Better & Bolder the Blog

Day of the Live

This is a post about not having cancer and being alive.

My sister died terribly young — heinously young, ridiculously young — from breast cancer. She was two weeks away from turning 31. Her diagnosis, mastectomy, and reconstruction had taken place just two years before.

Because she died young, I’ve had my mammos grammed every year since I was in my 20s. That’s a lot of radiation, and I’ve worried that it adds up. 

A few weeks ago, at my annual appointment, the nurse practitioner and I talked about the BRCA test, which tests for a genetic mutation. It’s a spit test, and I said, sure, why not? I didn’t think too much about it. I was pretty sure I did not have that mutation. I wasn’t worried.

I do have the mutation. And it amazes me how scary it feels to consider that. I mean, it’s the same genes I’ve had all my life and I’ve known for decades that I most likely have an elevated risk of breast cancer (because of family history and ancestry). BRCA also confers a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

My father died of cancer as did his mother, both of them dying in their 60s. My mother has had several cancers, though she’s still kicking it in her 70s. Her mother and father both developed cancer and both died younger than 70. I’m not looking so pretty on the genetics.

My daughter tells me she learned that our health is, statistically, something like 15% due to genetics. Behavior and environment and health care count for far more.  I’ll go with that. I eat well, move well, keep stress from overwhelming me. I never smoked. I don’t drink or use drugs. I get too little sleep and too much sun, it’s true, and I can be emotionally negative. 

I’m also relentlessly optimistic, which is why when I learned I have the BRCA-2 mutation and not the BRCA-1 mutation, I felt lucky because the 1 is associated with a higher breast cancer risk for a cancer that’s more difficult to treat (if the internet is to be believed). I felt lucky because I’ve made it this far, decades past the point my sister succumbed.

When my father was in cancer treatment, one of his favorite things to say was, “Well, I’m not going to die today.” He’d come in from one of his super slow runs or a yoga class or after having played a round of golf with his friends and say, “I’m not dying today.” He was always right. 

Was it really just this past Tuesday that I got the call, minutes before I headed out to Nia, that my doctor had a test result to discuss with me? I have a “deleterious mutation,” 6174delT BRCA2. Was it just this past Tuesday that a car ran a red light, smashing into Diane’s car as she was pulling out from work and getting set to head to my Nia class? She walked away, bruised and sprained and inflamed and sore, and not broken. 

My run today was supposed to be 11 or 12 miles. My achilles has been sore all week, more sore, and I don’t want to train so hard that my achilles can’t keep up with recovery. I thought maybe I should run shorter, 8 or 9 miles. I was running pretty slowly. I know that stress in our lives can affect our physical performance. I just didn’t have it in me to go any faster. At mile 10, my left knee began to hurt. At mile 12, my right hip began to ache. I wanted to walk; I wanted to stop. I wanted even more to run 13 miles. I wanted to be stronger than the desire to slow down and stop. 

Take that, BRCA 2. I just ran 13 miles this morning. I’m not dying today. 

Training: Adapt

There are a lot of training plans out there, some great and lots that are not so great. If you like having someone tell you what to do, get a plan and follow it. Do whatever neat tricks you have to help motivate you to do just what the plan says when it says to do it. 

If you don’t like having someone tell you what to do (that would be my MO), look at a bunch of plans, find out what they have in common, and create a plan that you and your body feel good about. You’re the expert. Trust it. Adapt, and go. 

That’s going to be our mantra for quality training anyway: be ready to adapt. Every coach I’ve read so far has iterated a version of this. If the plan calls for running 10 miles at a 10 minute a mile pace, but you are stressed out by whatever’s going on in your life, consider that you may be better running 5 miles that day. Head out, see how you feel, and be willing to adapt that day’s run. Coach Matt Fitzgerald calls this running by feel. 

It doesn’t mean we abandon a training plan. It means we’re sensitive to our bodies and our lives as we train. 

Some days, warns coach Pete Magill, we don’t have the energy to do much and we have to bail on a workout. Magill is a masters  (over 40 years old) elite runner (supa fast) who says there are no good workouts, just good training plans. 

