Meditation

So, I have been meditating as a part of my training, relying on the advice of runners like Anna Hughes, who use visualization as a part of their successful racing strategies. It has become a bit larger than that, however. Sometimes, when I meditate, poems come to mind, describing what I see. This is a result of one of my more recent reflections:

Soul Travel

My soul today was a little leaf,
the color of autumnal reddish-brown.
Falling gently from the tree,
I rocked and swayed,
landing softly on the golden carpet
of Nature’s sanctuary, the afternoon sunlight bathing me and my space in glistening yellow warmth.
Peaceful, it was, until
Spirit moved,
And lifted me up to hover around his shoulder,
As he sailed across space and time,
I flitting and twirling and traveling,
Until we came to where you were.
Spirit then bade me to float,
down from his height
To where you lay,
And I landed softly,
A leaf out of nowhere,
On your solar plexus, and rested there.
You mused in pleasant curiosity
At this little leaf
That landed on your solar plexus,
And, arm folded and resting behind your head,
You regarded me with an amused and slightly quixotic smile,
Sensing something familiar and warm and comfortable,
So you let me stay.
I rested quietly, happy to be near you,
Intimate in a silent way,
Until Spirit thought well to move again,
Lifting me in his wake
To fly back home,
Through my sanctuary
and back to my Self,
Settled and filled with the serenity
That came through being with you.

————
Nothing special. Just wanting to share. : )

Picking Up a Bib

(a running commentary of my day)

On the subway. First leg, nine stops. Then switch lines, and then another. Should take an hour and fifteen or so.

Reading a book by the fanciful and often morbid Neil Gaiman, called The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains. It is illustrated like a graphic novel, but not quite. There are pages with paragraphs. As an operetta is to an opera, so this book is to a graphic novel or, indeed, a regular novel itself.

It takes place on the Isle of Skye, a place I would like to visit one day.

I like this author. Some of his things are just too weird for me, but all in all, his work reminds me of high fantasy, which I love. Innocence and Experience wrapped in fanciful and exquisite imagery. Transportive.

—-

Man being questioned by police. He wasn’t doing anything, but his skin is dark. Many people from the Federation’s eastern provinces are often checked by police.

Kievskaya Station has impressive mosaics portraying the workers’, the peasants’, and the professionals’ struggle and triumph over capitalism. Russia, one and all. Ornate and unmodern, very unlike the newer stations near my home. Each kind is beautiful in its own way and, modern or not, most of the stops are really very nice.

Funneling through the lines, the term “fake it till you make it” comes to mind. Exuding confidence creates confidence.

Down the escalator line, a sign promoting the ballet, The Great Gatsby.

Ballet?

Next leg begins.

——

I just met the president of the nation’s Mountain Running Association!!

In a very grey and messy complex of industrial and small business buildings, I found the sports club, where hosting organization has its office. Dirty air, cluttered streets, vans and campers parked as if people were living in them.

Not unusual, regardless of the country. It is a city, after all.

(it’s snowing)

Realized that yes, my Russian is improving, if only just a little, because I managed to get my bib AND chat for a few moments.

When I said I was American, one person’s question was, “Texas?”
No, not Texas. No need to worry about ebola.

I am number 1135

—-

oops, missed my stop.

—-

a few track changes, one wrong car, and now I am back on track.

Looking forward to reading my book.


A man is seated. Putting his hand alongside his cheek to scratch it, he instantly falls asleep. Hand is still there, fingers twitching, body deeply breathing. My, he must be tired.

Four more stops to go.

—-

Okay! Sitting in a warm cafe near my bus stop. I think I deserve a hot cup of something after all that. One more bus ride and then I’ll be home. 5 1/2 hour trip, but I got my number. : )

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My Big and Where I Am

Since I’ve moved and begun exploring my training routine, seeing where I am mentally and physically, I’ve harbored a feeling deep inside – I am a crap runner. Honestly. I have a goal to run a 111km race next year, and I stink. I proved that yesterday, when I ran a 10k race as part of the Moscow Marathon event. Too slow. Too unwilling to push. Too out of shape to keep it strong for even just 6 miles.

