This past weekend I participated in the 18th running of the Great Wall Marathon in Tianjin, a province north of Beijing. The course was equal parts challenging as it was beautiful, taking runners climbing (or sometimes even crawling) over the treacherous wall and through the local villages. Although it was my longest marathon time yet (thanks to the 5,164 steps), I was still really happy with my run – not to mention finishing 10th in my age group! But I have never been one to care much about finishing time. Rather, I do road races for the overall experience. My goal is to perform well while still enjoying the course. The Great Wall Marathon was likely my hardest marathon course yet; however, there wasn’t really a moment that I truly struggled. I also realized midway through, uncoincidentally, that it was also my first race since beginning my mindfulness practice earlier this year.
Running through the villages, being cheered on in Chinese by children who have no idea why crazy foreigners are running 26 miles for fun, is a once in a lifetime experience. However, it’s easy to lose sight of that as you focus on the 20 miles ahead, the cramp in your calf that feels like a knife is stabbing you with every step, or the daunting ascent up the wall at the 22nd mile when you’re already hitting a different wall. But I actively tried to stay present throughout the run, taking a deep breath and looking around at the scenery. I would think about how a year ago living in Santa Monica I could never imagine I’d be living in Beijing, running a marathon on the wall. Sometimes as I was silently pacing with someone (running term for “stalking”), I would wonder where they were from and how they got to this moment here with me.
Whenever I thought about how I couldn’t wait to cross the finish line (and that was often), I acknowledged that it was challenging and anyone would be anxious for it to pass, before letting the thought go. I then thanked my body for putting up with all of the crap I ask of it time and time again. Instead of ignoring all my aches and pains, I actively thought about everything I was feeling – the pressure on my foot, stinging of my calf, the chafing on my arm – all the sensations my body was experiencing while still running. It’s a 26 mile race, why not enjoy each of the 50,000 steps to get there? It’s supposed to be hard, that’s what makes it great. All of the moments leading up to it are what make crossing the finish line such an incredible feeling. Breathe it in.
I know this sounds a bit hokey. And I’m not saying that the race wasn’t challenging – of course it was. But I was surprised how enjoyable each moment was, and I believe it was because of the mindfulness and presence I found along the way. I know mindfulness is a practice – sometimes I’ll be better and it and sometimes worse; but I look forward to continuing my journey, and hope to inspire you along yours too. So next time you run, try not to run just to finish; instead, try to be present and mindful with every step. You might just have the most enjoyable run of your life.
Special thanks to Marisa Moore for her inspiration along my mindfulness journey – as well as her amazing love and friendship. Marisa is a psychologist who provides therapy and adjunct teaches at Marist College. Below are some of her resource recommendations:
- How to Meditate: A Practice Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chodron
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn