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.  

Fuji Marathon

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.

***

“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

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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.

Triathlons, Temples, Typhoons, Oh-my!

Kamakura

Today the winds have been continuously howling from a typhoon that is offshore, and luckily for me, that translated into an extra–much-needed –day off from work.

Recently a work colleague asked if I wanted to participate in a local triathlon, and since I am training for the Fuji Marathon in November, I decided to take him up on the offer.  I am a distance runner, swimmer, but I don’t have my own road bike at the moment and so that was the one portion of the race I wasn’t sure about.  I actually have never ridden a road bike…well….ever.  Needless to say it was going to be an interesting experience!  There is actually a lot more that goes into doing a multi-event race than just a run, because there is all this extra gear and the placement of the gear.  Some people really take the time to arrange things just perfectly.  Let me tell you how that goes in reality: “Oh my god, oh my god gotta move–going so slow–oh crap is the shirt inside-out?  WHY CAN’T I GET THESE BIKE SHORTS ON?!  Okay getting on the bike…crap, wait I have to walk the bike to the course entrance point…ok run the bike there–ok on the bike.  HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN RIDING??  HOW MUCH LONGER??”  And then my personal favorite is the transition from the bike to the run, because YOUR LEGS FEEL LIKE JELLO.  I ended up hitting all the times I was aiming for, so for a first race it was successful.

Yesterday we headed up to Kamakura because a friend was visiting and we wanted to show him some of the local heritage sites.  We took the enoden from Kamakura station to Hase station and made our way to Kotoku-in, which is the temple housing the Dai-Butsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura.

Buddha

The structure that stands today may or may not be the original, which dates back to 1252, during the Kamakura Period.  Originally, the Buddha was enclosed in a hall, but a tsunami in 1498 washed it away, and the Buddha has stood in the open air since.  The structure was also orignally gilded, but having been exposed to the elements, it has all but faded entirely.  A notice on the entrance to the grounds reads:

“Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”

Our next stop was Hasedera, a temple dedicated to Kannon.  The temple is on the side of a hill and offers some impressive views of the Kamakura shoreline.  The main structure on the grounds houses a giant wooden statue of Kannon.  The legend goes, a monk once carved two statues of Kannon from great tree.  One was enshrined in Nara, the other set adrift to find the place it had a connection with.  It washed ashore in Kamakura and was enshrined there.

ShintoYoung woman in a kimono partakes in purification before ascending the mountain to the main complex.

Hase-dera

 

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Jizo

 

Jizo

 

Statues offered by parents mourning miscarried, stillborn, or aborted foetuses to the Buddhist deity Ksitigarbha, or “Jizo” as he is known in Japanese.

Hase-Dera

 

Kamakura

 

 

 

Food + Health + Music

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Food

I have a confession to make: I can’t cook.  There has been much time spent on Pinterest drooling over the beautiful creations that people pin, and I have thought about attempting to make some of them, but then I just get discouraged because I actually barely know how to cook anything.  I went to a university where they provided food for us, and actually, we didn’t really have access to cooking appliances.  Anyway, I’ve got a little time off from work this week and next, and so my goal has been to actually cook using recipes.   I bought a Better Homes and Gardens healthy cooking magazine and wanted to try the Seven-Grain Salad with Roasted Pepper, Feta, and Mustard Dressing.  Because I live overseas and do not have access to specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, I had to try to stick to the recipe as best as I could.  It’s listed below:

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups seven-grain pilaf mix

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon coarse ground brown mustard (I did not use this because I couldn’t find it)

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I couldn’t find this, so I substituted with chipotle pepper)

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped cucumber

1/3 cup chopped roasted red sweet pepper (I used fresh sweet pepper)

1/4 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

1/4 cup snipped fresh herbs, such as dill, mint, and/or parsley

1/3 crumbled feta cheese

It turned out decent for the substitutions I made, considering this was my first attempt at actually following a recipe and having to create a sauce myself.

Health

So while not ready to go full-on Paleo Diet just yet, I am definitely trying to change what I eat.  I would really like to lose a few stubborn pounds that have been hanging on for a few years and tone up.  Pinterest really is my weakness–it makes finding different workout routines so easy!  I really like to do distance running, but I tend to just get in the habit of one or two routines and not really changing things up, which doesn’t help my speed-work too much.  Long, slow distance only trains the body up to a point and then you just plateau.  Hopefully by adding different calisthenics, weights, and interval cardio, I can improve my speed for my distance runs.