In an interview, Magill said, “…what we’re trying to actually do is build a running body. We’re trying to build the muscle. We’re trying to build our cardio vascular system. We’re trying to wire our nervous system. What workouts will impact the by stimulus that would create the adaptations for all of those?” 

This is a link to another good interview with Magill. 

Sometimes on days when we least expect it, after those first few miles, we have energy and focus to go even further and faster than we’d planned. We can adapt up, too. I headed out this week for what I thought was an easy run, something under an hour at a relaxed pace. The first two miles were slow, and I was even engaging in some self-pity about how slowly I run now compared to two years ago (never, ever compare yourself to another runner, especially your former self). Then I left the trail, hit the asphalt, and began to pick up the pace. Each mile, I got faster, and it continued to feel good, not too hard. 

I had set a parameter, which was I planned to run for no more than an hour or 7 miles. When I hit that point and felt great, it was tempting to keep going for a bit. I didn’t. I have to think about the runs I did last week and plan to do next week. One day’s run can mess up an entire plan if I let myself go too hard or too long.

Adaptation is what your training is about: breaking down the body so it adapts to the stress. You know when you get strong? When you rest, refuel, and recover. When you adapt to the work you already did. A training plan is about figuring out how much to do — not too much, not too little — and fitting that into our lives. 

Another reason to have a plan is to take choice and decision-making out of the mix. If every day you had to decide what kind of workout out to do, you might just talk yourself out of doing anything at all. Having a training plan conserves energy. 

There’s an adage that we should never judge a run by the first mile. I’d amend that to say the first two miles because it takes me that long to warm up. The beauty of a plan is that we don’t decide what to do during that first mile. We decide before we get out on the run.

When I began running two years ago, Wednesday was tempo day, Friday was speed day, and Sunday was long run day. I never had to decide what to do. 

When I didn’t feel like doing that run, I just started running, giving myself permission to change the plan. Almost always, I’d find I could pick up my pace for tempos or decide I could do just one sprint, which would lead to another. 

Giving myself permission to change the plan helped me get going, and then the plan took over. It’s easiest to go with a default.  This is what’s known as a nudge, something that gently prompts us or steers us to behave in a certain way. 

In May this year, I started thinking about training for a half. I wanted to run a half because when I’d been running two years ago, I had started to train for a half. I thought I was building my miles up slowly but I knew sh*t all about running. I was pretty much running on ego. My last long run was 11 1/2 miles at a fast pace. After that, my right achilles hurt too much to keep going long. I didn’t understand how I hadn’t trained correctly for my body at that time.

When I decided in May this year that I’d run a half-marathon, I knew most training programs were 12 or 16 weeks long. I thought I surely must have plenty of time. I wasn’t thinking, well, most training plans don’t have 51 year old menopausal women in mind so maybe this plan will need a lot of adapting. I just thought if some coach published a plan, it should basically work.  

At that point, I was running three times a week, running 4 or 5 miles twice a week and 8 miles once a week. Sometimes, it was really hard to get through those 8 miles, and I feared the process of increasing the time and miles on those runs to build up to 13.1 miles (the half marathon length).  Most plans jack up the miles fairly quickly. I was sensing that I didn’t have the strength or stamina to run those longer runs. 

I looked up a half-marathon training plan from Run Less, Run Faster. The authors suggested that a runner have a three month base of 15 miles each week with a long run of 8 miles before beginning the plan. I was so relieved! I didn’t have to start adding miles yet. 

I wrote down a training plan from Run Less, Run Faster, thought it looked pretty good, and set it aside.

Then in July I looked at the plan. And I wanted to puke. There are a lot of long long runs in there, long long runs, getting up to 15 miles, and the speed work looks like a torment. Hell. Misery. Even after three months of steady running, I wasn’t ready for a plan of that intensity.

Magill is adamant that we older runners need to build a base slowly. He says we are in a “no mistake zone.” I’ve got a half-marathon planned for October and I started building my base in April. That’s seven months. I have wondered whether it’s still too soon for me. 

