Saturday: A little Dense on the Running

Blog, Running in Circles

I sunk into sleep just past midnight after enduring the last attempts at cohesively writing about Barhma and spirituality. Sleep took me quickly. My alarm rang out in what felt like only moments after.
I did not want to get up. It was cold, and I was mighty snug and comfortable under the sheets. The night was dead silent. Why in the hell did I set an alarm to disturb such peace and tranquility? Oh yea, I forgot I convinced myself the night before to go on a little adventure: a 21 mile bike ride to a foot race starting at 7:30am.

My mind interjected with surprising haste and authority

Nope, you’re not doing it. Courageous idea, but not practical. You’re tired. It’s cold out there. Go back to sleep. Enjoy the rest and serenity and safety of your warm bed. There you go. Just like that… ease back on your pillow…

I closed my eyes, obliging to that voice inside my head. But before I could fall back to sleep, my bladder also had something to say.
I got up and told my mind I’ll just have a pee then return to bed as per instructed. I relieved myself then found myself standing in front of my pre packed bag for the planned trip, complete with steamed sweet potatoes, a ruby red grapefruit, leftover lentils, clothes for town, and my Lono Kukini head band. It was all there. Bike was was ready to go, my safety lights were set. I slept in my clothes so I didn’t even have to spend time dressing.

Damn it. I did everything possible to ensure I had no reasonable excuse not to go. I checked my watch. 0450. Plenty of time to get to the race. Yup. This was happening.

Committed, I snatched an old jar of brewed coffee, downed it, zipped up my coat, tightened my straps, grabbed my bike by the handlebars and walked out into the night sky.

The air was cool. Delightful. The moon was lighting up the sky, and the most steadfast stars filtered through. I walked past Aunty’s house and heard Beebs the dog get up from her lanai to investigate. It’s only me Beebs. I walked up to the long driveway and made my way to the paved road. The wet grass dampened my shoes. I heard the sound of scattering hoofs all around me and watched a few dark figures scamper across the driveway, dashing between moon shadows of the mac-nut trees. The late night was alive with activity and I felt my body awaken to it.

Pavement. Feet hit the pedals. Hips swing over the saddle. Legs crank and bicycle glides down the hill to the highway, guided by the silver light of the moon. I reach the intersection at the bottom, a dim yellow streetlight buzzes softly above me. I unclip my pack to check the rear solar light. It’s not flashing. No charge.

Shit. I’m about to bike on the main highway up the Hamakua coast and my red rear light isn’t working. Not a good omen. I was troubled. Now I had a good reason to be hesitant about making the journey. But I also already biked 4 miles down a long hill. I committed my mind and body to this. I didn’t want to give in.

I quickly check in with myself. I have a lot of reflective gear on, and so does my bike, so at least the light from cars behind me will light me up. The sun will be coming up in about an hour so it won’t be the whole time biking in the dark. And I’ll just have to be extra careful and make sure I’m way over on the shoulder. That does it. Good enough for me. I turn on to the highway.

It was hell. It was the highway of hell. Apparently this is the hour of the day all the trucks are driving around the island. Truck after truck blew past me. I could hardly see in front of me. The sound of the monstrous vehicles was excruciatingly loud and disorienting. Knowing my back light wasn’t working, I felt extremely vulnerable. The worst were all the bridges I had to cross. I lost my shoulder lane on these bridges, and there was only a extremely narrow pedestrian raised path where I had to dismount my bicycle and push it in front of my with one hand as I used the other to hold myself to the bridge, hitting my shin every few strides with the pedal.

I had never cursed so much in my life. I cursed the highway. I cursed the cars. I cursed colonialism. I cursed my idiot self for putting myself in this position. I cursed the sun for taking so damn long to rise. I cursed my bike. I cursed my bowels. I cursed the gods. I continued on.

Every time a car or truck roared past me I shouted at it with the rage of 10,000 wild beasts. But I edged onward, not willing to be conquered by this nightmarish scenario. The steady climb from Wainaku to Papeeko gave way to a decent into Hakalau where I gained speed riding along the shoulder. It was still dark, but it felt good to be going fast. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to get to my destination as fast as possible.

I tensed up trying to focus on the pavement zipping past in front of me, looking out for any debris lying in wake while simultaneously paying attention to any traffic that might be passing me by. At first I was frightened, but then I convinced myself I was in an x-wing fighting tie-fighters and implementing evasive maneuvering tactics. The force is with me, I found myself saying.

An hour later the sun had risen. I calmed down a bit. I pulled out a sweet potato to munch on as I pedaled the last few miles. Relief settled into my shaky bones when I turned-off the highway onto the Old Mamalahoa Highway. I was greeted by a yellow sign that read: caution, runners on the road.

I pulled into the parking lot of Waikaumalo park where a number of people were already standing around. It was 0700. I had 30 minutes to spare. I signed in to the 7 mile race, paying the 5 dollars in all quarters. I got some comments but promptly ignored them. I was feeling shy and a bit tired but warmed up from the bike ride. I kept my distance from everyone, nibbling on my remaining sweet potatoes.

