Friday, October 13, 2017

On injury, ultra running and a "higher power"

I like the term "higher power". Not only does it not impose any belief system, but also saying "I believe in a higher power" does not even have to imply that you believe in a creative principle at work in the universe. It can quite simply mean that you recognize that there are forces at work over which you have no control. And that, to me, is fundamental. Hurricanes, earthquakes, accidents, etc. are obvious examples, but there are events that occur daily in our lives over which we have no control - recognizing them for what they are, and differentiating between those events and others over which we may exert some control is the difficult part.

Relationships are one example. There are elements in a relationship where we can play an active part in making sure that the relationship goes well; and then there are aspects of a person's personality, or their emotions, that we just have to accept - by not trying to change them, through better understanding, by looking at things from their perspective.
I admittedly have a long way to go to reach this ideal!

But I do believe that ultra running has really helped me learn that there are times - and even in identifying those moments - in life when we should just let go. That our ego and need to control is getting in the way of peace, serenity, acceptance... When you are suffering in an ultra, you are required to figure what you can do to help solve the problem, and when you just have to accept the pain and just keep moving on to the finish. When that happens, when you give in to the suffering and accept it as part of the ultra experience - that's when you realize what the body and mind are capable of, and a sense of peace that comes with no longer punishing yourself for something you can't control makes the ultra experience a quasi-mystical one.

So that said, in addition to a returning plantar fasciitis I am now suffering from sciatica which came on abruptly on Tuesday afternoon when I stood up from my desk. Just as I was coming to the end of a month's break from running, have joined a gym to do some strengthening and alternate exercise on a step machine and bike, and am about to get back to what I really love next week. But I can't. So I can mope about it, which I will try and do as little of possible; I can do what I can to solve the problem - acupuncture, physio, whatever... But at the same time, rather than dwell on my inability to get back to running, I am telling myself that it is what it is and ultimately this is the best possible time for it to occur - no big events on the horizon, plenty of time to get back in the game even in a month's time...

Why run ultras? They can provide a sense of perspective and fortitude in the face of the unexpected twists and turns of life. "Life is what happens when you're making other plans" sang John Lennon (or something to that effect) - and in ultras, nothing ever really goes according to the best laid plans. So you adjust and accept, and in doing really connect with that "higher power". A very powerful experience.
Of course, there's the real danger that ultra running can turn you into a self-centered narcissist. Read the early pages of Marshall Ulrich Running on Empty... When running becomes paramount, when we squeeze in that planned "crucial" training run at the expense of the family, despite requests not to do so, because some huge challenge looming ahead is all we can think or talk about, and if we don't do that run, oh my God, the whole race is compromised, if we stop not just listening to others but not even hearing them because nothing is as interesting as our running... Then it's really not worth it.
But hey, let's focus on the positive!

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