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5 Lessons I Learned While Running

Friday, February 1, 2013 by Marianne Elliott

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Last week I told you how returning to running was teaching me to be a beginner again. Here are five other things I’ve learned while running recently.

1. Run easy

One of the core teachings of the yogic texts is on the importance of balancing effort with ease.

Sthira sukham asanam ~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sthira means stable, strong, resolute, while sukham is ease or comfort. This sutra tells us that every yoga posture can be an expression of balance between effort and ease.

Most of us think of running as difficult, and there’s no question it takes effort to get our bodies up and moving. But my quest is to run easy – to find the pace, distance, cadence and stride that give me a sense of moving with the natural flow of my body – and of the terrain around me – rather than fighting against it.

My mission is to run like a yogi: in a perfect balance of effort and ease.

2. Run soft

When I started consciously looking for a balance of effort and ease in my running, one of the first things I noticed was this:

There is more ease in a soft body

It’s not earth-shattering news really, is it? We all know instinctively that tension in our bodies is both a symptom and a cause of excessive effort. Whether we are working against the rhythm and alignment of our body or nature, or simply trying too hard, when we tense up everything gets harder.

So my second lesson – and my second running mantra – is to run soft. Whenever I notice tightness in my shoulders, my jaw or even my forehead as I run, I take a moment to breath a little bit more smoothly and let that little bundle of tension soften.

3. Run light

I didn’t really learn this lesson until I switched to running ‘barefoot’ a couple of years ago. I don’t actually run barefoot, I run in footwear sturdy enough to protect my feet from the hazards of urban roads, but light enough to give me plenty of contact with the ground beneath me.

What difference does it make to my running? First and foremost, I feel the ground. I feel it change from asphalt to gravel to grass, and I adjust my stride to match. I run light. Running barefoot, or in minimal shoes, means it will hurt if I land heavily on a sharp stone. So I’ve learned to run softly, lightly and quietly – if I can hear my footfall I know I’m probably running heavier than I need to.

I feel less like a clumsy human trampling all over Mother Earth, more like a cat. More like the  Tarahumara ultra-running tribe who teach runners to ‘step lightly on the earth’.

4. Run for love (and joy)

One of the most striking things I read in Born to Run was the description – repeatedly throughout the book – of the gleeful, joyful approach some of the greatest runners in the world bring to their runs.

Glee and determination are usually antagonistic emotions, yet the Tarahumara were brimming with both at once, as if running to the death made them feel more alive. … That was the real secret of the Tarahumara, they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. ~ Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

I love to run. Just like I love to write, to read, to dance, to eat chocolate and to spend time with my nephews and nieces (not necessarily in that order). And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from coming back to running is that there’s not point running if you are not loving it.

I’m not saying I never find it hard. There are days when the climb back up our hill feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I know the top of the hill is not the point. My love for running, and the joy it brings me, is the point. So if I can’t feel the joy any more, it might be time to stop the run.

My fourth running mantra: run for love

5. Run kind

I’m an introvert, so one of the appeals of running is that I can do it alone. And I’ll never stop wanting to go out for long runs with just me, the path ahead of me, and the sound of my own breath to keep me company.

But I’m learning the power of running together, running with love not only for the run, but for everyone else on the path with you.

One of my favorite characters in Born to Run was a coach named Vigil who studied the greatest runners we’ve ever seen and found they all had something in common. It wasn’t their stride, their biology or their determination. To Vigil’s surprise, what they had in common was their capacity for kindness, compassion and love.

Case in point: Scott Jurek, one of the most successful ultra-runners of recent history, is famed for winning pretty much every race he ever ran in. But, as I also learned in Born to Run:

Scott was a hero for a very different reason among back-of-the-packers too slow to see him in action. After winning a hundred mile race, desperate for a hot shower and cool sheets, Scott would wrap himself in a sleeping bag and stand vigil by the finish line. When day broke the next morning, Scott would still be there, cheering hoarsely, letting that last, persistent runner know he wasn’t alone.”

Which is, quite frankly, the most inspiring running story I’ve read in a long time.

As it is in running, so it is in yoga.

As it is in yoga, so it is in life.

You may have begun to notice a pattern here. My greatest running lessons are pretty much the same lessons I’ve learned from yoga. And – for that matter – from writing. I’m beginning to think life is less complex than I’d been led to believe. Perhaps yoga, running and writing really are going to teach me the secrets of life. For now I’ll say this much:

Whatever you do, do it easy, soft, light. Do it with joy & love. And be kind.



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