Lesson One from my half marathon this weekend: I’m almost exactly two songs too short on my running playlist for a 13.1 mile run. A few minutes after crossing the marker for mile 12 the iPod shuffled through its last song and then….silence. Okay, not exactly “silence.” I heard my feet hitting the ground—bam, bam, bam, bam---and some folks cheering for us from the side of the road. And I heard my breath. Just recently I read an article about meditative running; focusing in on one’s breath to train the mind even as one trains the body, and to remain fully present. Thing is, my breath at that moment sounded less meditative and more in need of medical attention. It had a lot to say about the last 12-plus miles: the long uphill between 8 and 10, the generous (nay, excessive) amounts of pollen in the air and the strain of the first long run in a while.
But the iPod was in a zippered pocket and getting it started again wasn’t going to be the easiest thing in the world given that my hands were a little slick with sweat and suntan lotion (and can we just take a moment to recognize that Coppertone really and truly is the official smell of summertime?). So I thought I’d give it try. I am, after all, what my friend Meg calls an “accidental Buddhist” as well as an incorrigible multi-tasker, and if running and meditating could forever blot out the idea of those two elements being mutually exclusive, well then I was all for it.
I tried to focus on taking deep breaths through my almost-but-not-entirely-Claritin-cleared nose and to feel the air filling my lungs, then to trace it moving through my blood stream to my pounding heart and my tired legs. I tried to feel the energy of an entire planet inhaling and exhaling as the air moved through my body. I tried to listen to the sound of the exhalation and note the relationship between it and the rhythm of my feet on the pavement. I tried. But mostly, I heard myself gasping a little bit and my mind was wholly focused on the fact that I had just over ten minutes to go and the hope that all the hills were truly behind us. So I wiped my hands off on my not-so-very-clean shirt, reached into that pocket, smeared sunscreen on the iPod and was almost immediately rewarded with the opening notes of “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case.
I’ll try it again, just not in the midst of a race. Maybe I’ll actually turn off the podcasts during my next run in the woods or spend an early morning on the suburban roads taking in the silence. Oh, what were the other lessons from this weekend? Well, I was actually stronger and faster than I thought I’d be, taking 3rd in my age group. Also, Red Velvet Cake is a nice post-race carb replacement. And lastly, Charlottesville, Virginia, is very hilly.