How many of you saw the eclipse last Monday? I dutifully made my camera obscura from a shoe box, and used it to view the eclipse safely. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed. With all the media hype, I expected it to be more dramatic. Still, it was a special sight to witness. With so much division in the world, it's nice to know that at least Mother Nature can bring us together for a bit of wonder. The weirdest thing for me was how tired I felt that day and in the days that followed. Many of my friends said the same thing. Did you feel out of sorts post-eclipse?
My wise yoga teacher, Lindsay, usually starts practice by sharing something insightful that's she's been reading or observing. This week, she talked about the lessons we can learn from the eclipse and their application to yoga. She talked about balance. Oppositions. Yin-yang. The necessary tensions and seeming contradictions in life. Eg, to truly feel happiness, we must understand despair. To truly experience gratitude, we must go through loss. We tend to think people and events are "either/or" when in fact, they are usually "both/and." The same lessons can also be applied to running. Or really, to anything in life.
Here are just a few of the eclipse-related running observations I made this week during my workouts.
To feel strong, you must first feel weak. This applies whether you are an elite runner or a total beginner. When you first start running, just finishing a mile can leave you feeling so tired and feeble that you may feel like quitting. When you are more advanced and you are out on the track doing 8 800-meter repeats at top speed, by the last one, you likely feel weak – as if you cannot move another step. In both instances, you are being brave enough to confront your weaknesses. And in the process, you grow stronger.
To run fast, you must also run slowly. You don't always need to run in 5th gear. Sometimes, 1st or 2nd gear is actually more fuel efficient. Many people, even seasoned runners, run virtually every day at the same pace. Without exception, they end up getting injured. Or plateauing. Running very slowly and running very quickly engage two vastly different physiologic responses, not to mention mental responses. Both are necessary – I think 80/20 proportion is prudent - 80% slow and 20% fast.
To run far, you must also run not far. Same principal as above. It's good to mix up the length of your runs. Not only does it keep life interesting, it also gives your body both a challenge and/or a break. The different distances enact different stimuli. When you've been training for a marathon, for example, racing a 5K a few weeks later almost seems like a joke, at least distance wise (although it hurts as much as the marathon but in a different way). To fully appreciate distance, you also need to need to run short.
To do more, you need to rest more. Many runners are type A. *raises hand* Our natural inclination may be to continually do more - 10 more miles, 4 more 400 meters, 2 more hill repeats, another hour at the gym. The fact is, our bodies have limits, and we need to allow them to rest and repair. If you are type A, sometimes holding back and resting can take way more discipline than heading out and running another 20 miles a week. But if you want to stay running for the long run, the fact is you are going to have to rest. Rest days used to make me anxious but I have learned to love my off days. I sleep as late as I want. I putter around and act like a "non-runner" for a day, doing absolutely whatever I want, eating what I want, when I want. By the time the rest day is over, I am chomping at the bit to run again. Inactivity and idleness helps me appreciate activity and discipline. And vice-versa.
To feel triumph, you must also experience defeat & disappointment. Winning makes you hungry. But losing makes you even hungrier. It also begs that question of what being brave really means. If it's easy for you to win or place or finish, then are you really pushing yourself? There can be no real courage without the element of fear. Looking at my own running record, I can think of races I've run where I felt confident and of other races that have scared the hell out of me. The latter ones are the races that helped build mental toughness and allowed me to prove something to myself.
To stay on a nutritious path, you sometimes need to veer off the path. Most runners tend to eat healthily and it's truly important if you want to run well. But paying too much attention to your diet can border on orthorexia - an irrational fear of food. I'm not saying go out and binge on junk food or consume questionable ingredients with abandon. I am reminding you that eating is about pleasure not deprivation. Enjoy some dessert or your favorite wine. But truly experience them. Savor each bite. Besides, extra carbs can really help fuel those long runs.