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.

Over the last year, I have enjoyed reading and working on integrating techniques from “Chi Running” by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer, “Barefoot Running Step By Step” by Barefoot Ken Bob and Roy Wallack, “Run for Life” by Roy Wallack and lastly “Daniels’ Running Formula” by Jack Daniels. All of these books contain valuable knowledge to offer someone who is looking to work on their running technique. For me this has not been an easy process but step by step I have been seeing promising results. I found out of all of these books that “Chi Running” provided the most comprehensive look at posture and structure; this was something I was looking for as I have been working on my running form (one that leaves the body with no lasting long term damage or injury). All of these books provide some valuable insights but as with many things the real solution can only be truly be found in the moment. This process requires mental, physical focus and a deep love for this process of discovery.

Oak Leaves on a sunny November day in Hamilton, OntarioWhile continuing to develop my running form, I have also been continuing my development of mindful noting as an inherent part of my running. It has become clear from this that the intention of the action is critical in how this practice is experienced and integrated in every day life. This is one big reason why these thoughts are just guide posts; the division will never be recognized if one is blind to the reality of the here and now. This seems easier said than done with so many distractions to entangle us.

While participating in the Hamilton half marathon on Nov 6, 2011, I reached a point in the run around the 15k mark when the magnificence of a sunny fall day was all encompassing. The wind was blowing the golden leaves from east to west. The reflection of the sun was all present on the world around. Lake Ontario was glowing as it was revealed towards the end of the race . It was simply a perfect day to celebrate being in the moment.

Maple tree at the edge of Lake OntarioLike all experiences, these words do not capture the essence of this reality.  What a magnificent moment in time! From this experience and many that came before it, the importance of every moment became crystal clear.

While running,  the vibrant world all around is so much harder to box up into tidy little pieces. We can certainly easily obscure it, as I often do, but the opportunity is and always has been available for the “taking”. Without the framework of boxing and endless analysis, the beauty of every moment is ever present.

The heuristics we all employ to manage the volumes of information act as filters on our how we experience the world.  And in doing so we chop up reality and the moment is lost. I have been finding that with active and sometimes strenuous running these filters can be circumvented. The opportunity for this realization clearly exists in each moment.

A stream in Georgetown, OntarioOn a recent night run, I found myself on winding forest trail which was only lit by the moonlight. It was hard to see but I found with complete present focus the path ahead was revealed. In a similar fashion, engaging in mindful practice while running reveals a path that is always right in front of us: it only requires being present with one step at a time. And once you are present, the simple beauty of how the sun shines on the autumn landscape is fully revealed. And, in hearing the rustling of a pine tree in the wind,  a deep and ever present connection with the `natural` world springs forth.

One big challenge on this path, is that it is so easily obscured by filters. We are bogged down with conditioning and heuristics that serve us well but also get in the way and make us lost.

“In the mundane, nothing is sacred. The mundane becomes a filter through which all the things are seen. And in such a filter, sacredness is hidden. You can’t see it. You can’t see beets with a red filter. It just cancels them out. But you can see anything that is green very nicely….  When the filter is gone, equanimity is restored, and things are no longer separated into this and that. When you understand sacredness, then nothing, nothing is mundane.” — Daido Roshi, 2005 in the audio dharma discourse about the koan Linji Plants Pines titled “A Landmark for Future Generations.

“You waste the moment and you waste your life” — Zen Master Daido Roshi, 2005

Running in an forest in WaterdownI always think of my children when I hear that statement. Every so often an experience we are sharing leads to one of them saying, “Daddy, i’m bored”. My immediate reply is that state of boredom is because of a lack of attention; they are missing the beauty of what is right before them. When we filter the world to the point where we are bored, we are truly blind and missing our lives. Hopefully, they both have a lot of time on this planet to ultimately recognize this; happiness is only realized in the moment.

What is so incredibly beautiful about the above statement is the doors it can open in the mind. Investigating this reveals that every moment in time offers us an endless opportunity to see the true value of nature. The simple beauty of an oak leaf sitting on the ground. The magnificence of a purple finch on a frigid morning as the sun is rising. Each second we have provides us with an opportunity to recognize and be present in the moment. Running — in its essence — provides an ideal vehicle in which to see this.

View from the escarpment at Mount Nemo, Hamilton OntarioThis is not something that can be grasped at. I experienced this truth first hand in 1999 when I was outside in Toronto on a beautiful Spring day; I grabbed the moment to analyze it and in an instant it was gone. Further grasping only pushed it farther away and boxed it up. How we relate to the experience has such a dramatic impact on how it is received. It is with tiny steps that I humbly move along this path.

So with this in mind I have been making each step worthwhile, respectful and one with the land that passes below me. To accomplish this while running, it seems so clear the necessity of being present and one with the energy that flows through the body. To do this in an efficient manner requires perfection in posture, timing and in mind. And, it can not be rushed.

Moss growing on a rock near the Bruce Trail in HamiltonI stumbled on to this in my many attempts to run in such a way does not fight the road in front of me. After struggling with my injury last year, I started over and today moment by moment I begin again. Last year, I learned about how bad posture and misalignment can wear out our bodies over time; In the book “Run for Life” by Roy M. Wallack there was a story by Sally Edwards who wore out parts of her back over time. What a shock! Based on a number of different sources in studying the matter, it became clear to me that running itself does not create the problems. It is in the misalignment and bad posture / form that often leads to injuries and ultimately may wear down the body over time.

A forest in winter - Georgetown, OntarioSo with this knowledge I have been striving to ensure that when I run I do it in a manner that avoids these pitfalls. I have simply have no business running otherwise. This has led me to explore more natural styles of running: ones that remove the barrier to learn how to reduce the shock between the body and the ground.

Running barefoot is a great way to learn how to land. By dulling the sensation and covering up the pain we can miss an important opportunity to detect and correct issues in running form. Ignoring or worse never being aware of this vital feedback might lead to injury and worse debilitation.

The more we strike the ground, the more we are separated from it. It is our separation with the world around us that hinders our ability to truly value every moment we have left.

The sun shining on an Oakville trailIronically, in the effort to perfect my form and run better it became so easy to miss that which is right in front of me. In running back to the basics,  some steps are forward and many have been backward, but all are valuable. So with this in mind (and out of mind),  I continue on this journey.

It is so easy to get caught up in the planning and goals in life that we can easily miss this simple truth. I am truly grateful to be alive and able to celebrate life in such ways. Over many thousands of steps, it has become clear that before me lies a beautiful path. It requires no ornament, dogma or exclusion. Through acceptance we become open to it.

This path is so simple and so very beautiful. It`s just this….

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