I just returned from running the race of a lifetime in LasVegas and I want to turn my reflections on the experience into the LifeTrek Provisionthat never happened over the weekend. For those of you who have no interest inrunning, I apologize. Rest assured, however, there are lessons to be learnedhere for us all.
A quick reconnaissance of my running “career.” I ran acouple of marathons in the early to mid 1980s (both in Chicago) but I did notrun them competitively. They were fundraisers for a local low-income housingdevelopment group that I had been instrumental in founding. People made pledgesper mile, and I finished both marathons in more than 5 hours: approximately5:15 if my memory serves me correctly.
From there I got lazy and fat, at least when it came toself-care. By the time I left the pastoral ministry more than 2 years ago, Ihad mushroomed up to 232 pounds with borderline hypertension, blood chemistry,and BSP. “If this doesn’t change in six months,” the doctor, “we’re going tostart trying medication.”
That’s when I got serious about losing weight and running,although I never thought of running marathons at the beginning. At 5’10” and232 pounds, marathons are not an appealing thought. But as I changed my diet,supplement, and exercise regimens, the lust for running began to grow. Ifinished my first competitive marathon in November of 1998 in about 3 hours and56 minutes.
That’s when the dream began. Running could become alifestyle rather than a passing fad. And with a little effort (OK, with a lotof effort), I could maybe, just maybe, improve my time enough to qualify forthe legendary (at least in runners’ circles) Boston marathon. So I set out onthe journey, not really believing I would ever reach my destination. But I knewthere was only one way to find out: one mile at a time.
Since then I have run some 2,000 miles including 4 moremarathons. Each marathon was faster than the next: 3:46, 3:28, and 3:26. But Ineeded 3:25 to qualify for Boston. During the Columbus marathon in 1999, oneyear after my first competitive marathon, I ran with great determination andintensity. I was wired, literally. With my running watch controlling my paceand my heart rate monitor giving me constant feedback as to when I was in thezone, I felt more like a robot than a runner. It was fun but not exactly free,and I didn’t exactly make my goal of a sub-3:25 marathon.
That’s when tragedy (OK, I’m being melodramatic) struck. 5hours after the Columbus marathon, I injured my left foot while walking up thestairs to my backdoor. It never hurt enough to make me stop running, but it wasa deep bruise and one thing led to another. Running on a sore foot led tomuscle problems and eventual knee problems. My dream of running a sub-3:25marathon in Las Vegas was fading fast. By the end of 1999, I could tell that myconstant pushing was proving to be counter-productive and the exact opposite ofwhat I needed.
In consultation with my mentor coach (thank you,Christine!), I made the decision to let go of the push. In fact, I decided tolet go of running the Las Vegas marathon altogether. If running was to become alifestyle rather than a passing fad, this one race was not that important –regardless of what it might mean or might not mean to Boston. (One thing thatmade decision that easier was Boston’s decision to let me in on the basis of my3:26 marathon • there is still grace in the world • but that was still not myinternal goal and I still felt the internal pressure to beat 3:25.)
Once I let go of Las Vegas I could begin to do what I neededto do in order to heal. I began an intensive massage-therapy regimen (thankyou, Nick!). I took time off from running (the hardest letting go of all).<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>• And I made the decision to run Las Vegas, ifI ran it at all, without my watch, without my heart rate monitor, and withoutexpectations. This race, were it to happen, was to be run from within. Idecided, as my coach reminded me, to let go, and let God.
In the 10 days leading up to the race, I could tell thingshad begun to shift. I still would not have put my foot or my knee at 100%, butsubtle changes in pace and effort began to make me think the race could happenand happen well. My only anxiety? Was my cross-training enough to handle a fullmarathon? The only way to find out was to start at the beginning and run likethe wind • one mile at a time.
Race day came and everything was perfect. Perfect weather.Perfect wind. Perfect course. Slightly up hill for the first 9 miles. Slightlydown hill for the next 10 miles. Then relatively flat to the finish. The onlystruggle was my commitment to run without my watch. I had never done thatbefore and the thought of it made me feel a bit naked. “What are you reallyafraid of?” my coach asked the week before. “That I’d run the race of my life,”I answered, “and not know how I did it after it was over.” All we could do waslaugh about my answer.
But during the week before the race it became apparent to methat that really was the issue for me. It was not about running the race fromwithin. It was about losing the joy, after it was all over, of looking back onthe race mile by mile and savoring the moments. So I came up a new solutionthat worked perfectly for me: I decided to wear my watch with the face coveredover with gray tape. That way I could record my miles, and have my fun later,without becoming enslaved to the fears and fantasies of running too fast orrunning too slow mile by mile.