That’s okay. It was a stressful summer, preparing to move here. I even crashed my car because I was so exhausted. It’s time, however, to move out of recovery and into training. I have found a good plan for myself, I think. It includes a day of speed and hill work, plus one or two long runs, plus cross training (kundalini yoga and cycling) and, of course, shorter runs. I have been doing the routine for a few weeks and it feels good, but I’ve been too comfortable. Time to move that routine into a higher gear and begin pushing a bit more.

At the same time, I also need to remember that training is a process, and for it to have lasting impact, the advances I make need to be small ones. Patience is key, as is humility. I cannot let my ego take over; I have to accept where I am and move forward methodically but, as Bryon Powell puts it, relentlessly (by the way, if you have not read Powell’s book, Relentless Forward Progress, and you are interested in ultra running, get on it! The advice there is invaluable). I sometimes think that is why some people tend to fail at a task they have chosen: they are not so willing to accept where they are and are equally unwilling to pursue the process step-by-step. Lacking the humility to take the process one step at a time leads to failure, I think. I struggle with this aspect of training, but I am learning.

Patience, humility, and determination. Plus a little more courage to push myself further.

I will do this. I am not a professional; I am not anything special. I am just ordinary. But even ordinary can dream big and push for it. To some, what my big is, is nothing special. To me, however, it is. I will run this race, and I will run it strong. Not just finish. I will run strong.

What’ s your big?

FINDING MY WAY

WHAT A beautiful fall day. I was going to run today in the forest near my home, but a change of plans (happens frequently when one moves to and tries to settle in to a different country) meant a walk through the woods with my dogs instead. The change of plans happened for a reason, I now know, and I’ll explain that later.

I used to be jealous of all of you who get to run in beautiful places and forest trails that go on for miles. For various reasons, I was often limited to the trails in the city parks that dot the landscape in and around my old town in Michigan, USA. I appreciated them, but not enough! I realized that by connecting them with short road sections, I could easily put in 20 miles of terrific running, with short, steep hills, wildlife, and natural beauty.

I live now in Russia, just outside the beltway around Moscow. It is flat – flatter than Michigan! – and, well, populated. Here, very, very few people run, especially women. The only place I have seen women running is at one sports park I sometimes run to and in the little international enclave in which I live. Light joggers, mostly. A fellow, newly-arrived American and I are trying to create a group to run/walk in the morning once a week, but so far, there isn’t any interest.

It has been tough, a little. I don’t have a car. A sweaty female in running shorts on the Metro or the bus attracts a lot of stares. Heck, a female on the road running at all attracts a lot of stares. I’m used to the road stares – I have experienced that before in other places I’ve lived – but the Metro and the bus leave me a bit uncomfortable. For that reason, most of my runs take place in parks that I can, well, run to. They are nice, but they are small, often paved, or the trails are in no way technical. SIGH – I miss my old town!

There is one big potential though: in my backyard, there exists a huge national forest. To enter it, I have to knock on the guard’s door to pass through the gate. I have to have a pass if I want to return the same way. The terrain isn’t hilly or too technical yet, but I have only explored perhaps a 10 mile area so far. I need to move further in.

At first, I was nervous to even try because it is easy to get lost (very!) and there have been incidents of wild dog attacks. I was warned about groups of wanderers making camp there, and certainly, I have come across abandoned encampments during a couple runs. For a time, these warnings had me thinking that my one salvation, this forest called Krasnogorsky, was going to be off limits. Without language skills, without a map (haven’t found one yet), and on my own, the idea of running far in that forest seemed pretty daunting. I was, honestly, quite depressed.

I don’t know when it was exactly – perhaps one evening as I faced the forest from across the lake, soaking in the seemingly endless horizon of beautiful shades of pine and oak green, birch white, and deep shadows – but I just determined to not let the warnings and fears control my need to be free and run. The warnings were from people who are not trail runners, or even runners at all. They don’t know what I have learned so far. It seems to me that many people limit themselves with expressions of fear and danger in order to avoid putting forth energy to move outside their normal lives. I don’t want to be like that. That person, for me, was put to rest a long time ago.

