What I Learned from Running a Marathon

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My coworkers are probably sick of hearing me talk about running a marathon.  Look, okay, running a marathon doesn’t suddenly make you a better person, you’re not “holier than thou.”  I will tell you this, though–it teaches you an incredible amount about YOURSELF and what YOU are capable of.  Sometimes it takes 26.2 miles of pain to figure sh*t out.  Oh yeah, there’s a little bit about running that you learn about thrown in there too (like don’t wear gear you’ve never worn before on race day, don’t forget to bring warm up sweats when your race is at the end of November and you’re the only idiot walking around in shorts in 35F weather before the race actually starts, and don’t just “wing it,” your body will thank you later), but mostly, it teaches you about life.

1. COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION ARE THE PILLARS OF SUCCESS.  You have to really be committed to the goal of finishing a 26.2 mile race.  I love the quote, “Do or do not, there is no try,” because you are either going to finish the race, or you aren’t, plain and simple.  Who the hell gets satisfaction in walking away saying, “Yeah, well, I tried to run a marathon.”  Injuries aside, you are going to be the one to ultimately decide whether or not YOU are going to cross that finish line.  Can you envision it?  Is the goal greater than the momentary doubt or pain?

2. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK.  I have NEVER felt so much continued pain in my body before.  Hours of pounding pavement is absolutely killer on the joints.  By the time I reached mile 20, I was really, really spent.  I thought about giving up so many times, but I kept thinking about crossing the finish line and about why I was even running the race to begin with.  Wasn’t it to prove a point to MYSELF that through willpower all things are possible?   And if that’s not enough, think of all the people, good and bad, that were there along the way–the naysayers, the people who supported you, the people who hurt you, and the people who ran alongside you through the pain–think about them too.  

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3. DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS THAN YOU DESERVE.  This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned. Since YOU have put in the time and the effort, you have pushed past the pain and torn down the walls of doubt, you know what it takes to be extraordinary, you know that success means being better than you were before, and we all have the ability to be better within us.  Don’t make excuses, don’t accept excuses.  You will never succeed by taking either action, you will only be holding yourself back..

4. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.  If after touching down in Japan 2.5 years ago, someone would have come up to me and said, “You’re going to run a marathon 2.5 years from now,” I would have laughed in their face.  I had never run more than 5 miles in my entire life.  Why would I even waste my time doing something ridiculous like that?  Well, because sometimes the things we once see as “ridiculous” and “impossible” suddenly become important to us, and as I learned how to push past pain I understood what it meant to change.  It was a long, slow process from within that required the aforementioned commitment and dedication.   Change isn’t easy, but it is possible, and it allows us to grow.

5. BE GRATEFUL.  You have a body that allows you to absolutely feel what it means to be alive–everything that you are made up of is working together intricately, allowing your body to run the race.  Be grateful you have the opportunity to do so.

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Run for those that matter, run for those that don’t, because in the end you are going to have made the good ones proud and you will have left the bad ones 26.2 miles behind.

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“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” -Da Vinci

Reflections before a Marathon

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“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

― Asha Tyson

This is not a post about running. This is a post about the end of things and how life comes full circle at times, and how what is necessary to come to pass will eventually come to pass.

November 2011 I lay in my bed and I could feel my insides twisting in burned confusion; not about love–or at least nothing resembling love–but about people and about life and where I was even going. Success was not unreachable, but I found the path muddled and convoluted. It was like reaching through a thick wall of tangled yarn trying desperately to see what was on the other side. And there was part of it that took hold of the fragile core deep within me and held it tightly in its grasp, threatening to shatter it into a million pieces.

But somehow I refused to let it break; finally the hold lessened, and I drew into myself to protect that core. I ran mile after mile, in the cold, in the heat, in the early morning light watching the sun rise over the ocean, in the rain, and in the coolness of the night. I ran and ran and my legs ached and my stomach churned, but my veins surged with the one thing pushing me on–DETERMINATION. Sheer determination. There is nothing beautiful in a distance run. The body grows weary, it starts to give out at times. The joints ache from the continued pressure, and your insides churn from the constant motion. Why then, do human beings continue to distance run?

