Monthly Archives: July 2017

Meditation

Sky with clouds
Running time is often a time to think, to contemplate, to reflect, and to plan. Over the years I noticed that the runs which were the most relaxing, and post-run were often the most mentally productive, were runs where I had to focus so intently on my running and juggling that no other thought could be entertained in my mind. Runs where variable, gusting winds would shift my tennis balls in midflight as traffic slid past me. I had to focus only on the immediate instant. These runs were peculiarly relaxing, and afterwards I was filled with new ideas and solutions. Exactly when I hadn’t been thinking about them – when my mind had slipped into a state without random thoughts of anything else other than the immediate instant.

At some point I stumbled on the The Oatmeal and his citing the terrible and wonderful reasons he runs long distances: in order to the seek a void. The Oatmeal cited Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  Murakami would note, “I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.”

As I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, articles in Runner’s World were extolling the benefits of meditation for runners. The taming of the monkey mind, the complementing the physical body benefits of running, and make one a better runner. Meditation, along with yoga, were often recommended to runners in the pages of Runner’s World. And underneath meditation seemed to be a seeking of a void by being present only in the immediate instant.

This summer my summer reading rather intentionally included Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind.  His description of the simplicity of mindfulness meditation – breath focused meditation, seemed to simple and, at the same time, something I could do. No mantras, no special chimes, incense candles, or other requirements.

Meditation is not exactly a mainstream behavior in my neighborhood. As ABC news correspondent Dan Harris has noted, back when I started running, running was unusual. Today running is no longer considered unusual, but meditation is still seen as something different. Harris explains that as science including new research using new technologies confirms the benefits of meditation, one day a family doctor is likely to recommend improving your diet, exercising, and meditation. There are a plethora of videos to help a first time mindfulness meditator get started – talking one through the basics. And as Mipham notes in his book, just as in running, start at an easy pace for shorter distances until you are accustomed to running. Start with brief daily sessions, let your body and mind adjust to meditating. And, at least in my house, do keep a sense of humor and avoid taking yourself too seriously.

I did not become a runner overnight. I became a runner gradually as days of running added up to months, months to years, and years to decades. At some point I went from being a 1970s exercise jogger to a runner. I deeply understand that regular meditation practice over the coming days, months, and years are the path to benefit. And that I might not see the benefits for some time. Running has taught me patience. I opted for starting with shorter duration meditation to start, which keeps manageable working meditation into my daily life. And, just as I am in running, I find I am an evening meditator. Although I am new to the discipline, I already look forward to my evening meditation much as I look forward to a chance to run. For now that is a good start.

Summer weddings of the youth

My annual social media timeline has seasons. Winter is the season of passings and sad farewells. Spring brings new life and bundles of joy to love. And summer is the season of newly minted nuptial unions. Each June and July my timeline is filled with images of happy young beautiful newlyweds starting the journey of a lifetime. Images of hope and optimism, youthful radiance and health, the strength of the young.

Perhaps I have lived too long in a nation facing epidemic levels of non-communicable diseases often linked to obesity that results from dietary and physical fitness choices or non-choices made during a lifetime. In my age group too many couples are saying their last goodbyes to each other.

In what seems like a short time ago when viewed from where I am at 57 years old, she looked at her future husband and said I do to a youthfully healthy if not outright muscular young man. When she looked at you and said I do, there was an implicit obligation to her to maintain, to the extent the exigencies of time and aging permit, that physique she saw when she said I do.

Perhaps some men have an expectation that their wife should look good for them. I hold rather the expectation that I should do what I can to look good for her. Perhaps I have less hair on my head than when my wife agreed to journey with me, and perhaps I never really had boyish good looks to lose, but I need not arrive in my fifties looking like I might be pregnant with twins.

When you pledge I do to her, pledge also to yourself to work to retain, for her, the physically fit and healthy physique you have on that special day that she said I do to you.

Dana in sauna

Exercise and physical fitness are not things to put off until some doctor recommends them to you in your forties. Exercise and an active lifestyle should begin from your youth. I began running in 1978. I do not run far nor everyday. As I head into my own fall season of life, my running has helped me arrive at 57 without a veranda over the tool shed, healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and legs with a couple muscles in them.