Here’s what I mean. When I was running 8 miles in May, it was hard work to finish them. I began to think I was a) too old and b) running long distances just wasn’t for me. I kept running, though, and I added in strength conditioning so I could run more efficiently. My body, mind, and nervous system began to adapt. 

Now 8 miles feels like a good distance. Once I hit 10 miles, it feels hard. If I spent several months running 10 miles as my long run every other week, then I’m guessing 10 wouldn’t feel so hard. When 10 didn’t feel too hard, I could raise the bar to 11 or 12, which would feel hard, and then once I’d adapted, I’d raise to 13 or 14. That would be running by feel. 

Instead, I’m running by the calendar. Gosh darn it, I’ve got a race in 9+ weeks, and that’s how long I have to adapt. It’s ego. What I’ve said, and I hope I mean it, is that my long-term running health is the most important. If my achilles, ankles, and feet can’t handle this pace and don’t have enough recovery time, I should slow down my training and be willing not to race the half in October. 

Training to race a half is more important than racing a half. While I train, I’m studying. While I train, I’m pushing myself. While I train, I’m wrestling my ego, my self-pity, my self-doubt and rallying my optimism and self-love. 

Even with all that, thinking about not racing in October makes me sad.

I re-read recently You (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan.  He said we’ve all got a work out that feels great and the workout that takes a whole lot of energy. Some of us are Speedsters while some of us are Endurance Monsters. The rest of us fall in between those two poles (combo). 

His point is that we need to build a training week that takes into account which runs require the most recovery time. We don’t want to put one hard workout after another. McMillan wants us to ask ourselves three questions in order to create a training plan:

  1. How do I respond to each type of workout as well as to my day-to-day training?
  2. How do I recover from training and racing?
  3. And, how do I adapt to training?

The long run is hardest on me and takes the most time for me to recover. Some days it’s the most difficult mentally, and some days it’s the most fulfilling spiritually.

Besides the long run, many training plans include runs with timed intervals or fartleks (literally, speed play). Speed work supposedly increases the risk of injury. It’s demanding.

I read about a study that showed soccer players who did interval training every other week in their off season training experienced as much cardiovascular gains as those who were running intervals every week. So while some plans include speed work every week, every other may benefit us just as well. 

McMillan has a plan that utilizes either fartleks or tempo runs once a week rather than including both of them each week as many plans do. The other runs are steady pace runs, 45 minutes to 100 minutes long (McMillan prescribes runs by time on the road rather than mileage, which is another way to adapt one’s plan). McMillan wants us to use a training plan as a template and then individualize it to suit us best.

Though most training plans are constructed week by week, there’s no reason a plan has to be built around a 7 day week. For July and August, I wrote out a plan based on a 10 day cycle: speed, tempo, long run, and fun run. The idea behind a fun run is that I don’t push myself to go far or fast. It’s a recovery run. I can stop to take pictures. I choose any route. If I’m tired and don’t want to keep running, I can stop. It’s supposed to be an easy, pleasurable, no rules kind of run to remind me why I love running.

For my tempo runs, it’s two miles to warm up, and then I pick up my pace. I’m aiming for miles run in 8:30, though I’m finding that I’m able to run some of my miles at 8:00 or under 8:00.  I keep my rule open: just hit 8:30 or under for two miles, preferably three. Keeping the rule open allows me to work hard and to succeed. If I run faster, great. If I want to run a mile longer, great. If I'm not feeling it that day, just get those two faster miles done. Adapt.

Tempo runs can be hard work. In July, I was really feeling it and had to do a whole lot of “okay, I’ll run until I get to that tree or sign post.” I would tell myself that I could walk if I just kept up the pace until I got to that point. Then when I got there, I usually could convince myself to go to the next point.

In August, I’m finding I can go a bit faster and a bit longer and it’s not such a fight to do it. I’m seeing the results of having pushed hard in July, which is great because in July, I had to have a whole lot of optimism. I didn’t know for sure that I could and would improve, but I planned for it anyway. 

