By the 28km mark of this year’s Christchurch Marathon, I could barely jog. My race was shot. The goals I had been working towards for months would not be achieved.
Others might have fallen into despair, but not me. As I completed the race, I was able to apply techniques in mindfulness and self-compassion, keeping myself present and finding joy in the little things those last 15 kilometres had to offer.
The first step towards mindfulness is acceptance. We can be so self-critical. I observed my thoughts as they entered my mind, acknowledging them and embracing them non-judgmentally. When I thought that I was old and hopeless and would never run again, that my coach and family would be ashamed of me, and that Christchurch is a stupid place anyway, I let the thoughts flow by. That was really good.
Around the 32km mark, I took a moment to check in with my five senses. My sense of sight told me that the potholes of the red zone were somewhere beyond the drips of sweat and sun cream dribbling over my eyes.
My sense of touch informed me that I was being stabbed by a safety pin that I had used to secure a gel. This made me feel very centered in my shorts.
My senses of taste and smell told me that I had recently dry-retched. (To be honest, I knew that already.)
My hearing told me that someone was playing the bagpipes up ahead. That took me to a dreamy faraway place where I was a Scottish soldier in the central lowlands, about to be massacred by an English army. It also made me think about Mel Gibson.
Some clever tricks of self-compassion let you turn a negative thought into a positive thought. For example, at one point I found myself thinking “I’m totally buggered, and I’m not finished!” I quickly turned it into, “I’m totally buggered, and I’m not finished yet!” That was a great thought to have because it stayed true for a long, long time.
No matter how awful things seem, there is always something to be grateful for. At 35km I chose gratitude, thanking the world that I did not have the strength to push the bagpiper into the river, which might have got me disqualified.
Another good way to change your mood is to turn your attention to something that makes you smile. It might sound silly, but I recited one of my favourite little jokes: why did the marathon runner cross the road? (Answer: he didn’t because he couldn’t.)
When you are stuck in a cycle of self-criticism, you can stimulate self-compassion by approaching your situation from the perspective of a loving friend. At 40km I imagined myself as my friend, giving myself words of warmth and affirmation. Shortly afterwards I ran past one of my actual friends, a member of WHAC who had finished the half marathon earlier. He did indeed give me a perspective on my situation but, it was not the one I had imagined. In fact, I’m not sure we are friends anymore.
Ultimately, whatever techniques work for you, mindfulness is about seeing the bigger picture, putting everything into its place. Yes, there is the pain. There is the chafing, the sore quads, the blisters, the churning stomach, the atrophied shoulders, the photographers, the sad looks from the spectators, and the hotel bill and plane fare you still need to pay.
But when you see it from a mindful point of view, you see that it is temporary. It’s just one day. Because life is not a sprint, it’s a…