50 marathons in 50 days
Day 11, the morning run, after the 10th marathon
I concentrate on my breathing, and this helps me concentrate on sharks. I try to send out helpful thoughts and I visualise sharks avoiding being caught in huge nets and on long lines. Yes, I know what this probably sounds like. Like a lot of woo woo. I don’t know how to defend against such an accusation, because it may just be a lot of woo woo. Like most of us, I really have no idea of how to try to help the world, but in the past visualising myself doing well at athletic races has mostly served me very well indeed. The first time I won the Canadian Men’s 24 Hour Championship I’d spent the previous 6 months visualising running that very race, seeing myself pushing on through the night, and feeling myself crossing the finish line. And on race day it all played out pretty much exactly as I’d imagined it. So why not visualise sharks avoiding long lines, it can’t hurt, and perhaps they'll pick up on my energy and it may even help, right?
I’m running primarily to raise awareness of the plight of sharks in our oceans, and to point people towards the Sharkwater project, which seems in a position to do something positive about it. For the past 2 years I’ve felt that I wanted to do something with my running that wasn’t just for me. It was no longer enough to win, or to even seek personal enlightenment through the act of running, as the monks of Mt Hiei do. The world needs more from us all than to become personally enlightened, I feel. There is so little time, we have to multi task!!
So seek to understand yourself, sure, but also, at the same time, seek to help others, that’s how I feel. And even if you never get to the bottom of your own self, at least you have tried to do something else for the world.
Now, to the past 10 days...
There are several ways of running a marathon every day. Some take a great many hours at it, such as the monks of Mt Hiei in Japan who, when novices, commit to running a marathon every day for 100 days as part of their spiritual practice.
There are others such as Dean Karnazes who have run relatively fast times each day as part of their job as a pro runner.
There are also people like me, who have regular jobs and have to fit in the marathons around that fact. And there are many more, I’m sure.
I’ve no experience of the first 2 styles of running marathons but I suspect that we all have different, yet equally challenging, things to take care of during the course of our day. And I would suspect that despite our differences, our varying styles collide where pain is concerned, with all of us viewing it as a simple, easily accessible vehicle from which we can begin to understand ourselves as we truly are.
I didn’t view my pain in that way at first, a few days ago, but recently it’s been impossible to see it any other way. It’s simply an easily hailed emotion which can help me attain a viewpoint into my own self.
Unlike the monks, I have to get to work by around 9am and then put in an 8 hour warehouse shift. So that affects my running.
And unlike the pro runners I don’t have anybody to prepare my food, wash my clothing for me, or cover my day to day living expenses. That too, informs my style of completing my daily mileage.
On top of this, unlike either of these 2 groups, I don’t have a solid, easily understood reason for running a full marathon distance every day (except for raising awareness for shark conservation, and I could do that with just 3km per day, as many of the other members of our informal group are doing), so I can’t let it interfere too much with my personal life.
That last point is pretty tricky to handle, I can tell you. Firstly, I have to interpret what will impact on those around me, and how. The pain, for instance, is fine for me, in fact I welcome it, for it always brings our friend, potential enlightenment, along with it. But that same pain, when viewed from my girlfriend’s perspective, isn’t very nice at all. She doesn’t get the payback from it, only the sight of it’s physical presence on my face. So I have to be careful about how I present myself to her, and others who care, such as my family.
And, of course, if I wanted to play up and let my girlfriend fuss over me and pretend to see me as some sort of big shot just because I’m running a marathon every day I could do that, too. She’s kind enough to grant me that, she’s a great girl. But that would be pretty low of me as this is an ultimately self centred act and I have to shoulder the weight of it like a grown up as equally as I reap the joy like a child.
So I keep the whole business on the low down as much as possible so it doesn’t interfere with our lives, I get the mileage done in the day and by the time it comes to meet up I do my best to ensure that I’m not limping, I’m not stinking and I’m not ravenously hungry!