As I’ve been exploring, I find it interesting that my real nervousness does not come from the forest, but from running in the city. I have to run along a few industrial roads to get to some parks. I face a good number of men while I am alone on a trail or pathway, aware that for some cultures, a woman acting outside the normal constructs of femininity is fair game for abuse, as she must obviously be a bit brazen to begin with. These places make me more nervous than being alone in the forest, though I have to admit, I have met some real gentlemen as well, including the man who insisted on fixing my bike pedal when I lost the nut and the pedal fell off. He did not speak a word of English and I could understand only a minute amount of his Russian. His help enabled me to get back home, though, safely.

So, once again, I am learning that my fears are not necessarily justified. Each day, in fact, sees an expansion of the sphere in which I exist. The forest is beautiful and, I hope, one day I’ll be able to run 20 miles there. Meeting people on the street really helps one to get to know the area, even though it also a bit scary at times. Often, it is simply my old self wanting to find ways to hold me back. I won’t let it.

The rewards to my determination are perhaps small to some people, but significant to me. I now believe I can train well enough, so I have signed up for the The Wall Ultramarathon in England next June, a 69 mile race along Hadrian’s Wall. I think the terrain here around Moscow will be perfect for that. I won’t do the marathon, but I will run the 10k portion of the Moscow Peace Marathon on September 21 (road race).

And, even better, though I haven’t found much interest in a running group, I just got a call from a woman who responded to a note I put up on a bulletin board, asking if anyone would be interested in running trails with me. She is a runner from Sweden, I believe. Because my plans had gotten changed, she and I are able to start tomorrow.

My first ever running partner. Yes, I’d say I’m beginning to find my way.

Lessons from Adventuring in a Foreign Forest – Run Report

This summer has been an exhausting whirlwind of move preparation, international visitors, and selling our home. My last days in the U.S. ended with a car crash due to exhaustion (I did not hit anyone, thankfully, and I was fine too), sending my dogs off on their week-long journey to get to our new home, a wedding, and finally, a few days at the beach. I barely had time to process the fact that I was moving to a new country, a new culture and a new language. It didn’t really hit me until I was on the plane and there was no turning back.

One thing I did continue to think about, however, was the area we were moving to. It is in a region outside Moscow, near a national forest named after the provincial town, Krasnogorsk. With all the work I was doing, I had little time to run far, and so I spent a good deal of time looking forward and visualizing what the forest would be like. We were to be living in a gated community and I would have limited access to a car, so I was envisioning and holding the image of the forest as my key to freedom while living in our new compound – uh – home.    

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Then, the other day, the shoe dropped. I was told by a Muscovite that this particular forest was dangerous. There are encampments of homeless people and packs of wild dogs. He himself had been attacked there once. He suggested that I run in those woods only if I have a partner, for safety.

As I know very few runners who run the way or do or who even like trails, I figured I was screwed. Fat chance I’d be able to get anyone to come with me, I thought. The guards already thought I was crazy when I went for a short run there last week, just after arriving. Now I knew why.

I can’t tell you how sad and disappointed I was. I have been trying to visualize my training for an 80-100k race next year (narrowed the choices but have not completely decided on which one), and images of running each morning from my home through Krasnogorsky were quite vivid. Moreover, it is the only forest area easily accessible without a car. Moscow has many beautiful parks, but they are not wild, and they require a bus, metro, and additional running to get to. How was I going to make this work?

I was pretty deflated for about a day, but deep inside, I knew I was not going to let the threat of dogs or people keep me from the run. Moreover, the forest is huge, and it was likely that the safer area was on the eastern side, where my neighborhood lay. I shouldn’t allow fear to keep me from exploring just a little. I woke this moning with the intention of running just a half hour within the woods, then continuing in the neighborhood. I would stick to main trails, stay as straight as possible, bring my gps watch, and take pictures at any juncture I came across.

