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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Between the Ferns

Thinking Out Loud
(Al Quinto and I at Sea to Summit last year)

The year 2016 is a month in, and I'm still not strapping on a pair of runners and getting out the door.

Hence, it will be starting from scratch for me this year, and I'm excited and pent up about it. There's a nervousness when the time comes to start consistently running again, and that anticipation is an interesting challenge to deal with. I was listening to a meditation coach named Tara Brach and she was telling a Buddhist story. It went something like this:

Buddha was sitting under a tree. At the fringes of the forest, a demon named Mara, the Lord of Death, was dancing and enticing the Buddha. One of the Buddha's followers was running and screaming in fear, warning others of the demon at the edge of the woods. Buddha said, "Do not fear. Instead, say, 'I see you Mara. Come, and enjoy some tea.'"



The moral of the story is that in order to conquer a negative aspect in one's life, it must first be identified and named. Only then can it be controlled and go from having a negative impact emotionally and spiritually and made to have no power over one's mindful and present state.

So, what is the demon that haunts my next step? How is it affecting me and the ultimate goal to find adventure once again on the mountain?

The injury is not the impedance, it is only a temporary threshold that is disallowing progressing to the running state. One of the demon's limbs is the concern of re-injury. It's the fear of having to go through this again. When is the time right to start training? What if it's too soon? What if it's too late? Is there something I'm doing in day to day, or at work that is adding to the time required to heal? Is that level of activity with both boxing and restaurant helping or hindering? Are my supporting and stabilizing muscles, in tandem developing the mental fortitude with career challenges assisting me to re-enter the world of mountain trail running? These questions dance on the mind constantly.

The mind becomes a hamster in a wheel, spinning thoughts and making excuses, or falling into apathy and a lack of connectivity. The disassociation with my #trailfam has been really tough, and the identity that is defined largely by the individuals in We Run Mas is a massive part of who I have become. Staying true to that person, and the richness that the team has given me, I fear is slipping away. It's probably not true, but the demon lingers, and I must identify it so that it doesn't change who I am while the solitary mode runs its course.

I suppose another limb of the demon is confusion. One of the goals of this blog was to maintain an honest dialogue or journal of what being a runner is to me. It's a large reason why I toyed with, but ultimately denied, doing product reviews. I want to keep my posts raw, emotional and philosophical. There are a lot of places to go look up the next best running pack or a new pair of shoes. So Ultrainspired is more about the journey, and perhaps metaphorically the highs and lows of what being a trail runner is all about.

Being injured is harder than this anyday!
Fact of the matter is, I'm not very good at endurance running, and yet I still enjoy it. I've had my fair share of physical challenges (although I can crush a solid downhill when healthy). My mental challenges were always in check, except for now. Persevering through some hard races and training days was something that became a part of my fabric of being, and I embraced the struggle there.

I'm definitely feeling the stagnation of not running and miss the catharsis it brings. There's only so much that can be done to fill the gap, but at some point, you have to run to feel the sensations of running. Meditation, visualization, escape via cinema, short movies, blogs, running books and other associated tools can not replace the activity itself. The ability to reach Flow State through other means is elusive and remains a mystery. I sometimes feel it when writing, and on occasion at work during a busy rush or a creative meeting, but it comes nowhere near what can be experienced while being surrounded by the majestic forests that live around us.

And so, here I sit. Laptop in hand. Typing away and working through it all.
While enjoying some tea with Mara.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Enduring Injury, Training the Mind

When training for an endurance sport, there are many aspects that are being developed simultaneously. There's the obvious physical adaptation of developing soft tissue, muscular strength, metabolic efficiency, lactate thresholds and cardiovascular zones. The invisible, less measurable, yet arguably more vital components of mental fortitude, willpower, and grit develop with pushing limits, embracing struggle and allowing oneself to explore challenges that are beyond the scope of physical capacity. It's all part of growing and training spirit and perseverance.

So what happens when physically, you're limited by an injury that keeps you away from the sport that you're trying to grow within? How do you maintain the energy, focus and drive to achieve goals when one foot can not be placed in front of the other. The mantra of "relentless forward progress", synonymous with Ultra Running, and endurance sports of other disciplines, becomes impossible when the practice of practice is off the calendar.

And this is where I find myself at the start of the new year. With 2016, my race calendar isn't filled. I have no official registrations and my schedule is tied up with rehab appointments measured in minutes of time and kilometres to drive to appointments and budgeted costs versus time on feet, kilometres per week, and pace goals. In essence, the recovery process has become it's own training cycle. This got me thinking about how to think about injury. I've embraced it as a waiting game, allowing my hip socket to heal, and then starting rehab for mobility and conditioning. But perhaps I've been approaching it incorrectly? Is biding my time really the best way to wait this out and then gradually returning to the trails? It almost feels like wasted effort and the focus is almost entirely physical. Hence, I'm missing a component of recovery that is important to endurance training, and that's the mental game. I need to train the mind while recovering physically and maintain that edge so that as the next phase of rehab leads to the next phase of short runs with maybe ten to twenty kilometre weeks (small in the endurance training spectrum) I'm ready to meet the challenges and be ahead of the curve.

Feeling frustrated by an injury is a luxury I haven't allowed myself. The biggest frustration (I hate that term) is not being able to bounce on a trail or navigate a technical section of a trail in a playful and fluid manner. So I've stayed away, which has been a good thing, as I don't enjoy having to be overly cautious. This blessing in disguise has give me time to reset and look forward to other areas of development, and reading has been one of those. It's been the perfect time to engage in personal development exercises, listen to seminars, read up on mental coaching, and listen to the wisdom of business coaches, athletic coaches and spiritual coaches. I've had the chance to dig into music on a deeper level, and get in touch with lyrics and songs that have impact on me personally.

Playing in snow on Hollyburn my my boys
While staying in touch with friends has been harder to maintain, as they are all out playing on the mountains, and I'm not, I have had the fortune of many of them coming to dine at Chambar, and sharing in their stories table side. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have likewise been a source of connection on their individual adventures, and allows a glimpse beyond the glass. Sometimes, a picture or a post from a running mate can ignite a memory and the smell of pine or the feeling of a cool breeze can come back as though you're there in person. These kinds of visualizations and fantasies are beneficial, as it's easy to recall a moment, look back on a video or old picture and remind yourself of the joy that was felt, and the promise of it returning at a future date.
Team We Run Mas. Never alone.
I'm going to be forty two this year, and, while not having a "mid life crisis" as I am very happy with my life, I am reminded of my own mortality. David Bowie recently passed away, and yet there he was, in 1985 at Live Aid, at the age of thirty eight, vibrant and full of vitality. He was younger than I am now at that time, and now he is gone. Suddenly time feels very finite, and the moments that are yet to come are running short. This only spurs me on to develop a greater appreciation for what is now. Being mindful of each moment and allowing the enjoyment of this mental endurance training to last for as long as it needs to until the physical training can resume.

Being injured is its own Ultra. It lasts longer than you expect, has its highs and lows, and forces you to come to terms with many areas of your being. I feel like I am on the verge of a new discovery as I'm forced on the sidelines. The lack of goals to achieve this year on the running front is foreign to me, and I am forced to fill the space with new goals and unexplored territory. This mental exploration has been exciting, and layered in its turmoil. The struggle is ever present to stay focused and not lose track of what it is that I want to accomplish and prove to myself.

I guess it really just boils down to one metaphorical foot in front of the other.

Future's So Bright . . .