For speed work, I’m embracing the play in fartleks and avoiding the precision of timed intervals (for instance, a prescribed speed for a quarter mile, repeated 8 times with recovery jogs in between). I may not see the kind of gains I would if I followed a professional plan and ran the 400 and 800 and 1600 precision intervals they’ve prescribed. That’s okay. I’m still pushing myself hard enough that it hurts, and I’m out there long enough for it to count.

The best thing I did was add in training minutes on the Elliptigo, which is a stand up bike that I take out on the paved trails along the bosque. This has strengthened my legs and butt, which makes me a stronger, more efficient runner. There’s no pounding, so my bones and my achilles aren’t stressed. While Nia is good for cardio, mobility, strength, all of that, cross-training on the Go is much closer to running. It’s allowing me to run just 3 times a week so that I always have at least one day between runs. I need that extra recovery time. Here’s what Magill says about how he’s benefited from the Go. 

I’m still learning how my body progresses, adapts, and recovers. It’s all an experiment.

Since I start back at work at CNM soon, I need a traditional week by week training plan, mostly so the long run always falls on Sundays. Instead of 10 days between long runs, there will be just 7, so I plan on running long one Sunday and easing up the next. Adapt. 

If you’re looking for a training plan to follow, consider these points.

  • Some plans are there to help you run a distance for the first time. The aim is to finish, not to meet a particular speed. Know your goal before settling into a plan.
  • There are plans that start from zero running. Some include running and walking (check out the Galloway method). Some are called Couch-to-5K plans. 
  • If you’ve got a goal to hit a particular pace or go for a long distance, build a base of at least three months of running practice first before starting a training plan. 
  • Most plans for a 10K or longer distance include a long run. Spend several weeks at a distance before moving up in length/time. Every third or fourth week, step it back. If you ran 8 miles one week and then 9 the next, consider running 7 the third week before going back to 9 on the fourth week and then to 10 on the fifth week. Be patient. Not all plans follow this formula, and I don’t trust the ones that don’t. 
  • A good plan includes a taper, which is a week or two of running less (less volume, less intensity) before a race. I’ll talk about taper in another post, but I’ll repeat what I said above: I don’t trust a plan that doesn’t include a taper.
  • Know what knocks you out and stresses your body. Plan accordingly. 
  • If looking at a plan makes you feel sad, it’s not the plan for you. If a plan makes you excited, that’s a good one to start. If you have a plan and rarely follow it, it’s either not the right time for you to train or it’s not the right plan or you may need support from other runners to get you through. If you find yourself going over your plan every day, adding notes, adapting, that’s your plan.


When the FitBit first came out, I think in 2011, I got one. I wore it for a week, experimented, didn’t like it, and sold it. 

The technology for wearable trackers (something we wear, often on the wrist, that tracks our daily activity) seems to be greatly improved. The online and social opportunities have expanded too.  When I noticed a few friends wearing a tracker, I decided I should revisit them. I bought a Jawbone UP 24.

First, I still don’t like a wearable tracker for me. In fact, “hate” is not too strong a word here. I began to feel annoyed by having something on my wrist. I use several iPhone apps for running but they don’t require me to check in through the day. The UP app would remind me to upload, prompting me to check my step totals. It was too constant, and I do not need extra nudges to get moving.  If you already are very active throughout the day, you don’t need a wearable tracker. 

If you suspect, though, that despite getting in at least 30 minutes of sweaty exercise most days, you spend much of the rest of the day not moving much, you might benefit from wearing a tracker. Not moving much is such a problem that sitting is being called the new smoking. Even those who put in a hard workout for an hour a day may be at risk if they aren’t getting up and moving around through the rest of the day. Check out this article  from Runner’s World that explains why our total daily movement is so important.

