Last Sunday I ran another marathon, although this one was unlike any marathon I had ever run. This one was part of a much-longer training run that my friend, Jim, and I had concocted for ourselves. Could we finish? Having never run this far before, I frankly had no idea. But we did have a plan and the experience proved to be unique beyond compare. Once again, there were so many life lessons learned along the way that I could not keep from sharing a few of them with you for your own trek of life.
OK, it’s time for me to come out of the closet on something that’s been brewing for quite a while: on Saturday, April 8, 2006 I will be running the Bull Run 50-Miler in northern Virginia. You can view the description of the race at their Website: www.vhtrc.org/brr. The race is pitched as a classic Civil War battle between the North and the South, with each runner having to pick whether they are on the Union or Confederate side.
Given my doubts about the prospect of successfully running such a distance, I was hard pressed to pick my side. Should I sign up for the side I wanted to win? Or should I sign up for the side I wanted to lose? Should I sign up for the region of my birth? Or should I sign up for the region where I now live? Should I take a stand on principle? Or should I just fill out the application, without taking the whole thing so seriously?
So many decisions before we ever get to the starting line! The actual decision to run this race was made many months ago, when Jim, a high-school friend of mine, challenged me to get serious about our talk to run an ultramarathon. At one time, we thought it might be a fitting way to celebrate our 50th birthdays • 1 mile for every year. Unfortunately, we waited too long for that and there are no 51-Milers to be found (unless, of course, we decide to tack on an extra mile at the end of this one).
The Bull Run 50-Miler was chosen last fall, due to its date and proximity. The date gave us enough time to prepare, but not so much time to chicken out. The location made it easy both for us and for family members (our SAG • Support and Gear • team) to get to the event. All that remains is the small matter of actually running 50 miles.
To my delight and surprise, the training has gone far better than I had any reason to expect. You may remember my recent saga at the Lost Dutchman Marathon in Arizona Click. After a two-month break from running, to let a soft-tissue injury fully heal, I ran that marathon with less than a month of real training. Although I finished the race, it was more of a struggle than usual and it made me question my ability to go almost twice that distance at the Bull Run 50-Miler.
But as in eating an elephant, one bite at a time, I knew there was only one way to get ready for a 50-Mile (or 65-Kilometer) race in April: one step, one mile, and one day at a time. At first, the way back was slow going. It was my cardio-vascular endurance, more than my muscle strength, that had been most impacted by the two-month layoff. I could feel it when I did interval training. Talk about sucking wind! And I wasn’t even going fast, at least in terms of what I was used to.
I knew that this too would pass, and within weeks I was able to build up my mileage using the Jeff Galloway method of run-walking every mile. 4:2 has proven to be both a sustainable and an enjoyable pattern. Run for four minutes, then walk for two minutes. Doing that for two hours, four hours, six, eight, and ten hours adds up to 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 miles respectively. So that is what I’ve been doing in my spare time in recent weeks, when I wasn’t coaching people, facilitating Appreciative Inquiry processes, teaching classes, giving speeches, entertaining guests, or writing Provisions.
Last Sunday, Jim and I did our final long training run before the big event — 40 miles in 8 hours. To make it more fun, we decided to incorporate the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia into our course. Starting at 4:30 in the morning, we ran about 14 miles to get to the starting line of the marathon and then ran the marathon to finish with our target mileage. Although I have now run 33 marathons, this experience was unique beyond compare. It was my own race, with my own rules and my own goals, generating a measure of freedom and pride that I have not always felt.
My Own Race
Although we were mindful of the marathon start time, it was a relatively insignificant part of our day. Jim and I started at 4:30 AM with plans to run 40 miles in 8 hours. The fact of the marathon was more of a curiosity than a compulsion. I had mapped out a course from our hotel room to the start of the marathon, with some sense of how long it would take us to get there. But if we had arrived 15 minutes earlier or later, it would have been irrelevant. We were running our race; not their race.
That’s not to say we were not thrilled to arrive right on schedule. We had just enough time to take a short break, to get ready, and to experience the swell of the crowds pushing to the starting line. But it was their starting line, not ours. We had registered for the race, and we were wearing our bib numbers and electronic timing chips, but that was just to be fair to those from whom we would be taking water, sports drink, and energy along the way. We had no intention of getting caught up in the mentality of their race.
