My Run United 1: Great Balls of Fire, Master Yoda, and a New PR

Early this year, I had to take a break from running because of an injured right knee. During this break, I missed an important race I was previously, and aggressively, training for (the Condura Skyway marathon). Staying inactive is probably any runner’s worst nightmare, and so I was very glad when my knee finally seemed to have healed and I could get back to running again.

My comeback race was a half-marathon in the very popular Run United (RU) trilogy. (This first leg of the series is dubbed RU1.) Needless to say, I planned to take it slow and not put too much stress on my newly recovered knee. I thought I’d just enjoy the race as much as I could. If my knee started hurting, I’d walk and jog. And if it didn’t, I’d be grinning all the way to the finish line while thanking my lucky stars. I wouldn’t even think about PRs and finish times.

Another strategy I planned to adopt for this race was to make it meditative. I’d meditate on how fortunate I am to be running again, among other things. In this race, I’d be thankful, prayerful, and celebratory…in my own fashion.

I’ve been reading up on the topic of meditating while running, and putting into practice what I’ve learned during the short training period I had. It required some getting used to. My usual style was to turn on my iPod and lose myself in the music, zone out, go blank, let the endorphins flow. But if you want to meditate properly, zoning out is a no-no (I think). You have to be present and be aware–of your breathing, the motions of your feet, and more or less everything that your body is doing. This is “union” of mind, breath and body, which is what yoga literally means. At times, you can shift your focus to your environment and what’s happening around you. But at all times, you have to try to be mindful and present in the moment.

Well, it seems that if you think positive, and if you let go of pressures and expectations, things do work out quite well for you. I didn’t feel any pain at all in my knee during the whole race, and I didn’t have cramps. Those were the two worst things that could happen to me. Thank God they didn’t!

I even got an unexpected bonus at the end of the race: a new PR. My official chip time was 2h:19m, my best so far. But even better than this was feeling so wonderful, almost ecstatic–and strong!–at the finish line. Sure, I was tired too, but in the nicest possible way.

My 21k run on Nike+

Post-race, after the euphoria had worn off, I got to thinking, what exactly happened? How did I manage to run my fastest 21k when all I planned was a slow, meditative, don’t-hurt-your-knee run?

A huge chunk of the answer has to be the race route. It was as flat as any route could get. It had no flyovers, no hills, no slopes at all. If my memory serves me right, all my previous 21k races (there were seven) had hills of varying gradients. The most challenging one passed through at least six flyovers, and it took me a little over three hours to finish. In RU1, the route was all flat roads. Sure, some parts of the route had problems (such as congestion and car fumes), but no one could refute its flatness.

It also helped that the race was very well managed. There were plenty of hydration stations that served not just water but also sports drinks. I stopped in maybe half of all these stations. I also saw some bananas for us runners, but I was content with the energy gels I had brought along.

I must say that focusing on my breathing really helped me a lot too. Just being aware of the inflow and outflow of your breath is in itself a simple yet powerful form of meditation. While running, it is doubly helpful because it can be your guide to slow down, speed up, or maintain your current pace. In this race, I really watched how I breathed. And based on my respiration pattern, I got to know when I was running just right–not too slow, and not too fast either. If I went under or above a particular breathing level, I knew I had to make adjustments, and I did.

I admit I got tired of watching my breathing all the time, so I shifted focus every now and then. I would try to “attune” to my legs, my stride, the rhythm of it, and the feeling of my feet touching and leaving the ground. As I “felt” my legs, I would naturally progress to thanking them, praising them, and “sending” them love and energy. It sounds funny and weird as I write this, but that’s how it really is. Meditating for me means, among other things, communicating and communing with your body.

At other times, I’d focus on my core. By “core,” I mean the general area where the solar plexus is, above the navel and below the ribcage. (I don’t know if this is the same “core” that fitness experts refer to.) I would imagine in this area a glowing ball of light and energy, which sustained and energized me. During the race, I experimented with making this ball of light brilliantly blue, then white, then orange. I found out that blue and white were the colors that seemed right for me. Whatever I imagined its color to be, I visualized this ball of light to be a source of unending energy and vitality. When I felt tiredness in my legs, I would imagine the ball of light in my core to radiate strength outwards, reaching my tired limbs and energizing them.

At other times during the race, I’d visualize my core to be the seat of love and compassion. From this center, I’d radiate those feelings outwards, until they filled my entire body, and spilled outside to embrace my surroundings and the runners near me. At one point, I saw a fellow runner who seemed to be cramping, and I visualized sending him love and strength. I felt very peaceful and serene at these moments, almost forgetting that I was running.

I must confess I got a bit wild in my visualization sometimes. That’s when I imagined Master Yoda (from Star Wars, of course) to be seated in my core, driving me and pushing me forward. This made me smile. But it worked very effectively! It really helped to propel me forward. What can I say, the Force was with me.

So there, that’s my version of meditating while running. I drew from the traditions of Buddhist Vipassana, Rosicrucianism, and pranayana–some areas that I dabbled on in years past. It’s a continuing process, and I’m learning as I go (or as I run, if I may say so).