One of the things a tracker can do is remind someone to move throughout the day. For anyone with a job that requires a lot of computer time and a lot of concentration, it’s easy to lose track of how long we’ve been sitting and working. The app for a wearable tracker can be set up to nudge the user if that user spends too much time sitting and not enough moving. For instance, a user can set an UP to vibrate every hour between the hours of 8 am and 5pm. That  means getting a nudge throughout the work day. 

Nudges work extremely well at getting people to move more. In this article from the Wall Street Journal, author Kevin Helliker describes a study that shows whether a person called to check in on participants in a study or whether participants received an automated phone call, those participants who got the check in moved more than those who didn’t. 

Even a little bit more exercise helps our overall fitness and well-being. If nudges help us even sometimes, this is worthwhile. Maybe we don’t meet our goals every day or get up each time our bracelet vibrates, but if we do so even half the time, we’re better off than we were before we put on the trackable. 

Anyone who needs a little extra motivation to exercise might do well with a tracker. The UP invited me to set a goal for how much sleep I’d get and how many steps I’d take each day. Just seeing the number of steps can be enough to motivate someone to want to improve. I’ve heard of more than one person deciding to go for a walk after dinner to meet their steps goal.

After meeting (and exceeding) my step goal for two days, I was asked if I wanted to challenge myself by upping the number of steps I’d take the next day. This nudge helps us create small, achievable goals, which is rewarding and turns the process into a game. 

There’s a third reason these devices may help motivate us. The UP app invites users to join teams. Team members can provide motivation and competition, which also makes the experience more like a game. People who exercise with others or who even keep in touch with others about their exercise are more likely to keep exercising. 

Finally, the UP app gives daily short tips. Studies show that when people read these tips — or even simply see them in their Inbox — they’re more likely to engage in healthy habits. Whenever a user opens an app, that is a reminder that the user is engaged in creating a healthier lifestyle, which is reinforcing. 

Here are a couple of other things to note. 

If you need a little nudge, and you're receptive, these trackers work beautifully. If you're exhausted, overwhelmed or very resistant, the trackers won't be enough to nudge or reward you. That's okay. Think of these trackers as just one of the many ways you'll increase your self-awareness and be motivated toward better health. 

Second, they're supposed to help monitor your sleep, telling you not just how long you slept but how soundly. They really aren't accurate for this. This article says, hey, just setting the intention to sleep better can be helpful and that's why the monitor actually may work for some users. If you're getting data that helps you make better choices, that's good. Just one word of warning: The sleep monitor on these kinds of devices shouldn't be used instead of going to a sleep lab if a serious problem may be present. 

Which one to choose? The FitBit and the Jawbone UP are the most popular. I suggest trying them on if you can. The FitBit is less expensive. The UP is easy to wear and to put on and take off quickly.  Many reviews talk about how great the UP app is, but I found it a bit clunky; for instance, if there’s a way to zoom in, I didn’t find it. You can read a comparison here and here. 

If you can't decide, just pick one. It's easy to find refurbished ones on Amazon, and you can re-sell them on eBay if you decide you don't like the one you chose. Or buy from a store with a generous return policy. 

Training: Embodiment. Joy. Outrageousness. Wisdom.

Running with the Mind of Meditation is a lovely book. Sakyong Mipham is the Tibetan leader of Shambhala as well as a marathoner. His book offers “lessons for training body and mind,” which he explores by comparing training the body to run with training the mind to meditate.

The comparisons were helpful to me. Just as it takes months to go from running just a few minutes or miles to running farther, it takes months to train the mind to meditate. We don’t just sit down and immediately get it. We have to learn to do it and practice it. “The bones and tendons of the mind,” writes Mipham, “are mindfulness and awareness.”

The author explains that meditation “is the act of familiarizing your mind with what you want it to do.” Anyone who has woken at 2 am and begun a countdown of worries knows the value in leading our mind, gently, toward what we want it to do and away from what it might do habitually, such as worry or overthink. 

Unless we train our minds, our minds will be as lax as the untrained body. When we are overcome with our stress and worries, “It doesn’t occur to us that our mind is out of shape. We put more stress on ourselves because we assume we should just be able to handle it all. We should not be surprised when we can’t, for we have not built the base of the mind.”