To my delight, it worked. More than ever before, I ran this race as a participant-observer rather than as just a participant. I did more looking around and more thinking about the meaning of life than I often find time for during a marathon. I was, in a word, more mindful of what was going on. I was in the race, but not of the race. I was in their world, but not of their world.
What a good way to live! We should all be participant-observers more often. To quote the famed running-philosopher George Sheehan, “You win, the experts agree, if the game is played in your rhythm. You lose if it isn’t. Every basketball fan knows that. ‘We put on the press,’ a coach once told me, ‘not so much to create turnovers, but to upset our opponent’s rhythm. To get them moving and not thinking.’ Most basketball fans know that, too.”
“But how many of us know that the same thing is happening in our lives every day? How many of us see that we are letting someone else set the rhythm of our lives, or that we face the equivalent of the Boston Celtic full-court press when we get out of bed each morning?”
“The clock is where it all starts. This mechanical divider of time controls our action, imposes our workday, and tells us when to eat and sleep. The clock makes every hour just an hour. It makes no distinctions between morning and afternoon. Aided by electric daylight, it doles out apparently equal minutes and seconds until The Late Show. And then, Good night.”
“The artist, especially the poet, has always known this to be wrong. He knows that time shortens and lengthens, without regard to the minute hand. Knows that we have (inside us) a beat foreign to this Greenwich metronome. Knows also there is an ebb and flow to the day that escapes the clock, but not us. And realizes that this rhythm, this tempo, is something peculiar to each individual, as personal and unchanging as his or her fingerprints.”
That’s what happened for me and to me during the Shamrock Marathon. I was setting the rhythm, not them. I was setting my own peculiar tempo based upon my plan and real-time feedback. While others were just starting, I was one-third done. While others were hitting the wall, I was long past the wall. While others were pushing to qualify for Boston, I was pushing to see if I had anything left at the end.
What fun to design and run your own race! It is both exhilarating and challenging to seize not only the day, but the hour, the minute, and the moment. It is, in many respects, the secret of flow. Not to meet someone else’s challenge, not to measure up to someone else’s expectations, but to accept a challenge and to measure up to expectations of one’s own making. True to Bandura’s theories on self-efficacy, the more we own the challenge and the expectations, the higher we set the bar. One mastery experience leads to another until we suddenly find ourselves running distances and accepting challenges we may have heretofore never attempted or even imagined.
What a metaphor for the long run of life! In every human endeavor, whether it’s going to work or going to school, whether it’s raising a budget or raising a family, we can set our own challenges and expectations. That’s not to say we can avoid the challenges and expectations of others. It would have been wrong, for example, for Jim and I to have been disruptive to the race just because we were on a different quest. But by staying within certain bounds we were able to run a race within a race • and that made all the difference.
I have always had a knack for creating my own projects and setting my goals. There are no shortages of challenges and expectations for me to play with and meet. I am naturally curious and self-directed in motivation. Even something as simple as mowing the lawn can be turned into a work of art. Even getting this newsletter out, in and around my other commitments, has become a game I both appreciate and enjoy. Being in the race but not of the race last Sunday reinforced the value and the opportunity of approaching life in this way.
My Own Rules
This was probably the most fun part of running my own race. Within the bounds of not being disruptive to other runners and of not being unfair to the race organizers and volunteers, I was completely free to make up and to follow my own rules of the road.
I decided when the race would start (at 4:30 AM). I decided when the race would end (after 40 miles). I even decided when the clock would be running and when the clock would stop. This would, of course, be unheard of if I was running their race. In their race, they decide when it starts (at 7:30 AM), when it ends (after 26.2 miles), and the clock never, ever stops. They want to measure how long it takes up to get from the start line to the finish line, stops and all.
As a result, when you are running their race and playing according to their rules, you never want to stop at all if you can help it and if you must stop you want it to be for as short a period of time as possible. Need water? Grab a glass and go, while running or walking your way through the maze of cups and volunteers. Need to find a toilet? Heaven forbid! If you must, then avoid lines and get done as quickly as possible. Everything is rush-rush-rush when you play by their rules, which is how I usually run my races.
Not this time! This time, according to my rules, the clock stopped when I stopped, and the clock started when I started. That way I could stay on my 4:2 pattern without missing a beat. What a liberating way to go through a race! I could care less as to when we stopped, how often we stopped, or how long we stopped. Even though I was following my 4:2 pattern, I was completely oblivious to the metronome of chip time. The only metronome that mattered was my own.
