For my first blog I thought I would take a risk and speak to a subject that at first blush has nothing to do with ChiWalking and ChiRunning – but perhaps has everything to do with it.
For those of you who have taken at least the introductory workshop, you know that ChiRunning is a mindful, holistic practice. Over the past several years, I have casually studied Mussar, a Jewish spiritual practice that gives instructions on how to live a meaningful and ethical life. It is based on the idea that by cultivating inner virtues, we improve ourselves. My intention is to incorporate some of these virtues into my Chi practice to further develop the mind – body communication link.
In the introductory lesson on ChiRunning and throughout our practice, we teach that one of the guiding principles and best ways to reduce injury is through the principle of gradual progress to any change in speed, distance, form – even the shoes we wear. Each step forms the foundation of the next step.
What better character trait to begin with than patience? Have you ever had a race coming up, only to realize you haven’t put in the speed or mileage you should have to reach your goal? Perhaps you put in a few speed workouts or an extra-long run during the waning weeks just to provide you the confidence (or lack of it) you needed before the race? Perhaps you arrived at the race a bit too late and you impatiently waited at the registration desk. What has your impatience solved, but perhaps anxiety and grief, or pain and injury?
Alan Morinis, founder of the Mussar Institute, in his book Everyday Holiness asks, “Who wouldn’t be delighted to deepen their ability to meet life’s challenges with more patience?”
Let me describe an experience where my own patience resulted in exultation and victory, where it could have ended in “agony and defeat.” I competed in the 2005 Lake Placid Ironman. After my best swim and a phenomenal first ½ of my bike, I experienced the first of three (yes three) flat tires. I was told there was an assistance station a ½ mile down the road. I promptly slung the bike over my shoulder and trotted a ½ mile down the road with cleats and all, only to find no help. I patiently changed the tire myself, only to repeat the same exercise two more times in the next several miles. On the third flat, having no spare tube, greased hands, total dejection as hundreds passed me by, I patiently asked and miraculously received a tube and bike pump from a spectator. Pumped and rearing to go – so I thought – I couldn’t tighten my rear wheel. I asked someone to call for road assistance and patiently waited and waited as hundreds more passed. I looked at my watch, because if you don’t pass certain milestones in a certain time, you are disqualified.
After some time, the bike assistance crew came unexpectedly driving by. In fact they drove right by and kept going. My patience had run out and you might say I became impatient, angry, desperate. I ran out into the middle of the road and screamed – HEY, GET BACK HERE, GET BACK HERE – It could have been the spectators or maybe they heard me, but the van turned around and came to my rescue, so to speak. Alan Morinis further states, ”Patience doesn’t mean that we become passive. We still need to make a genuine effort to set the pace and trajectory of our lives, but we don’t need to react to every delay or deflection as if it were a denial…”
A few minutes later, they broke the bad news. My spindle (back axle) had broken along with my heart. With calm (and patience), I looked at them and asked what we could do? Not having a spare part in their van of tricks, they must have seen the look in my face. Miraculously, they found a bike temporarily abandoned by another racer who had dropped out. They replaced the spindle and off I biked.
Over the next 50 miles, I cried, smiled, sang and spoke to the crowds and volunteers as I gradually biked long, at my own pace without a worry in the world. I was overjoyed. At the end of my 112-mile bike, I transitioned into my 26.2 mile run totally fatigued, but energized; filthy dirty and greasy from my mechanic duties; and I suspect a bit dehydrated. I didn’t know it at that time, but my mantra was Gradual Progress. Each mile, no matter how slow, no matter how painful, was a mile less to the finish. Each mile, each step formed the foundation to the next.
In competition and life, there is always a delicate balance between mind and body, patience and impatience, gradual progress and no progress. For me, I really don’t know how I managed to balance the mentality with the physicality, the patience with the impatience, and the very gradual progress with no progress. The only thing I do know is that quitting was not an option.