The Shape of Altra

I was a foot fall behind the runner in front of me. Narrow trail. No room to shift left or right. My stride was too long. 2003. High above Honolulu.  A trail run with the Honolulu Runners. A runner directly behind me. I had to change my stride and gait to not clip the heels in front of me. Shift my balance. And still clear the roots underfoot. Suddenly something clicked and I was running differently. Smoother, shorter stride with enough lift to clear roots. I was now landing in his foot prints. The stride felt strange and yet smooth. I would play with the stride over the next few days while I was there, and in the years afterward I would still think of this as the Honolulu gait.

I became interested in gaits and stride length, picking up and reading Danny Dreyer’s Chi Running. I continued to follow research on stride and gait as the barefoot and minimal running trend gained steam. I also noted the other direction taken by Hoka One One. Sure, the Tarahumara can run barefoot, but the injuries accumulating among first time minimalist shoe users suggested that not everyone is built for barefoot running. Still, I grokked the logic in going flat. This summer I drank the flavored fruit punch and bought a pair of Altra Provision 3.0 shoes. Zero drop. I opted for the Altra Provision 3.0 as this shoe seemed closest to the ASICS GT 2000 series I had been wearing since the 1990s. Stability shoes with moderate cushioning.

Altra running form recommendations: Image from the Altra web site
Altra running form recommendations: Image from the Altra web site

The shoes came with a transition guide that explained proper form – which appears to be strongly similar to the form I encountered in Chi running. The Altra claims to enable better form, and with only a short amount of time in them, I concur. The stride, gait, and cadence changes I have been playing with over the past decade and a half are enabled by the Altra shoes.

Altra zero drop: Image from Altra web site
Altra zero drop: Image from Altra web site

The zero drop seems to encourage a flatter landing further forward, as the foot arcs down the heel clears the ground rather than catching the ground as in a shoe with rise. The foot lands flatter, and the extra stretch on the calf does seem to provide more spring back on lifting the foot.

Altra toe box Image from the Altra web site
Altra toe box: Image from the Altra web site

The wide toe box is also different, and yields a sensation of stability on toe off. Wet pavement and uneven sand on wet pavement can be slippery here in the tropics, some shoes tend to slide on the surfaces here. I did not have that sensation with the Altra shoes. Perhaps the shorter, snub nose on the shoes also helps get my foot off the ground a little faster as I lift my foot. The physics eludes my comprehension, but I do seem to be able to move faster in these shoes even when I am not trying to do so.

The Altra shoes are exciting, and my pace was faster than I expected to in a routine run yesterday, overestimating my time of arrival at locations, causing me to have to shift around cars that I met too soon along the road.

I do not know me

When I happened upon what advertisers think I am interested in, I realized that I clearly do not know myself.

I had no idea I was a big griller (our grill is a piece of wire fencing on an old automobile hub) into road trips (going somewhere on a small island is hardly a road trip) with my family (more often solo) in our Dodge Journey (never seen one of whatever this is) with a secret penchant for Liz Claiborne beauty and fragrance products (so secret that I too was blissfully unaware of that side of my personality).

If you tweet, then you can see what advertisers think you want to see too. Most curiously the list misses the areas in which I have recently spent actual money: running shoes, smartphones, ChromeBase, and various Kindle books in mathematics, running, and statistics. Either the advertisers do not know me or I do not know me.

The former is somewhat puzzling. Twitter’s own list of my interests aligns better with my perception of my own interests.

With some quibbles over Reality TV and Romance, and the absences of my running and juggling life, Twitter knows me well. So why do the advertisers misread where my money is likely to go next?

If you also Twitter, you can see Twitter’s read on you as well.  Of course this depends on whether you let Twitter study you. Turns out Twitter studies you by default, so unless you turned off the Personalization and Data Settings, Twitter is collecting all sorts of information about you as a Twitter user. I let Twitter run wild with my data. I treat all social media as a public presence with zero privacy. If one wants privacy then one can never use a computer, cell phone, telephone, or any other communication capable technology. Including snail mail. No tech. Period. And one should probably not live on a small island.

Now you’ll have to excuse me as I need to go load up my new luxury Nissan SUV (I have a 25 year old Toyota Exiv sedan that was purchased used) with my Fisher-Price toys (I played with those fifty years ago) and Converse sneakers (I would never buy an athletic shoe I cannot run in) for a trip to the spa (as soon as I find one on Pohnpei) where I am a well known high spender (I have a dollar in my pocket that has to last until Friday).  Oh, and, yes, I will be dropping by the mall on the way home to pick up more Liz Claiborne products and jewelry. Just as soon as I find the mall on this island.