Mipham’s mental training helps him deal with pain during his first marathon. He knew, he writes, that he could not let the pain “steal” his mind. He couldn’t ignore it, either, so he had to pay attention to it without letting it “dominate” his mental space. “Instead I focused on my good fortune to be in good enough shape that I could run a marathon. I appreciated the brisk day and my running companions.” 

As we know from studies on what makes humans happy, feeling and expressing gratitude makes us happy. Appreciating what we have and savoring the moment makes us happy. Mipham had trained for pain so he could be aware of it and not overcome by it. Instead of obsessing about the pain, he delighted in his good fortune. 

Mipham structures the book on the four phases in the Shambala tradition of warriorship: tiger, lion, garuda, dragon. These four “represent the inner development of a courageous individual. The idea is to develop balance and integrity.” 

The tiger stage is building the base, learning to focus, practicing without overdoing it. To do this one must be gentle. We must “accept and appreciate who we are.” We must be merciful to our body. How many of us injure ourselves by not knowing who we are in the moment? Or we miss opportunities to develop ourselves because we do not push ourselves strongly enough? In this stage, we must be friendly to ourselves, bringing honesty as well as a sense of humor. 

The tiger moves with grace, power, and confidence, “the principle of embodiment.” The tiger is careful and thoughtful. 

“The next phase is the lion, which is associated with joy.” Having worked hard as a tiger, we can enjoy the “fitness and freedom” this brings. 

Next is the garuda, which is a “mythical eaglelike bird that has two arms as well as wings.” The key word for this phase is “outrageous,” as in awesome. This is the stage in which we challenge ourselves. It’s the stage in which we balance between “focused mindfulness and panoramic awareness” and in which we learn to move beyond hope and fear. “Hope and fear stem from two kinds of pain: the pain of not encountering what we want, and the pain of encountering what we don't want.”

Imagine that: hope and fear both arise from pain. Both, then, keep us tied to pain. We don’t want to be ruled by either hope or fear, pleasure or pain. Learning how to handle both pain and pleasure, Mipham says, will lead to harmony and happiness.  

Hope is “constantly wanting something.” Appreciating what we have and what we have accomplished is one way we break out of the cycle of hope and fear. We “must release ourselves from such small-mindedness by relaxing into an even bigger space.” This doesn’t not mean we do not have goals, even grand ones. It’s the release from hope and fear that allows us to dream big and achieve great things.

Reaching for goals and absorbing ourselves in our hobbies are, like expressing gratitude and savoring the moment, powerful ways to increase our happiness. When we are involved in a challenge, we may enter a flow state, one in which we lose track of time and self-consciousness. It’s a deeply liberating sensation and after such a challenge, we experience true relaxation. 

In the garuda phase, “we expand our mind to include others” and turn our contemplation to love and kindness. We hold a “deep wish for others to be happy.” I love how this serves to move us from our own hopes and fears. Once again, studies on happiness explain that our connection to others is one of the most important factors in our happiness.  When I am dragged into my own hopes and fears, my immersion into what I don’t have right now or whatever sadness or depression has taken hold of me, the best antidote is for me to simply stop focusing on that. I don’t try to fix it. I pay attention to other people instead. I may say love and kindness prayers for others, which I often do while out on a run. 

The final stage, dragon, represents wisdom and intelligence. On our runs, we may contemplate our lives, changes we wish to make. We connect to things that are deep, mysterious, and inexpressible. This stage is where we extend ourselves to doing well for others. Like Mipham, we may run for charity or host a peace run. 

In the dragon phase, we seek a deep purpose and recognize that “when we are brave enough to be in the present, we have the power to transform the world.” Mipham expresses that while he runs for “health as well as joy,” his deeper meaning has to do with his intention, which is to benefit others. “With a powerful mind, if we intend our run to be for the welfare of others, then it is.” 