All these circumstances mean that I’ve worked out a schedule where from Monday to Friday I run a half marathon on the way to work, and a half marathon home, then at weekends I knock the distance off in one go. I suppose one could say I could do that every day, before work, but I’m no superman, and running a marathon before putting in a warehouse shift is, sadly, beyond me, at least at this early stage of my spiritual and physical development.
A guy at work said, hey, so you’re just doing a half before work, then a half after, that means you can cheat if you want to, nobody’s going to know about it…
I look at people like that, I see their oversized cars and houses, and their swimming pools, and I think, yeah, I guess it’s not so hard to get all that when most of us are playing it straight and you’re willing to cheat at life. But I’m not a cheat, and I log my runs on Strava, so I can't cheat even if I wanted to, and if anybody ever thinks I have day I’ve got the data online to back myself up.
Another guy said he thought it was all pretty pointless, if you’re not running it hard, if all you are doing is jogging, then...why?!! I referred him to the aforementioned marathon monks of Mt Hiei, who run/walk a marathon each day not to finish it quickly, but to learn about themselves and the world as they move. Movement for them is an act of prayer. As I said, I’m doing this to raise awareness for shark conservation, but I’m also doing it for myself. I have no real idea what I may get out of it but I do think that’s it’s worth the trying, to find out.
Work has been good about the demands this places on me. Nothing has been said out loud, I’ve not advertised what I’m doing apart from on my personal social media, but people leave me alone pretty much for the first hour or so after I arrive. On a day like yesterday, 4C and sunny, I arrive feeling pretty good, but a few days last week it was freezing sleet all the way and that throws me out. I arrive a mess and it takes me a half hour or so and a large coffee to get my head together. I’m lucky I don’t work in a place where the boss is on my case from the word go because if I did I don’t think I’d be able to do this as I am.
I’ve tried to concentrate on the basics in life so far, cooking the right food to keep me going, keeping myself and my clothes clean and also doing yoga so that I don’t seize up. I’m sure I’ll get used to the daily effort needed soon and will be able to branch out and live more fully, but for now I’m keeping it simple.
My weight has been stable, so the food intake has been a success. When I started it was 156lbs and after 10 marathons, it’s 155.4lbs.
I see some great sights as I run. Real beauty in the middle of the city.
I’ve learnt how to run whilst at the same time stretching out my ankles and calves, it saves them locking up. I was put on the road to learning how to do this by a variety of sources which all deserve a mention.
First, Octopus Garden Yoga Centre in Toronto has introduced me to a new way of moving and thinking. I don’t just breathe now, I breathe into certain parts of my body, whatever I feel needs the oxygen. That taught me to relate to individual parts of my body, to communicate with different parts of me more effectively that I ever did before. Last night the right side of my stomach hurt, it’s where I had a hernia repair, so I breathed into that for 5 minutes and it then felt ok. After that the left side towards my back hurt, that’s where my spleen ruptured, so again I breathed into that area, and then the pain moved to my front left side, another hernia repair was done there, and again I breathed into it. Then came the knees, and so on. I breathe into these areas, concentrate on healing them, and the pain dissipates. Is this the same as using the pain as a vehicle to view myself? I'm thinking it might turn out to be something like that. It's just that the questions are all wrong at the moment.
This knowledge corresponded to what I’ve read about the monks of Mt Hiei, who have been recorded saying, as they run/walk, “Now I’m resting my thighs as I move, and now my arms, and now my ankles…”
My friend Adam, who’s a Reiki master, recently explained to me how he mentally conducts a Reiki scan of himself on long runs, it takes him about 45 minutes he says and afterwards he feels much more energetic. This sounds very much like what the monks do.
So I took all that and made it my own, running in ways that heal as well as propel. And at the end of each day I do a few yoga poses, such as legs up the wall, pigeon pose, and child’s pose, an active rest pose that is great for the ankles, thigh and groin, which seems to have kept me injury free, so far. I also walk on my tip toes and heels for a minute or so, to keep plantar fasciitis at bay.
