On October 16, 2011, I ran my second marathon. The BayState Marathon is in Lowell, MA and, as it’s within an hour of my home, it’s a perfect one to run. I can drive up, run and then be home and showered afterwards with no need for plane travel or uncomfortable hotel beds. As a yoga teacher, yoga is my first love but running is a close second. In fact, I’d say that I love them both equally because they share so many of the same qualities: they’re both meditative activities, they both require focus, foundation, strength and flexibility. But it’s the mindfulness from my yoga practice that most serves me when I run.
It’s one thing to go out for a run but it’s an entirely different thing to run a marathon. Even with extensive training, there is nothing like the challenge you’ll feel when you try to run 26.2 miles. Unless you have a chance to run the actual course multiple times, you’ll be faced with unfamiliar terrain, variable weather, nerves, possible injuries that have been nagging at you for weeks, fear, stomach upset…. the list is endless. So, in order to perform, you must control what you can. Outside of the logistics of what you eat, wear, how you’ve prepared in the prior months’ time, how much you’ve slept and stretched, a great deal of challenge can be mitigated by employing mindfulness techniques. Here are some of the things I used when I ran my latest marathon (finishing time: 4:57):
Mantra: I had several “go to” sayings that I’d repeat over and over in my head. Some were more soothing (“Relax and breathe” and “the more you run, the sooner you’re done”) and some were more energizing (“Put the power in the legs” “You know you got this!”) but either way, they kept me focused on the task at hand.
Staying connected to the body through easy yoga stretches pre-race: The hour before a marathon is utter chaos. Runners assemble at the designated spot within walking distance to the starting line (ours was a big sports arena). There are hundreds of people, lots of noise, long lines at the bathroom, event coordinators yelling directions, people looking really scared, lots of picture taking and bodies everywhere! It’s so easy to get caught up in all the excitement. I used the time to do some gentle yoga and kept to myself. Even though I was with friends, I was mindful to keep my voice low, stay connected to my breath, stay off the phone and refrain from looking around.
Set your eyes: The last five miles of this race just about killed me this time as it did the last time. I’d love to run a marathon and have an enjoyable final stretch! Regardless, the only thing I could tolerate was focusing on the ground just in front of me. If I looked straight ahead, I was completely overwhelmed by the stretch of road I had yet to cover. Setting my eyes and breaking up the last five miles into a “one step at a time” approach made is more digestible and less overwhelming.
Set an intention but realize the most important thing is to do your best: I had 3 goals for running time: great, good and acceptable. Although I only hit my acceptable goal of finishing in under 5 hours, I did my absolute best. Part of mindfulness is realizing that it’s less about the literal expression of your effort and more important that you know you did your best. I can honestly say I gave my all, did my best in training and in the actual race and because of that, I am completely happy with my results.
Mindfulness is a wonderful technique that can carry you through life’s biggest challenges. I can honestly say I’d never have made it to the finish line without my practice. Looking forward to my next race!
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We wish you 20 minutes of mindfulness every day!
By contributing writer, Karen Fabian, Certified Baptiste Yoga teacher, founder, barebonesyoga.com.