The point of running is not to break a time, but to test the limits of the human heart
I don’t need to repeat what hundreds of other blog posts write, on how (social) media has really influenced the way women (and men) see their bodies, and how we are constantly reminded that we need to do something to lead a healthier, happier, active life, whatever that means… does anyone, can anyone really tell me exactly what this means?
In this day and age, technology has come so far that everywhere we look, there are gadgets available to help motivate you, apps available to help you get into fitness easier and for cheaper. You can now also buy shoes and apparel that top athletes wear so that you too can run that bit faster and look good on your daily, weekly, monthly or yearly runs. Don’t get me wrong, the accessibility of these items are amazing, and really helpful, especially when gyms can be expensive and hard to find. It’s especially great if you have the inner motivation to do keep this up every day. Unfortunately, most of us have more days where we are demotivated than we are motivated, and if that’s the case, then what’s the point of owning these expensive things? You have the heart rate monitor, you have the newest tracking watch or shoes, but if you don’t have the motivation to start, then you also, won’t have the chance to use them. Such a waste isn’t it?
I’m not going to lie, I went through a phase like this too. I bought a heart rate monitor, and a watch to go with it, bought a couple of new running shoes and gear and was really stoked. I downloaded running apps and signed up to a 10km run with the hope that it would make me fall in love with running. This lasted probably a couple weeks after I finished the race (so a total of give or take 6 months) before I no longer knew where my heart rate monitor and watch was and I only wore the running shoes on the way to my tennis training. Sad times. The problem I had with gadgets was that it always told you how fast you were going, at what pace, and the distance you covered. I used to really like that, but being a competitive person, when I couldn’t reach the goal or I was slower than expected because I wasn’t feeling good, it would affect my whole day, and was demoralising. Nevertheless I’ve tried and failed many times to get back into running, but I think I can say for myself and others (aside from actual runners), running is one of those things that you hate to do, but see it as a necessity.
And then I had a eureka moment during one of my classes on Buddhism I keep harping on about. It was a lecture on Buddhist monks who literally test the limits of their physical, mental, and psychological capacity by running distances longer than an marathon (up to 100km) every day… for years. Clearly these “marathon monks” (do look them up, it’s insane by incredible what they do) are out of their minds, but the reason they do this is twofold: first, is to be at one with nature (they run pretty much barefoot amongst the forests and countrysides. And two, to experience near death (they then fast and don’t eat, drink or sleep for a whole week after their running ordeals). You might be wondering “how does this inspire someone at all?!”, well the answer is a little complicated.
Naturally, this is not the only reason I was inspired, but it certainly was an accumulation of Buddhist practices that intrigued me. It was the simplicity of embracing the pure humanness of the activity. Buddhist monks live incredibly simply; without extra materials, with vegan food, and by running and meditating. They focus on how to be human, they focus on the wonders of being human, and these “marathon monks” are a testament to the strength of the human body to carry on and cross a mental barrier where even when your whole body is screaming and tell you to stop, there is still 30% of energy within that can carry you home. It’s incredible if you think about it.
So how does this relate back to my running dilemma? Like this. I no longer count miles. I no longer time myself. I no longer put on headphones or use my phone. I don’t run to shape up. I don’t run as part of a training. I run purely to allow my body to tell me how it is feeling on the day, and for me to free my thoughts and relieve stress as I go.
I don’t use gadgets anymore because I don’t want this activity to be about competing, but about me being in touch with my body. When I run, instead of thinking of the pace I am going at, I now think about how incredible it is that my legs and arms can swing me forward unconsciously, how my heart is pumping the blood to keep my alive, and my lungs breathing in oxygen for my heart. I think about how this synchronised repeated movement is making me feel at that moment; am I having difficulty breathing? Are my legs feeling heavy? And I adjust my pace accordingly so as not to force anything.
I don’t use headphones either anymore not just because I’ve realised it’s pretty dangerous, but also it’s much easier to maintain a good pace when you can hear your own breathing (sorry runners, this is probably old news to you). Yet it’s not just about the maintenance of the pace, but also this calming sensation you feel when you can hear the rhythm of your breath. And with this, my mind can wander off and think about life, and be reminded of the amazing human body, anatomy and all, and relieve the stress I have as I go. And it does relieve my stress because I’m not running faster or slower nor do I think about how far I’ve run and how long I have to go till I reach my house again.
With this, sometimes, I run only 10 minutes, sometimes I run for an hour. I have no idea the distance I’ve covered (although I have a sense because I’ve taken these routes before), and I can now say I know my body a lot better than before. I know how much sleep it needs, I know what kind of food it needs, and I know when it needs rest, and when it needs some stimulus. With this, I’ve come to have a whole new view on running, as something that isn’t training, but as something that calms the mind. Much like meditation or yoga. And I’ve found that once you stop seeing something as training, you stop seeing it as a burden, and when it’s not a burden or an obligation but a choice, it becomes much easier to keep on going.
Have a lovely day everyone, and free that mind. x