It worked like a charm. I knew something was up the daybefore when I ran a couple of warm up miles, and the second one was aneffortless 6:58. Sub-7-minute miles are never effortless for me, but this onecame from a different place. This one came from within. So too was the entiremarathon: an effortless 26.2 miles. It was, literally, a thing of beauty andwonder. I say that without taking any credit. I was in the race but not of therace. There were times when I saw myself running more than doing the running.It was an out-of-body experience.
For many miles I had no idea the pace I was running: theydid not have pace clocks every mile and there was watch to look at. There werealso no crowds and no music. So I looked at the mountains and the skyinstead.• It was a glorious day ofbright sunshine and mild temperatures. God could not have painted a moreperfect picture.
When I reached the halfway point, I began to have an inklingthat something was up. The clock said 1:37:45. I found that hard to believesince that was faster than the fastest half-marathon I had ever run in my life.But there it was. And I still had another half-marathon to go. Had I known howfast I was running, had I been running from without (my watch) rather thanrunning from within (my heart), I would have slowed myself down. But, instead,I just let myself go.
Megan, my wife, was certainly critical to my success (thankyou, Megan!). Three times during the race she gave me a 20-ounce water bottle.In addition to the paper cups at the water stops, these water bottles kept mehydrated as never before. I drank more than a half-gallon of water during therace itself. And they didn’t slow me down. They preserved my energy for thosetough final miles.
As I ran I kept my tongue in the yogic position: on theridge in front of the palette behind the front two teeth. This position, ratherthan an open gaping mouth, slowed down my breathing and, I believe, my heartrate. Yogic traditions teach that the yin and the yang of the body, the maleand female energies, come together at this precise point. Touching the tonguecompletes the circuit, so to speak, providing untold balance and blessing. Icertainly had that experience on Sunday. As mile faded into mile, I foundmyself saying, “This is way too easy.” And it was. Energy was flowing throughme that I was not controlling. It was the present perfect.
As we got closer to the city, for we had started 26.2 milesout in the desert, the race leveled out and we began to run on streets markedoff with fluorescent orange cones. As if my dream race wasn’t enough, I noticedalmost immediately that every single cone, every 20 or 30 meters, had imprintedon them in large black capital letters: TM. Now I don’t know what thedepartment of streets and sanitation meant by those letters, but as a personwho’s spent most of his life being called Bob T-M (because people can’t orwon’t pronounce Tschannen-Moran) I immediately had to laugh. “This race belongsto me,” I thought, as another cone labeled TM went whizzing by.
Contrary to the wishes of Hal Higdon and those who believein reverse splits, I did slow down in the second half of the race. Partly I wasjust having too much fun. After a 1:37:45 first half, I knew I had my goal ofbreaking 3:25 in the bag. And I didn’t want to hurt myself for the real prizecome April, the Boston marathon. With so few fans on the street, I took tothanking those few individuals who did something, anything, special: whether itwas music or some other diversion. “I am eternally grateful,” was the simplethought that passed through my mind as I ran those final six miles. “Gratefulto be alive, grateful to be running, grateful to be here.”
I finished the marathon in 3:18:43 improving my Columbustime by more than 8 minutes. Had anyone suggested that was possible even weeksbefore, as I continued to nurse my sore knee and foot, I would have laughedwith wonder and amazement. But there it was, on the clock, as I came sprintingin at the finish. I had never felt better at the end of a marathon in my life.It was truly an effortless experience. And it all went by so fast. And yes,Christine, I have truly enjoyed looking back on my splits and marveling at howit all happened.
How do we reach our goals in life? There’s more than onelesson to be learned in the story of my race. We need to let go and let God. Weneed to stop pushing so hard and to start allowing the energy to flow throughus. We need to see the beauty and the signs that are all around us. Most ofall, we need to be eternally grateful: grateful to be alive, grateful to befree, grateful to able. We are marvelous expressions of the mystery ofcreation. With each and every person, God works a miracle. God expresses andexplores yet another aspect of the divine personality. God makes peace with theuniverse.
I hope you will forgive this excessively long LifeTrek Provision.But, as you can tell, the story is still rich and full inside me even as myquads ache with the joy of a race well run. Soon I’ll be hitting the streetsagain, this time getting ready the granddaddy of them all on April 17.<spanstyle=”mso-spacerun: yes”=””>• I won’t really be running Boston with anyparticular time in mind. As one person said, “You’ve worked so hard just to getto the starting line. You may as well enjoy the experience.” Enjoy the race,indeed. The race of life is no different.
One thing for sure: when the gun goes off in Boston, therewill be a piece of gray tape on my running watch and a song in my heart. Itwill be a great day, for sure.
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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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