2hrs 20mins. All on the treadie. The first 10 were my “backpocket” miles – ie, easy to pull out and get done. But boredom crept in at 11, then aches at 12. And then I quickened the pace by 45 seconds/mile and ran the final 3 with a vice around my lungs. But during all these uncomfortable feelings, I kept my mind on them. And you know what? They didn’t go away, but they didn’t scare me. They were just there – neutralized.

Once you turn your face to the boredom, the discomfort and the fear of being in your own head for hours on end, all those shadowy feelings are diminished. And all of a sudden, the mental part of the workout is more manageable. I stopped feeling the "mind versus body" duality and instead felt a little more whole. I wasn't fighting myself. I was using my entire self - the energy, the focus, the aches and the boredom - to soldier on.

So what do I take from this? Well, I’ve recently struggled with race anxiety, but this training session chipped away at that a very tiny bit. The act of embracing discomfort as opposed to fearing it is something I will store away for future use. And it’s something that might be useful to practice with those I get to coach, it may help someone who shares my wavelength.

So with all this mindfulness in mind, time to hop on the bike and log some time on the road and between my ears. And then time to eat. All of this thinking makes me very hungry! :)


giraffy said...

I love this. That's a great reminder - don't hide or run from your feelings. Accept what is.

I think I'm the only person alive that loves the treadmill. I ran my 20 this weekend - despite the perfect SoCal day - on the treadmill just because.

2 weeks to Disney weekend!!

Emily Conlon said...

You need to bottle up that treadmill love and sell it on - you'd make a killing!!

Very much looking forward to Disney!