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. In watching the Olympics, I also recognized some similarities between the act of running and mogul skiing in how to handle energy. It was clear the best competitors were highly skilled in being able to control the energy generated and use it to their advantage as they went down the hill. Watching how they bounced off each mogul also got me thinking about downhill running. These athletes provide a great visual example of a plyometric exercise.

From what I have seen so far, training the body through plyometric exercise can be an effective way to become a more efficient runner. Part of the reasoning behind this seems to be that running downhill can help build the fast twitch muscle fibers necessary for increasing speed at the same time as training the neuromuscular system to handle the load. The key seems to be to use all of the energy generated to help to propel the body forward. Just as a flowing stream does not “fight” the rock in its path,  each step should be taken to help the body propel forward  without wasted energy striking the ground needlessly.

Two months ago I stumbled across an article from 2004 by Eric Armstrong which details his experience with this technique. I am still exploring this as part of my training. If you are looking to add this to your training please ease into this to ensure you do not get injured. I usually only implement this technique when I am fully warmed up. Each and every step taken efficiently saves energy over a long run and clearly makes a big difference in how the body feels during the run. I find that for me this is really helping in many facets of my training including making my steps easier and quiet.

One of the main reasons for me wishing to develop this technique is to develop the foundations for running samadhi. By running in tune with the environment provides the space for it to naturally arise. It can not be grasped and the more one fights, avoids or is averse to current physical conditions the harder it is to realize. I hope to have many future opportunities to practice the one step, one mind method. For all runners on a similar path, I hope you too are able to enjoy the experience of quiet steps, and a quiet mind.

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