Planting seeds of Gratitude

It’s been an interesting few years with this practice. Yesterday, I was running in Oakville through heat waves, smiling and very hot. One foot after the other, with burning lungs and hot muscles, I moved.  As I reached the end of the mix of trails and roads a door opened up.

Sunset on Lake Ontario Sailing

I had the song “Sacred” running in the background as a mantra of sorts. And it occurred to me as it has many times, that the looking for creates a massive barrier to finding the sacred. It’s so simple it almost seems silly. Assuming it is outside and apart, makes it move further away… Realizing this made me smile and the steps went by one by one.

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Learning the secrets of success

The solution that leads to a successful outcome is often seen as simple and straightforward when inspected in hindsight. But, in the midst of seeking, the answer almost always seems very far away. Why is that?

I was running in the Dundas Valley forest last weekend and was struck with how hard the trails were. I have run them many times and it is always a fresh experience. As I was running up an endless set of hills, it occurred to me how easy it is to get off the track when faced with adversity. It’s been a windy route since Big Sur with many mountains climbed along the way. Below are a few photos from this year’s travels to go with the post.

Water Flowing in BC

It was a hot, humid day in the valley located in Dundas, Ontario and suffice to say a very hard Sunday morning run. I started later than usual and found myself tired before I took the first step along the 19k route that makes up the trail race Sulphur Springs. The fresh smell of the pine trees were fantastic and helped open everything up. Running in a forest like this can be a magical place of discovery and healing.

Despite the beauty of the forest, the run felt really hard. I have run it many times in the past and while there are definitely challenges on this route, today it was different. Successfully getting through the run and managing the mental games along the way was very powerful.

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Being the barrier in the Big Sur Marathon

So far 2014 has been filled with many challenges. Despite the road blocks along the way, I have been able to learn and grow from these moments. It has been a winding road that was not without help from several people (of which I am eternally grateful).

On the road to Big SurI encountered a bit of a minefield leading up to the 30K Around the Bay 2014 road race which was thankfully successfully navigated. This was very fortunate indeed! Not just for the successful race experience itself but also to be able to run well in the Big Sur marathon.

We often look outside of ourselves when faced with challenges in life that are out of our control. In those moments, the unknown can be overwhelming. Equally, it is in these moments that we are able to make the biggest leaps. Providing opportunities where the filters and impediments are revealed for what they are and the dance of life continues in a new direction.

This past April, I was one of a few thousand lucky people to have the opportunity to visit Big Sur in California for the 2014 Big Sur International Marathon. The race sold out within one hour of registration opening and required some quick keystrokes to get registered.

2014 Big Sur International Marathon RouteAs part of the training leading up to this event, I joined a running group called the Connor’s runners. They are a great group of runners together making the impossible possible for many people. The positive energy shared by fellow group members has been really empowering and the group’s mantra of “Be Awesome” is a really awesome way to be. It was fun to train with them through the cold Southern Ontario winter to get ready for the race.

The Big Sur marathon is a point to point run that starts in the redwood forest of Big Sur and travels along Highway 1 all the way up to Carmel. It is billed as one of the more scenic marathons in the world, and as my first travel marathon, this seemed a good place to start.

The Ginger Runner did a great job of video taping the 2014 Big Sur Marathon so for those interested in the Big Sur experience, this is worth a few moments.

Carmel HighlandsFor the last few years, I have been on a journey — in part — to learn how to become a more efficient runner. There are so many different books, magazines and online resources that often can point in different directions. Due to this, it can be difficult to know which perspective is “right”. Through practice and study, I have found that some basic tenants do emerge and I share these below in hopes that it helps provide clarity to other people doing the same.

Pacific Ocean

For the longest time I could not fully understand why there is such reluctance in the running community to educate people on their running form. I am of the mindset that cause and effect can not be ignored and that injuries for the most part, are caused. Its karma unfolding in real time…

Big Sur Redwood ForestSo why not learn from these inefficiencies and avoid getting injured in the future? In the past, when I faced running related challenges, it was a source of disappointment to find so many running books and other resources lacking on providing the answers I was seeking.