Things went well the first 15-20 minutes. The woods were pretty and the terrain a little hillier and more technical on the south part than on the north part, which I had explored last week. I was on high alert for dogs, but did not come across anything except a pig. At least, it looked a bit like a pig and squealed like a pig, but I’m not sure if wild pigs are supposed to be up there. Perhaps it was something else.

When my time was up, I turned back to head home. Despite my attention, I must have missed a turn and found myself quite lost.   A myriad of pathways criss-crossed each other in all directions, and even with the photos, there were too many that looked alike.   I doubled back but could not find the path I needed to take. It was then that I discovered that my awesome (sarcasm intended) gps watch had stopped tracking for some reason, and did not know where I was. So much for European quality – ha!

I had to be back by 10 am.

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Fortunately, I had my new phone with me. The iPhone map feature is not all that great, but after a little creative work on the address, I got a general sense of where I wanted to be and began to head towards it. I was wrong at first and so found myself heading in the direction of a different town than mine, but eventually, I realized my mistake and set my steps in a direction to a place on the map that looked more like where I wanted to be. It worked, and 1.5 hours later, I made it back. The guard was worried, he said (or at least, I think that’s what he said), and was happy to see me. I even got home on time.

When I think about it, it wasn’t all that far out or dangerous. I did see encampments – empty ones. I did hear dogs, but not near me. I did see the pig, but he wasn’t the large boar I’ve seen in pictures. He was about half the size. And I’ve encountered them before. I did have pepper spray, and I did have my phone.

Being lost in the forest of a foreign country, however, where one does not yet know the language with the potential for attack by dogs or (worse) people – wow! Were my senses every on high alert! Finding home felt like a major triumph.

I will most definitely go back there, but next time, I will rely on lessons learned and, instead of just technology, I will use a compass and mark my coordinates. I will bring something to mark my turns (there are large “Vs” painted in red, but they mean to point out any number of exits from the woods, not just my particular location), and always, always, always, carry a weapon of some kind. If I can find a partner, that would be even better.

Here’s to adventure and freedom. Despite the risks, these things are so worth it. 

Dream Two

I dreamt again the other night. In this dream, I was in a town I did not know, visiting a family or a group of people I knew only vaguely. A baby had just been saved from danger — there was a rooftop, perhaps a fire, and harrowing acts of bravery — the details were quite vivid in my dream. The details, however, are nevertheless unimportant. What is important is the man who saved the baby.

He was, of course, considered a hero, and everyone around him was filled with gratitude. Praise for him was on everyone’s lips. He was a minister, not originally from the town, having only just recently arrived.

When I saw him, he was alone in a room in the house I was visiting, seated at a table. Instead of a confident hero, the man I saw was shaking all over with pain. On his face, I could see great anguish.

I went to him, touched his shoulder gently, and asked if I could help him. He looked up at me with such distress in his eyes and huddled there, shivering. He couldn’t speak. He wanted to. Fumbling for a pencil, he managed to grab one from his pocket and, grasping it roughly, scribbled on a piece of paper,

“Sometimes the unfamiliar life…”

He stopped writing, at a loss even for words to write a sentence. I knew what he meant, though. I looked into his eyes and knew. Sometimes, the unfamiliar life is a way to hide from pain. It allows one to be cut off and yet still a part of the world; it enables one to isolate the demons warring in one’s heart and hide them from the outside. He was no longer unfamiliar; hence the pain began to grow. It would not stop.

Problem is, isolation does not work. Sooner or later, we need to become familiar. With someone. We can’t bear pain alone.

Instincts took over, and I found myself stripping. This wasn’t sexual. I had no words that could comfort him; I had only myself. Myself to bare, myself to be made familiar. Once unclothed, I moved in and undid his shirt, maneuvering it off his clenched and shivering body. What I saw was a body riddled with scars and wounds that had healed horribly, leaving great rifts and flaps of flesh that in their own hideousness, seemed to cause him searing and excruciating pain.

Wrapping my arms gently but closely around him, I touched his flesh against mine, bringing our bodies into a warm embrace, chest to chest, stomach to stomach, arm to arm. His head, I cradled under my chin, stroking his unkempt hair softly.