My landlady’s dog, Boo, is enjoying this challenge as he likes the smell of my backpack now it’s really worn in. He greets me at the door, as he always did before, but whereas in the past he’d hang around at my feet a while before moving off now he’s all over my backpack, trying to roll in it. Obviously he thinks it’s a skunk, or poop. There’s not much I can do about that (except wash it, for which I have no excuse other than a lack of time), and I don’t mind so much, humans don’t seem to be able to detect it, it’s only Boo.
To conclude talking about my daily activities, after greeting Boo I grab something to eat, usually a pasta with beans, or some fruit, then shower and then lay down in my room and reflect. I live in a single room and have long since gotten rid of my bed, and I find I sleep better this way, on a thin mattress on the floor with a sleeping bag over me, than I did when I had a bed and lots to distract me. Perhaps when I get my head together more I shall gravitate back to sleeping in a bed with some trinkets around me, but I’m not ready for that yet. I fall asleep about 10:30 and wake at 6, then begins another day. Unless it's the weekend then I get a few hours in bed to read before running.
The monks of Mt Hiei say that at the end of their marathon running stints they are super sensitive and can detect faint sensations, such as the smell of a wisp of smoke, or food cooking, miles away. I guess in the past I might have understood that as they’d lost so much weight that they become less of the human world and more of the world proper. But my experiences during the first 10 days of this challenge tell me that it’s more about the act of running and the deep thought it brings on, stripping away different layers of yourself until you become something very simple and in tune with being what a human truly can be. For example…
For years I’ve disliked smarmy guys who issued jokes from false smiles in bars and hostels and also the girls who were duped by such guys. Now, the problem with this point of view is that it’s perfectly ok in the world I inhabit to dislike smarmy guys and dumb girls, so I was never too bothered working out the root of my contempt. But their superficiality wasn’t why I disliked them, I discovered the other day as I ran, it was because I could never talk well enough to be in their shallow club. In reality, I was jealous of them because at one point in time, in my teens, I wasn’t able to be as successfully vacuous as they were, and even though I’d long since moved on from wanting to be in their club, the negative feeling aroused all those years ago had stayed around and become one of my commonly voiced beliefs. In short, I hadn’t bothered to update myself on this account, ever since I was an insecure teenager.
I realised this as I ran, felt crappy for a few miles, and then thought, ok, well that little issue is now worked out, just understand fully why you put that in place all those years ago, understand what you’re going to replace it with (probably nothing, or maybe just understanding is enough), and then we can move on and quit with the fake hating.
So I became less than I was, and in doing so became more. And I guess if one runs 100 marathons in 100 days, as the monks do, then there’s just a chance that you’ll meditate as you run so much that the you who finishes the challenge will be very different than the you who set off at the beginning.
I asked my girlfriend what issue I should concentrate on next. She said, well, maybe work out why you feel you have to take on bigger and bigger physical tasks all the time, and what you’re going to do if you can no longer do them?
So that’s on the agenda for today, and probably the next few days. I don’t expect the results to be pretty when I view them from afar, although I’m sure I’ll come to love them when I’m up close, and I don’t expect any revolutionary insight into my own soul as a result, just the ordinary sort of insight that comes from a prolonged period of concentration and questioning. Maybe I’ll get more though! Who knows, at the moment I’m open to whatever comes as a result of this challenge.
A run down of the marathon stats so far:
Sunday 4th November - The Hamilton Marathon
Time - 3:13
Temp - 4 C, sun
Time - 4:32
Temp - 7C, rain
Time - 4:43
Temp - 4C, rain
Time - 4:58
Temp - 6C, cloud
Temp - 4C, cloud
Temp - 1C, sleet
Temp - 2C, sun
Temp - 1C, sun
Temp - 5C, sun
Temp - 0C, cloud