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Running back to the basics moment by moment

An old oak tree in Bronte Creek Provincial ParkI have had the great pleasure of being part of many fantastic runs this fall in Ontario. The weather has been quite magnificent! Some of these runs were in Bronte Creek Provincial Park, others on the Oakville trails, and a number of them at some local and not so local races. During a recent short run, I became acutely aware that my focus on form — which I have been developing over the last year — needed to naturally return back to the basics.

Over the last year, I have been working through an in-balance in my posture while running.  This in-balance was the main reason for my outer knee injury and it led me to a subsequent overhaul of my running style. There were numerous clues to the problem I was having; such as a sore and tight IT band, a sore hip and most importantly a locked SI joint.

A trail in Bronte Creek Provincial ParkThis investigation led me to a focus on my spinal alignment as a contributing factor to my knee issue. The source of the problem — an in-balance in my sacrum and spine — seems to be a reason for some back trouble I have had over the years. Ironically, this back issue was one of the main reasons that galvanized me to get started on this path. I have come full circle in forward steps and backward steps.

The following notes represent guide posts staked in the ground along this winding path.

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Acceptance in Running

On the verge of running the Mississauga Marathon on Sunday May 15, 2010, I thought it was a good time to take stock of a few of the lessons I have learned along the way to the race. There have been many hurdles to get to a point of being ready and I am very glad and thankful to be mostly healthy and ready to run.

Last summer, after returning from running some fantastic runs in Europe and Kenya, I unfortunately injured my knee while running on a narrow trail in Bronte Provincial Park. I realized, just before it happened, that the narrowing path might be a problem. I was feeling great and I only had 6k to go of my 26k run, so I decided to keep going. My misstep in foot placement and judgement led to a number of months of recovery, and ultimately many worthwhile changes.

A good part of the recovery time was filled with trying to find the source of the problem. I tried very hard to determine exactly where I was injured. I did not want to make the problem worse and I was still holding out hope all my previous training was not in vain.

There were a lot of unknowns in this search to get a healthy knee again. While running in the hills outside of Nairobi, I was lamenting that my right knee (which gave me IT-band issues in the spring) was not as strong as my now-injured left knee. There was a certain irony in the fact that a week later I was now unable to run at all.

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Create a Garmin Running Course from MapMyRun

I decided to follow up with my original blog post titled “Create Garmin Forerunner Course from GMaps” with the steps to do the same in MapMyRun. The goal of this exercise is to provide an easy way to create a course on your Garmin Forefunner watch that you have never run before. This is really great when you plan on going travelling and have mapped out a course in advance for your enjoyment.

This method requires a few less steps and I generally like the mapping tool better on MapMyRun (Classic) compared to the GMaps mapping.

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The bouncing of body mass during running

Bouncing Ball

MichaelMaggs Edit by Richard Bartz

While I was preparing for my next race, I was researching the theory I have about my stiffer shoes causing issues with my running style. I was finding the shoes meant to help with a flat foot were actually impacting the way I was able to run in a negative manner.

I became very used to the feeling of the arch as it helps to transfer energy in the process of running in my softer shoes and originally in shoes not designed for running. The irony of the situation is that the shoes designed for running for my foot type seem to be the wrong type of shoe to use.

During running the arch has been shown to store and release approximately 17% of the energy created during each impact of the foot (“The spring in the arch of the human foot.” by Ker Et. Al Nature 325: 147-149, 1987). The arch functions much like a spring. That is a very interesting analogy to consider as this could be one additional point of focus for increasing running efficiency.

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Reflections, Shades of Light and Running Style

The sun's rays highlight the beauty of this farmAs the days are getting longer, I am now enjoying running in the daylight again. Many of my training runs take place in the early evening and for the winter this has meant in darkness. One of the experiences I have missed over the past four months is to enjoy the sunset while running.

As I was running a few days ago, I recognized how much my love for running sprang from the experiences I had in my early evening runs last summer. The vibrant and clarity the sun’s rays highlights the beauty of the world present during running. As often is the case when the sun starts to set, it provides illumination in spots based on how it filters through the trees and bushes.

By appreciating the way the light cast onto the trees, grass and  bushes, the mindset that naturally arises set the stage for a very satisfying run. The process I started was to simply mentally note the clarity of the land — the glowing land — all around me. By focusing on a general area of the path in the direction I was running I was able to appreciate it for what it is. I gently allowed the inner dialog to subside and to simply be in the present moment. This provided a great place from which to practice running samadhi.

