The Way of Resilience
“Resilience is often endurance with direction.” – Eric Grietens, (author and ex-Navy Seal)
Neuroscience has shown that the repetitive motions and complex cognitive functions of running trigger neurotransmitters, chemicals that boost the brain’s connectivity, thought patterns, and decision-making human qualities often compromised by life’s stress, especially in these troubled political times. Meanwhile, spiritual traditions remind us that turning our attention outward, from self-concern to the welfare of others, is the key to peace, love, and sanity.
Could there be a silver lining to these months of quiet living and self-reflection that so many of us have endured during the pandemic lockdown of 2020? When we emerge, will we see the world in a new way?
Resilient people put things in perspective by contemplating what has happened and how it affects them. They find a way to move through hardship and are better and happier. It’s never too late to turn things around. Endurance sports bring out our natural ability to return to and re-organize ourselves. They provide a positive avenue to peace, clarity, and vibrant health that can carry over to all parts of our lives.
The Burning Question
With the influx of more and more scientific training, wearable technology, modern lifestyles, and dietary habits, why have average marathon times declined so drastically in this millennium? The only exceptions are the top elite athletes. And reciprocally, why do so many ultras have such a high drop out rate, with close to half the field regularly failing to finish in a lot of races?
Follow your Heart
Some people create with a brush and paint… others use words and music. I like to make something beautiful when I run.” – Steve Prefontaine (1972)
Before heart rate monitors, people learned to “run by feel” to sense how relaxed or hard they were running to estimate the intensity of their training load. With a heart rate monitor, for the first time in history, people could use physiological data to coach themselves more accurately. Why not bring the two streams together?
A true understanding of a person’s nature arises from the heart. The physiological effects of positive emotions, such as caring, compassion, or appreciation for someone or something, can go a long way in helping people reduce their risky training behaviors. These heart-brain interactions cohere and soften the heart, which processes good feelings and circulates positive information throughout the body. All this adds heightened sensitivity to what works for us; fundamental self-awareness is crucial to optimal health, performance, and enjoyment. The deep calm feeling of the heart is the only tool we have that we can rely on.
Keep Still – Run Faster!
Stillness is what creates love. Movement is what creates life. To be still – and still moving – that is everything.” – Doe Hyun Choe
People have used mindfulness practices for thousands of years to deal effectively with various life challenges. We are now witnessing an explosion of scientific research demonstrating that mindfulness meditation changes both the function and structure of the brain. My translation: If you want to believe in yourself and build mental muscle, you might want to consider meditation practice!
Sitting in stillness is a simple, straightforward way to practice mindfulness meditation. To gain strength in one’s sitting posture is to open a gateway to hearing and feeling the flow of information from the inner world. Sitting quietly for 20-30 minutes daily helps reinforce the sense of calm and peace I experience through running; it affects the quality of energy I bring to my running, and it profoundly affects how good I feel inside.
Since the attempt to sit this still is not entirely natural, it must be directed consciously. To gain strength in your posture you must learn to stay relaxed and ride out the physical stresses and strains you may feel by imposing the right measure of willpower on your body. In this way sitting teaches you about inner poise, grace under pressure, and detachment from results, all of which are fundamental to running, healing, and spiritual practice.
Run in Health
The ideal amount of intensity of training and the time it takes to affect the body positively varies greatly from person to person, depending on their overall health and wellbeing.”- Art
We’re all familiar with how much stress can arise due to competing demands on our time and attention. The time we spend running should help counteract these tensions by putting them in perspective and making them manageable.
The word “recover” means to regain health and balance. People often make the mistake of racing too frequently without adequately recovering from their strenuous efforts. Consequently, they fail to regain the good form and fitness they had built up through training. This often results in injury, disillusionment, or, worst of all, giving up on running altogether. The inherent risk of these pitfalls increases markedly when running and racing at speeds/distances that are too far beyond your comfort zone.
Finding balance in life can’t be left to chance. We have to plan for it. If we’re paying attention, we know when our running/racing regimen is putting too big a squeeze on our lives. The resulting stress may overshadow the health benefits of running. The good news is that burnout and injury are not the inevitable consequence of training hard; the solution can be as simple as prioritizing the workouts that give us the most satisfaction.