Done! Thank God!

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It was a beautiful day for a marathon!

I had A LOT of time to think while I was running the Mankato Marathon on October 21, lol! I finished in over five hours. It wasn’t my slowest marathon; it wasn’t my fastest. But it was MY marathon.

The longer I do this running thing (almost 30 years at this point), the more I see the parallels between running and other areas of my life. The following similarities jump out at me as I reflect upon the marathon.

The wind won’t always be at your back…

October 21 was a chilly day — around 30 degrees at the start. I’ve done a Mankato Marathon run each of the nine years except for one, and this was the coldest start I could remember. It wasn’t so much the cold, but that wind. It was blowing out of the south at about 15-20 mph. In the marathon course, runners go south on a two-mile stretch of Monks Avenue twice. The run starts on Monks, and while I could feel the cold wind, there were still plenty of other runners around because it’s also the start of the half-marathon course. I could do a bit of drafting at least. But the second stretch is at miles 14-16. These miles are typically my worst of any marathon, just from a mental perspective. You’re halfway done, but you still have a long ways to go. Those miles almost beat me. My 3-minute run, 1-minute walk plan went out the window. I thought I would have to sit on the side of the road and really think about if I wanted to go on. But other than the wind, I was feeling OK, and it would be silly to give up. So I pushed through.

It’s your race…

I say this all the time. I won’t stop saying it. I’m not going to win a marathon so I’m not competing against anyone, only myself. If I decide that I did the best I could that day, then I’m satisfied. And I’m really satisfied with my run that day. My goal was to finish, and finish comfortably, and I did that. But in the days after the run, the first question I got many times was “What was your time?” There are more measures of success than that. Better questions would be “How did you feel?” or “How did it go for you?” or “Did you set out to accomplish what you wanted to?”

Push through and reap the rewards…

The best part for me of running a marathon is the feeling the next day and in the days after. Yes, I’m usually sore, so that’s not the feeling I’m talking about! It’s the feeling of lying in bed the next morning, ready to get up, and thinking “I did it.” There were times last week at work when things weren’t going well or I was frustrated but I could think back to the marathon and reclaim that feeling of accomplishment. All that work all summer, all those long runs in the heat and humidity, in the rain, running when I didn’t feel like it, squeezing in a run among fifty other things to do that day, all came together to get me through five-plus hours on October 21. It was worth it.

What’s worth it in your life? What do you put so much work into in order to reap rewards?

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Is that a grimace or a smile? LOL! This is around Mile 22. My friend Rick lives near the trail and he took the picture. He also took a picture of me in 2010 when I first ran this course! It’s now a little tradition! 

Yoga’s inner story and outer story

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Photo Credit: davidstewartgets Flickr via Compfight cc 

It can be easy to see what’s on the surface. But what’s beneath? That’s often the key to unlocking understanding.

My theme for my memoir/yoga workshop this weekend is inner story and outer story.

Inner story and outer story is usually the first thing I talk about when I give memoir workshops. A memoir that just stays at the surface — this happened, then this happened, here’s what I looked like, here’s what our house looked like, etc. — doesn’t have any substance. Writers have to dive deep within themselves to discover what all those things meant. How did it change the writer? What transformation took place because of those events?

Writing the inner story is difficult because it takes time and contemplation. We may know we have an outer story, but perhaps we haven’t spent a lot of time articulating on the page what it meant or how it changed our lives. At least that was my case when I wrote my memoir. I knew I had a unique story in that my dad was a gravedigger, but until I started to write I didn’t realize exactly how that upbringing impacted my life. The thinking-to-writing ratio while I was working on the memoir was definitely skewed toward the thinking!

This is why I’m so excited to do this yoga/memoir workshop. Yoga lends itself to looking inward and contemplation. There’s the physical practice of yoga, what we see. If we practice regularly we may see changes to our body — more defined muscles, increased strength, new flexibility. If we let our practice sit there on the outside, like a memoir, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it can be so much more.

It’s when your mind and body are strong when the real transformation occurs. As Kino MacGregor writes in The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: “Strength in yoga is an integration of the sum of the body, mind, and soul in a way that gives access to something much larger than any individual part.”

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Kino MacGregor, Ashtanga practitioner and founder of OMStars yoga TV network. Photo from @kinoyoga on Instagram.

For memoir, the strength is in the combination of outer story and inner story. To borrow Kino’s words, that is going to give access to something much larger than the individual parts.

A new marathon training plan

The dogs visited me at the end of my long run on July 4. Yes, that’s a hydration pack. The dew point was around 70, with temps in the upper 70s.

Between June 30 and July 4 I put in a couple of long runs, two in five days. I couldn’t avoid it from a scheduling perspective, but it actually worked out OK.