30 minutes later, my shirts off, my sandals and Lono headband are on, and it’s time to run. We take off and within the first 100 meters it’s apparent to me that no one here is going to take the pace out. So I take off. I’m feeling good. It’s still nice and cool out, and my muscles are loose from the stressful bike ride.

The race is on the old highway, following the natural contours of the Hamakua coast which is basically a number of watersheds connected by a myriad of streams and rivers that have carved out steep gullies. The road ducks down into a ravine, then ascends back out, over and over again. It’s a fun course made up of these curvy ups and downs. We hit our first descent into the gully, shade and dampness prevails. I cross the small bridge over the stream and kick into a higher gear to climb out on the other side, reaching the exposed sunlight and cresting point of the road before dipping back down into the next gully. I feel relaxed going into the first mile. I check my watch, 6:15. Not bad. Faster than I wanted, recalling my 1 mile intervals from a week ago were at about 6:15 pace, and that was a distance of 5k. This was roughly a 10k with no rest.

I slowed a little, relaxing more into it, feeling alive and good. It was quiet up front. I couldn’t remember the last time I lead a race, and probably never by this margin, although I didn’t bother to look behind me for anyone. I didn’t sense anyone so it wasn’t really on my mind. I just kept running.

Mile two came up quickly. 13:10. I had eased the pace down to 6:55. Now I was going too slow, or the mile sign wasn’t accurate, which could be the case. It didn’t feel like I had slowed down that much, but I decided to pick it up a little bit anyhow. By mile three my pace had gone back down to 6:11. These splits felt really inconsistent. First time back in a race environment for over a year. I was okay with it. And since I was leading I didn’t really have anyone to help regulate my pace, which by the way, running consistent splits is as any runner knows a talented and intuitive skill to have.

I was starting to feel tired by the time the turnaround approached. My chest and shoulders started to get tight, and my breathing had become more erratic and less controlled. It looked like the 2nd place runner (a fellow named Alan who is an excellent long distance runner, beautiful to watch. He runs with very controlled and comfortable form. Very graceful), had gained on me, although this is always deceptive at turn around points because it looks like they are moving twice as fast as they actually are. But even so I started to worry he was picking up speed and would eventually catch me. And when I worry I get stressed and when I get stressed my body tightens. The next mile was no fun.I tried to maintain a pace that didn’t feel comfortable. It was too much work and I could feel the energy draining from me. My heart rate went up and my lungs gasped for more oxygen to keep up with the rate of combustion required of my muscular tissue.

I battled through the anxiety and fought hard to control my breathing to help relax my upper body. Running is so beautiful because in order to do it well you HAVE to be in tune with the various systems communicating and interacting inside of you. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning for a long time and only now beginning to get in touch with. Running is the practice of making constant micro adjustments here and there to maintain efficiency and harmony between energy input and energy output. It is essentially the art of transferring energy into a forward momentum and using every aspect of the body’s mechanics and energy systems to accomplish this, which very much includes the mind’s will on the autonomic nervous system through breath control. Pranayama. The control of Prana; subtle life-force current.

For example, by mile 5 in the race, my right shoulder froze up and my form got all sloppy because the range of motion in my shoulder seized. I started to move my body laterally; less energy was being directed in a forward momentum, which then meant I had to burn more energy to maintain the same pace, which meant sucking in more oxygen for combustion. This isn’t very comfortable, and is the very reason a lot of people don’t like running. It doesn’t feel good, people say. Running never gets easier, people say. My body just isn’t meant for running. Wrong. I see all shapes and sizes running. Even ultra marathon distances. That’s not why people don’t like running. They don’t like running because to get to a point to enjoy running you first have to learn how to run and that takes time and patience and listening to your body. It takes constant adjustments and people just don’t want to be mindful while running.

Yes. that’s my opinion, and I’m aware I am piling everyone into my bias and that’s okay because I’m just trying to illustrate a point. Of course there are many other reasons people don’t like running. I’m just stating one major causality that often goes unlooked.

Back to the race. My form is all messed, I’m no longer running efficiently. It’s uncomfortable and I’ve got that death feeling. Well then let’s do something about it. So here’s the beauty. My shoulder has already acted up and if I was a really mindful runner, I would have prevented it before it got to this point. But I didn’t, and the consequence is that there’s only so much I can do while still running. I start putting my attention back into my breathing, and then my breathing into my shoulder. I imagine pushing that air into my shoulder and creating space for the allostatic energy to be freed so the muscles can loosen up again and move in accord with the rest of my body. It works, to a degree. I can feel my body aligning. I begin to pick up momentum. In total it took about a whole mile for the results of this breathing technique to kick in, but it was enough, and my last mile turned into my fastest at sub 6:10.

I’ve never been a great runner. Never been all that fast, and definitely not consistent. But I have been running since I was 8 years old, and every time I go out for a run I am thankful I have something in my life like running, something that never fails to teach me something new about myself, life, and the universe.

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