Because the run only reaffirms being alive, and in the end, when you finish your distance, you know that you are stronger than you think and that anything is possible when the mind and body are tested.

I lay here now, the culmination of my running efforts barely 48 hours away, and thoughts flood my mind like a relentless sea. Things that I have done and seen and felt course through my body and invade my mind, and I question whether the path has been the right one or not, but I already know the answer; there is no wrong path, only doubts and distractions that keep us from reaching the end goal. I think about god and how he/she/it keeps me from stopping to count pebbles or convincing myself I am too tired to push on; and the force comes like a great rain that washes down over the earth and pushes deep into the blackened soil, forcing nourishment. I chose HOPE to symbolize this post because it is this painful, sometimes forced grace that allows hope to spring forth, even if we didn’t think it possible. When we are open to reception, we will always receive the guidance and truth that is necessary in our lives to make us better people.

I carry these things with me as I run the race.

Murakami and a Storm

And because I think right now, Murakami explains everything in this:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Anaïs Nin, Hong Kong

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It’s late, and I’ve got an early day tomorrow, but these thoughts seem to be swimming in my head like carp in an endless pond.  I recently took a vacation to Hong Kong, and I’ve been flooded with ideas; and the world changed in a day, or maybe it was a day and a night and a day, I honestly don’t know.  We’ve been rocked over here with the disaster in the Philippines and somehow everything is both the same and different.

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I met up with a friend in Hong Kong this past week and was finally afforded the chance to visit a place I had always wanted to go.  And it doesn’t diappoint–the garish neon signs, the crowded night markets, the smell of noodles cooking in the street–it’s like the dirty underbelly of Singapore, international and gaudy and full of alleyways teeming with dealers beckoning tourists into their backrooms of illegal goods.  I made it a point to see the Temple Street Night Market, the Ladies Market, acquire good dim sum, and visit the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden.

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The Temple Street Night Market is located in Kowloon, where we were staying.  If you take the MTR to Jordan Station you will be very close.  You can buy cheap goods such as watches, sunglasses, t-shirts, scarves, food, antiques, and more.  It’s quite crowded, and a definite MUST is haggling with the dealers; although don’t go too low or they will begin to heckle you.

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The Ladies Market is located in Mong Kok, and is largely the same sort of merchandise.  However, I thought it to be a bit larger and, as the name suggests, a bit more geared toward women (I bought a lovely pashmina scarf and mint skirt).

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Switching gears a bit, we ventured out after experiencing the crowded markets into a more serene part of the city, but not before finding some delicious dim sum.  I did a bit of research beforehand and found Tim Ho Wan restaurant in Mong Kok.   Not only is it Michelin rated, but it’s SUPER cheap!  We ate plates of dim sum for no more than $20 and walked out feeling more than full.  Afterwards, we hopped on the MTR and headed toward Diamond Hill to walk around the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery.  

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The garden is fairly new, having been commissioned in 2006, and is a nice break from the urban setting.  The Chi Lin Nunnery was founded in 1934 but rebuilt in the 1990s.  The buildings are built in the style of traditional architecture from the Tang Dynasty, which uses the interlocking of the wood to keep the structures in place and contains no iron nails.  One can see statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha (actual Gautama Buddha), Guanyin, and other bodhisattvas.  I recommend for anyone wanting to see a bit of traditional culture and needing a break from the usual hustle-and-bustle of the city.

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I recently discovered writer, Anaïs Nin, who kept journals spanning 60 years, starting at age 11 and up until her death.  I think of the first journal I kept, around age 8, and how I’ve kept them (or these blogs) through the years.  I love looking back and reading through, seeing what my concerns were at the time, seeing who I loved, seeing what I found it worthwhile to write about.  I kept two journals through Japan, writing almost every day.

A few of Nin’s writings strike me particularly:

“You can not save people.  You can only love them.”

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7: 1966-1974

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”