Again looking at happiness studies, we know that one of the best ways to improve our happiness is to work for the happiness and well-being of others. Human beings were made to help each other, and we get biological rewards for doing so. Our blood pressure goes down, our immune functioning increases, and we may get a burst of endorphins that has been called the “helper’s high,” similar to a runner’s high. It’s powerful to associate helping others with wisdom. Working for the greater good is good for our health. 

Mipham is clearly in love with running. Running, he says, has allowed him to “connect with the inherent goodness and healthiness of humanity.” I am sure there are other sports that allow us to train our bodies and minds in this way. However, running gets us outside, in nature, and gives us a long stretch of time in which we repeat the same movement again and again, inviting us toward awareness of our body and our breathing. 

“Windhorse is the life force energy that naturally arises when we train on the path of tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon.” Mipham declares, “Runners intuitively know that through dedication and hard work, success can come about; if we, as humanity, dedicate ourselves to creating a better world, then it is completely doable. That is the energy of windhorse. The world as a whole is like one mind. If that giant mind begins to doubt itself and get depressed, our entire planet will be in jeopardy. However, if the collective world conscience develops an ethos of optimism and exertion, we really will have a chance to pull ourselves out of our predicament, because the human race will have windhorse.” 

I like very much what Mipham says about utilizing our intentions and runners being optimistic. When I share Nia with others, I know I am providing the opportunity for them to experience joy in moving their bodies. I know they come for stress release, for health, for community. When I run, on the other hand, it feels more selfish and solitary. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment I get through running. In addition, I share what I’ve learned from running, and what I learn from running helps me be a better Nia teacher. My mind while teaching Nia is radically different than my mind while running. Perhaps as I continue to run, I will move more deeply through those four phases and my running will have an even deeper effect on me and my relationship to the world. 

My husband questioned me when I first began running and was training for that 10K two years ago. Why was I working so hard? Wasn’t it time to chill out as we’re getting older? I explained I hadn’t challenged myself that way when I was in my teens and 20s. Now is my time to do that.

I ran cross-country one year in high school, but I didn’t know how to push myself. I didn’t have a good coach or team mates who were concerned for my progress. Without support and without knowing the joy of pushing toward my limits, I did not get far into the tiger stage. It’s possible I was offered support and didn’t know how to receive it. I certainly didn’t know how to ask for it (I didn’t even know I might need it).  I made progress, just not as much as I could have if I had I known how to train my mind to train my body. Now, as I am older, I can train with much more dedication. I want that experience of training. 

Running is my hobby. I set goals. I read books. I use what I learn in running to strengthen the rest of my life. I like having a hobby with a goal. So much of life is open-ended. I like a time-defined, measurable goal to balance the messier parts of life. 

I used to train in the martial arts. That’s where I met my husband, at the dojo. I eventually left my Aikido training to concentrate full time on being a Mama Warrior. I learned to put other beings’ needs before mine. I learned, slowly and terribly, to be more patient. I learned I could be quick-tempered, judgmental, unkind, and even harsh, so I learned to be a little less of those. I learned I am controlling, mostly out of fear, and I learned about millions of things that are out of my control and I have to accept that and move on. Being a Parent Warrior is one of the most intense and humbling trainings any of us can do. 

I’m still there. I’m still in training because as my children grow older, I have to become a different kind of parent. 

There are many types of trainings. Relationship training. Career training. In each of these trainings, we have to build a base, become stronger, employ mindfulness, experience joy (or why bother?). If we are diligent, and lucky, we can become wiser. 

Having trained in Aikido, Parenting, Teaching, and Marriage, I could say, okay, enough training. But it’s not enough. I am not tough enough yet. I’m not done with outrageousness. The process of transformation and learning turns me on.

I teach basic writing at Central New Mexico Community College. My students do not always have confidence. They don’t all know how to work hard. Some are overwhelmed with the material. Some are overwhelmed with their lives. I am their coach. I must model for them building a base, the Tiger phase. 