It was so very nice to experience the glowing world as I enjoyed my weekly easy run.I was able to continue to test some of the running techniques I have used as once the space for mindful running is opened it is quite easy to gently move the focus to the motion of running after the sun has set. Over this past weekend I completed a 1/2 marathon simulation of 6 miles easy, 5 miles fast and 2 miles easy. At the end of the run I almost matched my previous Chilly 1/5 Marathon race time with a fraction of the effort required.  My new schedule is proceeding well and I am enjoying the structured intervals I have added to my training.

Recently, I was quite interested to see video of Haille Gebrselassie that shows how his hips do not drop when running (see the analysis at around the 2:00 point in the video).  As I have been slowly returning back to the way I ran when I first started I found this video to be quite interesting indeed: I am now trying to contact the the ground directly underneath my body on the front of the foot. In the video there is one point where the commentator points out that Haille’s hips do not drop when he runs. In the last two weeks I have been experimenting with how this impacts overall efficiency of my running and I am quite happy with the results so far.  It seems to really make a difference when running with a level pelvis but it clearly requires strong abdominal oblique muscles . The goal I have set for myself for the Mississauga 1/2 Marathon coming up in just under 2 months is to be able to run a 1/2 Marathon in this style of running by turning over my feet at a faster cadence so the actual force of the body is no longer striking the ground as hard while maintaining a level pelvis. This style makes for some very quiet running.

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How each step is received makes a difference

As I prepare to run in the Chilly 1/2 marathon tomorrow, I have been enjoying a period of a bit more rest to ensure I am fully ready for the race. The weather could not be better for this time of year with the forecast expected to be a high of 9’C and sunny tomorrow. During this week of maintenance running, I was thinking about how my mood has a big impact on the way I experience a run.

If I am in a bad mood, the running typically seems more laboured and requires additional focus and energy to maintain a set pace. Conversely, if I am in a good mood, the running is usually relatively easy and often feels effortless. Part of the reasoning for such a discrepancy seems to be how a particular mood filters how the experience is received. In simple terms it is like having many different shades of sunglasses, each with its own ability to colour the experience in a negative or positive light.

When I start out for a run on a cold day, sometimes I find that the feeling of the cold is not welcomed. When this happens, the cold is seen as a negative stimulus. Conversely, if the same cold is embraced and welcomed then it can be quite a positive experience. It is becoming clear how predisposed we really are to seeing the world though our filters. When the experience is not welcomed, which often happens when one is in a bad mood, it make the experience less likely to be one which is positive. If the experience is embraced fully, it can become quite positive.

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One step, One Mind. Quiet Steps, Quiet Mind.

Footsteps in the Sand - Photo by Dan FoyI was discussing with two running colleagues about their how training was proceeding on my run Saturday February 20, 2010. One of the points that seemed to be most prevalent was the necessity of personal experience to determine what works best at a certain point in training.

One runner mentioned that he found the advice on running techniques can be very specific to a certain training level. The focus of his point being that advice may or may not be of value to another runner and the experience of what is most helpful is necessary. It reminds me of the necessity of experience as a basis to running samadhi, especially the teachings of Nagarjuna are easier understood through the study of mindfulness. The determination to complete the race is quite the same as that needed to sit in Zazen for long amounts of time.

Since I am in the final stretch of preparing for the Chilly 1/2 Marathon in Burlington,I have taken some time to reflect on the different techniques I have worked with to help improve my running speed and style. It has become clear that the mind has a very important capacity to support or deter progress on the road. When doubt is allowed to be in the forefront of the mind it can have a very negative impact on performance.

In watching the mogul freestyle skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics a number of athletes were asked the questions about what they were thinking and doing just before their turn and while they were going down the hill. Most of the questions attempted to find out more about the experience and their state of mind before their winning run.One common answer was the individual was focused on getting into the proper  mind state for their performance which included using music. The next answer which naturally followed was to focus on what needed to be done. Much like in running one step at a time, the process of the event was broken down into elements making the entire process not so  daunting.  Lastly, the confidence level exhibited by the winning athletes was clearly evident and doubt was not.

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