I’m using a new marathon training plan this time around. I’m using the Galloway run/walk method. I’ve known about it and known friends who have done it, but I’d never taken the time to investigate it further until this year.

I’m doing 3 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. The whole point behind this method is that over the course of a marathon (or even a half marathon), you are saving your legs and therefore feeling fresh (or relatively fresh) toward the end. My problem in previous marathons is that I’m pretty much tapped out by mile 20 and I have to mostly walk. If this method allows me to keep running in those last miles, that will be a vast improvement.

I am loving this method so far! It has allowed me to bump up the long-run mileage fairly quickly. By the time I started training in early June, I realized I was a few weeks behind in the training already (it’s six-month training program). So I did a quick build up each week to catch up — a couple of 8s, then a 10, 13 miles on June 30 and on July 4 a 15. This method is allowing me to save my legs. In previous trainings, no way could I have run 13 miles and then five days later run 15 miles. And I’ve completed the long runs feeling good for the rest of the day and the next day. I can move around and function and do yoga without almost any soreness.

The walk breaks also allow me some much-needed mental rest. In previous trainings, I would take a short walk break every two miles on long runs. But two miles is a long way, especially when you get further into the run and you want a break sooner than that. But with a 3-1 pattern, even when I’m tired toward the end of a run, I tell myself, it’s only three minutes. You can run for three minutes and then you get a break.

You might think it’s boring to run/walk that far. On July 4 I was out there for three hours, counting by 3-1 the whole time. But actually, it gives me something to think about and makes the time go by faster. I find myself focusing only on the next three minutes, then the next minute. I think it’s keeping me more in the moment — which is such a yoga thing to do!

The newness of this approach and the focus it gives me on runs is actually making me look forward to the long training runs. That has never been the case before!

But I can’t say that training for a marathon is easy for me. Though I’m feeling better on my runs and after, some challenges remain:

* I’m kind of always tired. Some days are better than others, but by evenings I’m usually wiped out.

* As always, I’m squeezed for time. There’s work, and there’s running, and if I can fit in some other things, that’s great, but it doesn’t always happen. Right now I’m also trying to focus on my writing and my yoga practice, so when I do that there’s really not a lot of time for anything else.

* Oh, and the heat! I love, love, love fall marathons. But that means you’re doing the bulk of your training in the summer. I used to be really resistant to the heat but I am learning to embrace it, so actually training this summer hasn’t been as bad as other summers.

Overall, knowing that I’m running for a cause this time around casts a whole new, exciting light on this adventure!

Trust yourself. Question your habits. Find the reward in trying something new.

For about 13 years, I had taken Ashtanga classes at only one place — Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato. That changed on Thursday when I drove to Minneapolis to take a Mysore-style class at Minneapolis Yoga.

When Mona took Ashtanga off the schedule at Sun Moon, I really missed it, though I understand that it was hard for her to find qualified teachers. It’s true that I didn’t practice regularly at the studio, but there were times when I attended nearly weekly for 3-4 month stretches. So when it completely disappeared from the schedule, I missed it more than I thought I would.

The absence of an Ashtanga class, combined with my resistance to cultivating a home practice, meant that Ashtanga was absent from my life for the last couple of years save for a shortened practice every once in a while at home. But during my yoga teacher training, I felt strongly pulled to taking up Ashtanga again.

So if I was going to be serious about this, I knew I would have to make a commitment to attending a class. Ashtanga is a very specialized style of yoga, so classes aren’t easy to find. In addition, you want to put yourself in the hands of a capable teacher with whom you’re compatible.

I had some reservations going into Thursday. Mostly, would I be doing it right? What would this teacher think of my practice? David Rogers looked nice and kind when I did my research about him, but what if he was going to be one of those hard and critical teachers you sometimes hear about?

But in general I looked forward to the adventure. If things didn’t go well, then I just wouldn’t go back. But if things did go well, this had the potential for cracking something open for me.

In short, it went very well. Two days later, my mind is still spinning. I gained an entirely new perspective on Ashtanga and I feel newly motivated to practice.

Some of my main takeaways:

* Wow, it was warm in the studio! The class before mine was a Bikram class. David opened the doors and windows, but it didn’t really cool off. So there’s me, the yoga practitioner who had always been resistant to a hot practice, on my mat with sweat rolling off my face, down my back, my arms, my legs, etc. And I loved it. In all those years of practicing Ashtanga in relative coolness and comfort, I realized I was not getting the maximum detoxifying benefits. Let the sweat drip!

* I have some habits to break. David pointed out a couple of things with a gentle, “Why are you doing it like that?” One thing that will take a lot of work is doing a chaturanga with my elbows slightly out instead of squeezed into my ribs. He also showed me some poses in which a flat back was not the primary goal — lengthening the spine could come later.