As I approached the finish line of the marathon, I literally had no idea what the clock would say. Since they had not thrown me off the course, I knew it would be less than 7-hour time limit. But beyond that, I had not been paying attention to their clock. You can imagine my delight, then, when the clock said 5:14. Not bad for the last 26 miles of a 40-miler! Especially considering that I ran the last mile in about nine minutes. I marveled out loud as to how I did not feel any different than I usually do at the end of a marathon. Here’s to going slower and the 4:2 pattern!
Let this be so in our everyday lives as well. Let us work and play, study and learn, according to our own rules, not the rules of others. It’s possible. As long as we fit our rules along side their rules, without being disruptive, unfair, or inconsiderate, we can become masters of our experience.
My Own Goals
The same can be said for goals as for rules. My goals were to finish, to maintain my energy, to enjoy my experience, to stay with Jim for at least most of the race, and to not interfere with my training, by way of getting injured, for the 50-miler in the weeks ahead. All those goals were met or exceeded. But none of those goals could be found in the race packet the night before. There were plenty of tips, but the goals were mine to set.
And set them I did. As one mile gave way to the next, I found myself not only celebrating my progress but reframing my goals on the run. By the time I got to mile 34, it started to dawn on me that I had a lot of energy. Far more energy than I ever expected or had any right to enjoy. But there it was, calling me to finish strong. That was a whole new idea that was not in my head when I started my race. To finish, at any pace, would have been a gift. To finish strong was an extraordinary blessing.
I stayed with Jim until we were less than two miles from the finish. Then, I just had to see what my legs could do. “See you at the finish,” I said, before picking up the pace and abandoning the 4:2 pattern. Faster and faster I went, marveling in the experience and taking great comfort in the fact that I could obviously have gone further if I wanted. So that’s what I did. After finishing their race, I turned around and went back to meet up with Jim so that we could finish our race together. And, much to our delight, he too had a lot left in his legs • picking up the pace beyond what I could keep in the final meters.
So let that be a lesson to you! Make up your own races, rules, and goals in the midst of life. Don’t just be a participant. Be a participant-observer so that you can take in the full sweep of the experience. Pace yourself so that you have energy left at the end. Set your own challenges and expectations. Find ways to enrich even the littlest things in life with attention, curiosity, and passion. It’s really not too difficult, if you try.
Coaching Inquiries: What races are you running right now? How many of them have you chosen to run and how many of them have been chosen for you? How could you become more at choice with your life and work? How could you pace yourself to maintain your energy, enthusiasm, and drive? Who could join you on the race to make it more fun?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Thanks for the video of Chris Bliss juggling three balls to an old Beatles’ tune. Want to see a truly great juggler doing the same thing with five balls? Click Here.
Thanks for sharing the “Bliss”….it was wonderful!
The video of Chris Bliss was the the most fun juggler I have ever seen. Thanks.
Whew! 50 miles? That is a long long way to run. I can’t wait to here how it turns out. Just finishing a race of that magnitude is an amazing achievement in itself. I wish you the best of luck.
I remember a while back reading one of your Life Trek Provisions when you were training for a marathon and you described your training methods. The main thing that caught my eye was the “walk/run” philosophy you deployed. I loved it and I instantly related because I employ the same type of training protocols in my workouts. I am not a marathoner nor do I have intentions of ever being one, but I AM all about high intensity interval training That goes for both cardio and weight training.
I also read about the way you eat and I can relate to that as well. I don’t follow the Paleolithic Diet to a tee, but it definitely makes sense and some days end up being Paleolithic just by chance. I am very disciplined though, and I am all about organic and all natural.
One of my future plans is to get warning labels on packages with HFCS and trans-fatty acids in them. Similar to what you see on a pack of cigarettes or tobacco. This warning sign would also go under every and all fast-food restaurant chain’s signs in big, bright, neon colors… “Caution: This restaurant prepares food that contains trans-fatty acids. This is a deadly form of saturated fat that has been shown to cause obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Enter at your own risk!!!” (Ed. Note: I love your sentiments. If you don’t already know about the Center for Science in the Public Interest Click, you definitely get to know them. They are responsible for getting trans-fatty acids listed on our nutrition labels.)
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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