Mipham says he was taught that with gentleness, a person can accomplish all things. When we learn or write or run, we do it with relaxed awareness, with gentleness. Aggression is a dash. With gentleness, Mipham writes, we feel as if we can run forever. “With gentleness, we no longer struggle with ourselves. When we are not struggling with ourselves, we are doing our best.” Instead of being overly critical with ourselves, we can see where we need to improve and view that as an adventure. The aggressive mind has a hard time being present. 

I noticed that on my run Friday. I had a wonderful start, enjoying a steady pace through the bosque. Then I began to think about something over which I have no control. I imagined myself telling someone what she was doing wrong and what she should do instead. As I was thinking of this, my pace slowed and the run began to feel effortful. Mipham says, “We embody our worries.”

I chose to think about something more fun, running Day of the Tread in October (I hope with other Studio Sway-ites as Sway of the Tread), doing this run together, dressing up, having fun. The run is for charity, Casa Esperanza, and this feels important to me, too. It’s good to focus on a run that’s not a race and not about how well I perform, but about how well I function as a member of community. 

I’m not sure if my pace picked up then as I thought better thoughts, but I did become happier and less focused on whether the run felt hard. 

This is part of the Lion phase, avoiding a negative state of mind. Mipham calls running an “optimistic sport: fundamentally, we believe in the power of the body.” In this stage, “you should recognize the fact that your healthiness is innate.” Everything is temporary while “the natural state of the mind, basic goodness, is primordial and unchanging.” It is the same for our body. Our natural, inherent state is one of good health. 

If we mistreat our body, we move away from this natural state and we begin to feel ill at ease. It’s the same way for our minds. If we watch too much TV or spend too much time on the computer, our minds also may begin to feel ill. If we think negative thoughts, our minds will ache. We may begin to focus our awareness on the negative as it’s human nature to want to be aware of what’s wrong so we can fix it. There is a way to cultivate awareness of our basic goodness and innate health and still be aware of what needs our attention for healing and growth. 

The last two miles of yesterday’s run, I focused on form and breath. As I become tired on a run, my form erodes. I focus on releasing from my hips, letting the whole leg be mobile. I pay more attention to my gait and pace, making sure my step are small. At the beginning of the run, this comes more easily and naturally. By miles 7 and 8, I am pushing to run faster and with better form. I am remembering to breathe in through my nose, not my mouth. I am no longer thinking about family and friends or anything much besides the run.

Mipham writes, “By paying attention to how your mind and body feel, you are empowering both yourself and your running. Developing this respect for mind and body changes running from simple exercise to a journey of discovery and growth. Respecting how you feel during your run allows you to appreciate who you are in the very life you are leading.” 

In the Lion phase, “we contemplate feeling fortunate. …In feeling fortunate, a deep and profound appreciation develops in us.” As we practice this, it becomes a part of us, part of our character. We become someone who is fortunate, feels fortunate, and feels grateful. 

Running, or meditation, or any training, can increase our confidence. Confidence in Tibetan is known as ziji, which also can be translated as “brilliance” or “to shine.” This expresses how our confidence looks: we glow. “Both running and meditation bring out our radiance.”

We all have the potential to be physically and mentally strong. “The Shambhala teachings present goodness as our base and splendidness as our natural state of being.” Savor that for a moment.

I have confidence that the body heals. I must do the correct things to help support its ability to heal. While I am alive, though I am aging and healing more slowly, I am able to heal. I can get stronger. I will not become the stronger that younger Me might have become. I can become stronger than I am today. This optimism and this confidence is bound to my belief in the essential goodness of the human body. 

I can succumb to fear and worry — my achilles tendon hurts, for instance — or I can be aware of it and not overcome by the worry. On Friday’s run, when my achilles hurt, I thought of Mipham on his first marathon, and how he appreciated being out on the run with friends on a beautiful day. So I looked around me to breathe in the beauty. I adjusted my running form. I felt better.

This is not meditation, though I am training my mind. As lovely as Sakyong Mipham’s book is, I am not (yet) inspired to sit down to meditate. I am inspired to consider the ways I can be gentle with myself and with others. I feel tingly and alive with the ideas from the book. I feel optimistic about continuing to train.