* This was my first true Mysore experience. In traditional Mysore, a teacher will stop you when he or she feels you have had enough. I didn’t quite get through all the forward folds when David stopped me from progressing further into the sequence. I was grateful — I had so much new information to digest and I was getting tired.

* I had the confidence to do things I had never done before. I explained to David that I didn’t do jump backs. He simply said, “Why not?” And I realized that I didn’t have a good answer. So I gave a weak excuse about worrying that I wouldn’t do them correctly or that I would lose form. He went into a speech about how much we worry about something “looking right” that we don’t even want to try. Mind. Blown. I couldn’t see something so simple for myself.

* I also got the feel for chakrasana (the backward roll in Ashtanga to get from one pose to another in the seated sequence). David helped me — I will need some work to get it on my own — but it felt great to go through the motion. Again — Mind. Blown.

* I had a chance to explain Ashtanga to a group of people unfamiliar with it. As I was waiting for class to start, the sweaty Bikram students came out to join me on the patio. Since Ashtanga is fairly new to Minneapolis Yoga, a lot of them didn’t know about it so they were asking me all sorts of questions. They also liked my dedication to the class for driving a total of three hours for one hour of class 🙂 The three hours in the car offered a wonderful opportunity to listen to books!

* I love the built-in community at a yoga studio. That community is evident at Sun Moon, but it’s also a community where I know a lot of people. Even though I didn’t know anyone at Minneapolis Yoga, we all sat around the patio for a few minutes smiling and talking and sharing our experiences.

There’s so much I’m forgetting. Each moment during class was a special one where my brain was working overtime in digesting the information and also soaking in the experience. I look forward to going back! In the meantime, you will find me on my mat practicing chaturangas and chakrasana at home or in the Fitness for 10 studio after teaching my Tuesday/Thursday classes.

That special yoga glow, lol!

Scenes from a snowy woods

A lot of people in southern Minnesota were disappointed with the few inches of snow we received on Monday. By early March, most everyone is ready to be done with winter! They are itching for warmer temperatures and clear roads. I admit the icy sidewalks and slippery parking lots quickly become tiresome.

But there’s nothing like snow in the woods to make us realize how truly beautiful the winter landscape is. I spent 2.5 hours hiking today at 7-Mile Park and I’m not kidding, I felt like I was out there for only 20 minutes. Temperatures were perfect, in the mid-20s. The exercise helped me stay warm but it was cool enough to keep the snow from melting and getting slushy. The fresh air did wonders for my state of mind.

What helps you achieve mental clarity?

I LOVE winter in the Midwest!

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On Saturday morning, I woke up to a gorgeous winter scene of hoarfrost. Most of my workouts are indoors, but I like to get outside on a long run once a week. This scenery made my run totally worth it.

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A couple of weeks ago I was in Rockford, Illinois, and ended up running along the Rock River during a light, wet snow. The fresh coat of snow made for a beautiful landscape.

Here in southern Minnesota, we probably have a month left of winter, give or take a week. I’ll admit it will be nice to not have to put on layers of clothes plus hat, scarf, and mittens in order to go outside for a run. It will be nice to feel my fingers again, lol! But winter is so beautiful, and I will miss views like this. However, this is the land of four distinct seasons, so I won’t have to wait long for winter to come around again.

Visiting new yoga studios

Only in the past few months have I made it a point to find a yoga studio when I travel, if possible. When I went to Duluth in August, I took two yoga classes at JEM Yoga: one was a yoga/moonlight paddleboard, and the other was a noon vinyasa class at the studio.

On Saturday I went to 815 Yoga in Rockford, Illinois. I meant to take photos at the studio when I was done with the class, but forgot…sheesh!

I will admit I like my comfort zone. I’ve been going to Sun Moon Yoga in Mankato for 15 years and it’s such a comfortable, warm, inviting space. I sometimes think, What if a different studio doesn’t have that same vibe?

But that’s a negative way of thinking. No two yoga studios are going to have the same vibe. And if I find a studio with a totally horrible vibe, well, then I won’t go back.

Both the Duluth and Rockford studios were wonderful places to practice. I was able to settle in quickly and pay full attention to my practice. It’s also fun to see what other yoga instructors come up with for a flow. I’m always challenged when I go somewhere new!

Going to a local business while traveling is also a great way to feel part of the community. You might see a part of the town you wouldn’t normally see as you make your way to the studio. It’s also great to chat with the locals, especially if you need recommendations for places to eat/sights to see/local shopping to do, etc.

God willing, I’ll be back to Duluth and Rockford before too long and I will return to JEM Yoga and 815Yoga. And when I travel to other places this year, I will make it a point to take a class at the local yoga studio. Wouldn’t it be cool to take a yoga class in all 50 states?