I did not know the source of his pain. I only knew that he was hurting. In his life of hiding in unfamiliar things, It felt right to let him be as familiar as he could be with me. I don’t know why it felt right to do this, but it did.

We sat there a long time, resting, holding, embracing. As his shivering began to subside, I awoke.

No, this story was not about the baby who was saved; it was about the man.

Aha. Insight.

I think I just had an “aha” moment.

I’ve been reading the book,

    Running With the Mind of Meditation

, by Sakyong Mipham. I am only on Chapter Four, which is about motivation. It just so happens that I had also started a guided meditation program using the app, Headspace. Number Four comes into play there too, as today is my fourth day in a ten-day program.

Funny.

I purchased the book because as I prepare to move to Russia, I have been thinking a lot about my running. My thoughts are not so much about why I run, but how am I going to run while I live there. There are the logistics, of course – will the trail be safe or will I have to stick to the neighborhood and gym (please, God, no), when will be a good time for me to go, how on earth am I going to handle the winter, etc. – but there is also the training process. Do I continue with heart rate, or do I step up the intensity? Why worry about it anyway? Why should I even be concerned about training? Do I have to? Well, personally speaking, yes. I’ll explain that in a minute. For what will I train? I am not yet sure. I know what I would like to train for – a particular mountain race – but so far I am not getting much support on that at the family end, so perhaps I need to set my sights on something smaller, something seemingly less daunting in my family’s eyes. Or whatever. Why should it matter which race I pick? The race matters because, whatever my goal is will establish my training plan. If I set my goal to simply focus on the 5ks put on by a group called ParkRunMoscow, for example, my training will look a lot different than a program to prepare for a mountain marathon or ultra.

Here’s where the “why do I have to train?” question comes in. As a runner who has been solo for virtually her entire running life, I often poo-pooed the apparent hyper enthusiasm for racing in our (or any) running sport. Why should I want to race? I don’t really care for buckles and medallions anyway. I am not all that competitive. I just want to run. Why do I need a race to motivate me? I am not so much a goal-oriented person; I’m a process-oriented person. Why should the purpose of running be to compete in a race? Seems so egotistical and narrow-minded.

That is what I used to think. My mind is changing now.

Before I ran my 50k in May, I never really trained or paid attention to strategies or running plans. I sort of followed plans for my two half-marathons, but not really. To follow a specific plan seemed so driven and ambitious. I don’t like to think of myself as an ambitious person (even though, trust me, if I’m passionate about something, I can be doggedly relentless). For the 50k, however, I did train. Not rigidly – I like to say I was more focused rather than disciplined – but I did try to follow a general schedule, paid close attention to advice about heart rate, pace, eating, breathing, etc., and developed a few mantras to guide me when the going got tough. I found that, over time, I began to thoroughly enjoy training for the race goal. It wasn’t the goal so much that made me enjoy it, it simply was the process. My goal was merely the motivator to get me to train. Running the race successfully made me appreciate the training process even more.

Since I finished my race, I’ve been floundering. I am running, of course, but I am not running with the same focus or intensity as I had while preparing for the 50k. I find myself desperately wanting a race to set my sights on so that I can have a purpose to my training.

The race itself, however, is not the purpose. It is just a motivator and a helper.

Does that make sense?

I see a need within myself to race, not because I need it as a purpose to define myself as a runner, or as a purpose because I feel the need to compete, but because I see the value of racing as a helper to what I view as the real purpose of my running: training.

Setting a goal is not the end-all; crossing that finish line is not really what I am about. Developing the strength and fortitude to get out of bed to run, spin, do yoga and strength workouts, and push – that’s what I am about. I am finding that, in order to get the most out of all that, I need a goal to reach for. Why? Because that goal will at least partially dictate how I will train. I can visualize my goal and then visualize how I will go about achieving that goal. I can work to make the visualization reality and, in the process, I can exert myself so that, as I work, I can be transformed.

It’s the transformation that goes on while preparing for a race that is my purpose; not the race itself.

Aha.