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Finding Gratitude in Running

I have to make a confession. I haven’t been a really happy or motivated runner for months. I think being the goal-driven personality type that I am (I like to think of myself as a reforming “type A”), I’ve been gradually wearing down with all the big events and PR oriented training (since Nov. 2007 I have completed six marathons, two 50K’s and two 50 milers, and many races at shorter distances). I have met all of my personal goals and it’s all been very successful, but to be honest, lately it’s been rare that I’ve really enjoyed a run. Every time a big event was completed, I sort of mindlessly signed up for the next thing, and so it was that I signed up for the JFK 50 again this year.

The weather was perfect and the course and scenery was beautiful. I had a wonderful experience on the Appalachian Trail section moving with total ease and felt a lot of chi from the rocks and the woods and the other runners. I kept reminding myself “not to use my muscles” and conserve my energy. The chi focuses I seemed to use the most were keeping the pelvis level (don’t spill the chi) and the hip swivel. I must have been keeping my feet up because I had no trouble with the rocks and roots. I really felt like I was floating along.

When I came off the tail at 15.5 mile and met my crew I was totally upbeat. I ate, drank changed my shoes and started off on the C&O Canal towpath. I immediately started with a 10 run/2 min walk strategy, a lesson learned from last year when I attempted to run without walk breaks and bonked by mile 28. I really thought with my fueling and run/walk strategy I could sail through this event, but by mile 20 I was starting to feel low points. I noticed that disturbing aches and low energy would come and go like waves. When I started with my first pacer at mile 27, I was a totally different person than I was 12 miles earlier, and with her energy and focus, I got back in a rhythm. A good pacer/crew person won’t ask you what you want but will tell you what you need. It’s a great lesson for type A personalities to accept help (or orders) from others, and I could not have accomplished this event either time without them.

My second pacer joined me at mile 38. I wasn’t feeling any significant muscle pain, just a deep fatigue. Again, I realized that by keeping the fuel and fluids in my system at regular intervals, the fatigue was there but it didn’t get worse. Coming off the towpath at 42 miles and beginning the last leg on scenic rolling roads, I knew I would finish and I was feeling strong.  Something shifts when you’ve been going so long and you’ve been present with your body and mind and surroundings for that many hours. I experienced a very quiet but powerful energy with the other runners and the spectators.

The late afternoon sky was shades of lavender over amber fields and stone fences, cattle grazing in the fields. There were few spectators, but they gathered near the aid stations and every cheer and encouraging word they spoke went straight to the heart. For me, both years, I felt an overwhelming ability to receive and experience deep gratitude. The process of running 50 miles with 1000 others can make me see beauty in nature and in other people like nothing ever has.  And that perception stays longer than any other “high” I have experienced.

Driving home on Sunday night, I realized what’s so great about all the training and anxiety and indecision I experienced about entering my second JKF 50 mile. It has changed me as a person and allowed me to experience a beautiful quality of human spirit that I have missed in ordinary days.  As we were running along just after the sun had set, my pacer and I commented on how beautiful the moon looked over the field.  A couple of miles later, I was sprinting for the finish.

Dawn C. – Participant of the 2010 ChiRunning Workshop at Omega

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