Mark Allen is a six-time Ironman champion. Brant Secunda is a shaman. They’ve known each other for many years, and collaborated on a book called “Fit Soul, Fit Body”. The book doesn’t detail how to attain fitness, nor does it detail how to attain enlightenment. Rather, it delves into the aspects that come together to create a murkiness of fitness, enlightenment, health, wellbeing, awareness, and all things in between.
I went to hear the men talk at the Boulder Bookstore two nights ago. The place was packed and people were lined up against the walls. Athletes of all abilities were there, a veritable “who’s who” in the Boulder Triathlete community.
Mark told a story of how he was striving to win his 6th (and last) Ironman title. He got off his bike to learn that someone was ahead of him by thirteen and a half minutes. He considered quitting, of walking back to his hotel and just giving up. The short of it is that he did NOT quit, that he overcame his opponent in mile twenty three of the twenty-six point two mile run, and ended up winning his last Ironman title. Was he more fit than his opponent? Did he want it more? Neither of these is true. The fact of the matter was that when he dug deep and allowed himself to clear his mind, silence the chatter, and focus on the task at hand, he was able to persevere and ultimately accomplish his goal. Every time he allowed the chatter, the inner monologue, to get too loud, he fell back and doubted his ability. Only with a still mind was he able to win his 6th Ironman at the ancient age of thirty seven.
I was still thinking about this when I woke Saturday morning to head out in the pre-dawn light. Daylight had been breaking earlier now that we’re past the winter solstice, and it’s plenty bright when I pulled into the parking lot. We’re a small group compared to last week; only nine of us are here to run Doudy Draw to Eldorado Canyon. Without Susan, Cherry and Bernadette to set a tempo pace, Greta, Clare and I settled into an easy clip. Greta is training for a half-Ironman in late May, with several races between now and then. Today’s run is supposed to be an easy two hours. My ears perk up at this; I don’t know if I could do a hard 1:40 tempo run like she was doing last week, but maybe an easy two hours… this is feasible. The pace is easy, the company is lovely, and my mind is calm. I mull the idea of extending my run with her today. I don’t need to be home until 9:30, I could skip coffee with the ladies… hmmm. Possible.
As we climb the hills toward Eldorado Canyon I consider the fact that when my mind is quiet, I can do more than I ever thought possible. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a STILL mind, per se, though I’ve had moments of utter peace and bliss. Many of these moments have occurred on hikes or runs through these very hills when I’m deeply connected to nature and not thinking about the to-do list of the day. Something Brant said the other night resonates with my own deep feelings about this beautiful place where I live; “Boulder is a beautiful place, and many people choose to live here because of their connection with nature.”
Movement and nature. Nature is ever-changing; that is the complexity of nature. On any given day I can go into the mountains and see something that will not be there again the next day, or a week later. Running is the same for me; my energy levels are extremely variable, as are my moods, the distances I can cover, the time at hand, and my state of mind. The state of nature and the state of mind and body when running are both things that are both a part of my being, and separate from my spirit at the same time.
On this particular day, the usual pace-setters are absent. Greta, Clare and I settle into an easy cadence and just… chat. My body knows these movements and I don’t have to think about the physicality of running. I can still the mind and not listen to my inner chatter of “how fast am I going”, or “uh-oh, here comes that huge hill”, or whatever it might be. There’s no hurry, and I am more peaceful.
Greta and I extend our run at the end and head up the Mesa Trail for another few miles. She’s running an easy two hours today, and I’m up for it.
Afterwards, I realized that I made a breakthrough. I found out that I’m capable of running a lot longer and farther than I thought, which also means, in the grand scheme of things, that I am stronger than I thought. This is good for my psyche in so many ways. It brings me contentment and a semblance of inner peace to know that I don’t have to struggle to be something I wish I could be, because I already… AM. Does that make sense? A physical breakthrough created a mental breakthrough. That’s what I like about running. I like where I’m going, literally, and along the way I start to discover that I like the company I keep (me).