Music

I finally gave in and might be going down the path of Hipster tendencies (gasp) by branching out and expanding what I’m listening to.  I really like listening to all different types of music, with a few exceptions, but as of recent I’ve definitely been leaning in the Hipster musical directions.  A few albums I’ve downloaded recently of note are:

Wild Nothing/ Nocturne

To be quite honest, a lot of these groups sound very similar to me, but I really enjoy the Dream Pop sound.  It’s easy listening for mornings driving to work or just relaxing.  I’ve been listening to this album a lot as of recent; for anyone that likes easy listening I recommend this album.  And to read a much better review please check out BBC’s review of the album.

Foxes/ Echo, Warrior, Youth (EPs/singles)

I don’t know why, because even though British singer Foxes seems like initially “another female singer/songwriter,” her music is really interesting.  It is pop, but it just has a different sound.  Youth is almost like something that would be a dance song in a club, but it’s still different.  I hope she releases a full-length CD in the near future.  Really like her stuff!

Delta Rae/Carry the Fire

This is my FAVORITE new album I’ve downloaded.  I love blues-inspired, southern-rock-esque music.  Bottom of the River is a very powerful song, but my number one on the album is Morning Comes, the tale of an every-man and the obstacles he faces in his daily life.  Although different in sound, I think Mumford and Sons fans might like this one.

Hopefully this coming week I’ll have more dishes to share, and hopefully no disasters!

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On Running

Sometimes I hold anger far longer than I should, or I find myself thinking about the past and questioning everything about the present.  It’s hard to let go of regrets; and even though Edith Piaf loudly proclaimed, “Non, je ne regrette rien,” it’s hard to just be completely okay with everything sometimes.  I don’t know if I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do think that things just happen and that we need to live our lives with the fluidity of a river; it’s own force pushes it on through eventually to the larger destination where it joins into the sea.  The river flows and turns according to the path carved out in the earth; it adapts to the road set before it.

So I try to accept the things that happen, I try and ask for the serenity to accept what I can not change and to focus on what I can, but it proves difficult (mostly to my own stubbornness).

So I run.  I have always hated running.  I was that kid in gym class–yeah, you know the one–doing the 12:00 minute mile (with lots of huffing, puffing, and stopping).  I struggled to run a sub 8-minute mile for my physical fitness tests when I was at the Naval Academy.  I ran when I absolutely had to.  And then one day last year when I was at a very low point (constant replaying of Pink Floyd’s The Wall in my car driving home from work), one night I listened to a song by Florence + the Machine and I heard the lyrics:

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

Run fast for your mother and fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry love with you if you want to survive

And everything seemed so simple: I needed to run.  2 miles turned into 3.  3 turned into 3.5 and then 4, 4 turned into 5 and 5 would eventually turn into 6, and so on.  I just needed to run.  And I was now running for completely different reasons; not for a PT test, not for gym class, not for anything other than to clean myself out emotionally and spiritually.  Not worrying about distance or time, I just learned to run for longer periods of time, and suddenly I was running distances much longer than I had ever run on a regular basis.  Just  me, my lungs, the rhythm of my breathing, the music I listened to.  Everything turned back into what we are at our basics–animals running and existing to survive.  The beauty of the body, feeling my limbs and my bones all working in perfect unison to self-propel.  The divine machine.  I’ve been reading Christopher McDougall’s bestseller, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  It’s the story of a man searching for answers about what makes it so that certain people can withstand extreme distances and conditions when running.  The interesting thing is that most of the people (and even the mysterious Tamahumara tribe) in the book had something in common: running was somewhat of a spiritual practice for them.  The Leadville 100 race started in Leadville, Colorado was borne out of a town’s despair, Caballo Blanco aka Micah True began running because of a broken heart; I am fascinated by the power that the simple movement of one’s body can have on the psyche and the will to survive.

For runners and athletes alike, I highly recommend this book.  When I’m feeling down and like I’m getting myself into a rut because of negative thoughts I think of a line Caballo Blanco has:

“I saw a 95-year-old Tarahumara man walking across these mountains.  Know why he could do it? Because no one told him he couldn’t.”