The Yin Yang of running
This side of running is about busting limits. Setting goals that are small and achievable. Seeing the large hill in front of you and breaking it into sections like “All I need to do is get to the mail box then its less steep” “After that I will . . . until I reach the _____” all the while consciously driving yourself over the next physical and mental hurdle to success.
I was a runner and I am proud of my accomplishments. I frequently speak of running and often write about it. Often when people hear about my races they are surprised at how far I used to go, frequently training excess of 30 miles in a week. The typical response I get is “I would be lucky to go 100 feet with out dying.”, “I suck at running”, or “I always wanted to be able to run like that but. . . “, I offer words of encouragement and advice but it is almost always either ignored or deprecated.
The truth is that it has not always been easy for me. When I was a child I would go until I was tired and stop. There was no particular goal in mind I just ran and then didn’t. When cross country started in late summer of 1988 just a few weeks before entering my freshman year of high school I couldn’t hang. It was hot. I was not adequately trained to keep up with the more experienced runners and I had a miserable showing. As the weeks/years went by improvements came and slowly I began catching up to the pack. At first it was the girls pack and as a 14y/o boy I probably lingered with this pack longer than I needed to. Then as the seasons changed and years went by I got up to the point that I was one of the top runners. In the years following high school I gained about a hundred pounds and even with six years in the military I was really out of shape. Several times I tried to get back into running only to be stunted by injury due to ego and ambition. Then I began training slowly and built up using Ying style techniques. It took me another half dozen years to get back up to speed and hang out with the big boys in my age group.
Running on the streets was where I have always started running. Constantly in visual contact with the next target. In high school they don’t really want you out on the streets because of the liability. We lived in an area surrounding a water reservoir for Baltimore City so there are a ton of trails and access roads to train on. I would suck serious wind on these runs and spend the majority of the time walking. It was just to difficult for me to set and remember that my goal is the 115th pine tree on the left. These runs simply and completely mentally beat me.
The Liberty High School Cross Country Coach at the time was a man named Brad Hill. Coach Hill was amazing, he was mild mannered and patient. I always pictured him spending his summers out on the ocean listening to Jimmy Buffett. His loves were running, sailing and Beauford, his dog. I don’t know what kind of dog Beauford was but I do know that he loved to run and Mr. Hill frequently brought him out to run with us.
Beauford unlike myself loved being in the woods he would pull you as fast as you would let him trying to get at every bee and bunny he could see or thought he saw. Coach Hill would often give me the lead and send me off with him a few minutes ahead of the rest of the group.
Training runs in Cross Country were often staggered so that at some point during each run you would spend a bit of time with every runner on the team and ideally we would all finish about the same time. After we had all started he would frequently wait a few minutes and then come running up from behind. He always did this when ever the dog was out but I didn’t realize it until years afterword. If I had, I would have been a whole lot less surprised when he came sneaking up on me. Often busting me walking and flirting instead of running.
One day we were out on a out and back run which was about 5 miles total when he caught up to me. Beauford had whooped my butt and I was exhausted and panting more than the dog. At this point on the run I was alone so Mr Hill took the dog and invited me to jog along with him for a little while. He brought up how I always seemed to have such a hard time on these trail runs and asked me about it. I told him the story about the 115 pine trees and how I couldn’t quite get the hang of the trails because they just seemed to go on forever and you couldn’t tell how much further you had to go. We continued on in silence for about another 30 to 45 seconds and he said nothing. Then he asked me to tell him what I saw. The timing for the question was amazing because just as he finished his last few syllables the landscape began to change. We had been running up a slow hill and all around us were trees with thick briers surrounding their bases and overgrown bushes when all of a sudden we crossed a line into nothing but pine trees each one 50 to 100 feet tall. They had been planted by the state so they formed neat rows that went off in both directions as far as you could see. The ground was just a bed of pine needles and no other plants grew. I described what I could see happening and then he asked me what do you hear. Hear? I had never even thought about that. As you can probably tell by my writing I am a visual person. I am a big picture whole systems guy. I like to observe and record then tweak, repeat then, “watch” to “see” what happens. He had an amazing point there had been the sound of water and birds, bushes rattling by the wind, and now it was quiet. You could hear sound but it was muffled as if way far off in the distance. Then I noticed on my own how the temperature had dropped significantly as well. We both continued on for a while in silence. He then said to me that during the future trail runs he didn’t want me to push myself so hard he wanted me to take the time and spend it observing and then forgetting. Forgetting all the things that normally go on in our lives that clutter up our minds and distract us from seeing and experiencing what is right in front of us. At the turn around point he and Beauford went on ahead to catch up to the rest of the runners and left me to think about the Yang of running.
I still remember that run to this day even after 28years. It was a turning point for me in the development of my true love for running. There are days when you will walk out your front door to go for your run just because it is on the schedule. You know what you have to do but you just don’t feel like being there or running at all. Then you find yourself just sailing along, wind in your hair, effortless. Miles are behind you but you don’t remember running them. You have been off elsewhere deep in your imagination you feel fresh, invigorated, reborn as if nothing could ever stop you. This is the where the greatest joy of running comes from for me.
Yin/Yang are two opposite but complimentary sides. Each one brings joy. When you push yourself and set a new record or when you crest the big hill you have been struggling with all season the yin rejoices. Then there are the times when you just run, free from all the cares and struggles of the world, focused without intent. You are capable of anything and everything but carefree about it. This is when the Yang side rejoices.
What I call Yang running is what I think a lot of people who can’t understand why I ran and those people who struggle so much with it don’t understand. Their is a time to push, to strive for the next milestone, but sometimes you just need to hang back take a deep breath of fresh air and enjoy being alive. Let your burdens and worries drift out of your legs into the earth. Taking time for you and whatever daydreams come your way.