6 Foot Track, Trail Run, Blue Mountains, Australia, 2011
I have been running for 17 years. I started running to get fit after giving birth to my daughter. It has become a way of life. I have run close to 20 marathons around the world, and many ultra marathons. My favourite events are the trail ultra’s. Being out in the bush, totally focused on my very next step, and holding this focus for plus 5 hours. People ask what I think about. Rarely do I find myself thinking about anything outside of the immediacy of the needs of my body. It is a very cyclical internal conversation. Monitoring everything. Focusing on every step, for to lose focus for even a micro second means a potential trip, a fall, a sprain, an injury. Everything disappears for the time. It is you, your body, and the forest. I find great beauty in that. Life becomes so very simple.
Last year I ran the famous 6 Foot Track in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney for the first time. I did not know much about it, I had no idea of the course, the hills. I just showed up, and ran. Often this is the best way. It is a pure adventure. A complete surprise. It was a great run. I felt the best I had felt in years. I did not find it hard at all. (Meaning, my body felt well, and strong, no nausea, cramping, difficulty, my movements seemed to flow. Yes, I did get muscle soreness, and it was hard to work the hills, but I felt good.)
This year…well…no experience is ever the same. Some runners go years seeking that moment where everything comes together. That was last year. This year I became aware very early on that something was not right. My quad’s (anterior thigh muscles) felt weak. Unbelievably weak. ‘Recovering from being bed ridden for a month’ weak. This is not good when you have 2,250 metres of vertical climbing (1.39 miles) ahead of you. I had never experienced this before. Not in 17 years of running. Ok.. I said to myself…this too may pass…just notice, let it go…send energy to my legs…For in a 45 km race (28 mile), feeling bad may turn to feeling good at any stage. And vice versa. It was hot, much hotter than last year. While the water stations were very regular, I was thirsty. I was not carrying water with me. Last year it was not necessary. Hmm. Lesson learned.
After the first major climb I knew my trouble was deepening. Not just weakness now, dizziness, wobbly on my feet. And already very slow. Not even half way into the race. Ugly. Tried to drink sports drink, eat some food, get some energy happening.
On Thursday night in Sydney I had met with my beautiful goddess friend Lindley. She has been guiding me on bringing my yin (female) energy into more balance. Running trails is more yin than road running, if you allow your body to breath with nature. But if you hunker down, and push past all intuitions, it reverts to a very yang form of running. I have been very strong in my yang energy for most of my life, in almost all aspects of my life. And in my running, other than the Kokoda Challenge last year, I have only ever pulled out of one event. I have pushed through stress fractures that became full breaks, extreme nausea, hyponatremia (Ironman NZ 1997), and all the other bad days at the running office. Never give up. Never quit. Grit your teeth and finish it. You could count on me to finish, no matter how long it took.
Last year at Kokoda I learned about pushing to collapse. I am wiser now. And older…I heard a voice in my head say…”you do not have to flog yourself any more Christine.” Oh heavens, what a relief. I don’t want to flog myself any more. I have nothing to prove, to me or anyone. I can stop. Surrender. Let go. There is no shame in that. Indeed, the opposite. There is a reverence for my body, and myself.
So when I started to get random intermittent cramps, something I never suffer from in my running, I knew I was in quite serious trouble physically. My body was in melt down. Those were the words that came to me. My cooling system was gone, my body electrics were all out of balance.
I have been thinking this morning that it is strange that these descriptive words are also the words being used to discuss the Japanese nuclear situation as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. On Friday late afternoon when I got to my accommodation in Katoomba I had learned of the Earthquake in Japan, watching, like most of the world, the images of the tsunami that were almost impossible to comprehend as real, and not crafted from some Hollywood blockbuster. Once again, I was crying, feeling so deeply the pain of the people, of earth, of loss. I have felt like I have been crying all of this year so far. The Queensland floods, so near to me, the cyclone, again in Queensland, the Earthquake in New Zealand, and now this. Lurching from disaster to disaster.
My own meltdown was of such insignificance in the scheme of things. However, I am getting that there really is no insignificant event, or thought, or action. As Caroline Myss writes in this very powerful article, we must start seeing and experiencing Mother Earth as a living breathing evolving entity in her own right. Not some static dead thing. When we go into the forest, the forest hears us. When we rape and pillage Earth, she experiences pain. When we are completely out of balance..when there is way more yang energy, then the balance must be restored. And given that Mother Earth has been around for a very long time, I suspect she has the wisdom to know how to restore the balance. However, it will come at a cost…the cost of our gross neglect. And the tragedy will be felt at the human level, as it is being felt now. The heartbreak of real loss of life.
I surrendered. I stopped running. While a part of me didn’t like it, I knew I had made the right decision. The one that honoured me and my health.
Instead I got to hang out with the wonderful volunteers of the Rural Fire Brigade. The 6 Foot track is one of the best run events I have ever attended. (It beats the Boston Marathon hands down.) The Rural Fire Brigade are an extraordinary group of people. I spent several hours in the back of a truck driven by Jack, 18 months retired from being in charge of the Blue Mountains Fire service. Jack signed up when he was 14, in 1953. He rode his horse 10 mile to a meeting, paid his shilling, and rode back home again. Sometime later he was offered a paid position, so, as he said, that 10 mile ride defined his life. As I heard later from John, the bus driver on the trip back from the finish line to Katoomba, Jack was loved by all in his role as leader. His people trusted him, and his skill and knowledge were masterful. Now retired he brought a Harley Davidson, and volunteered at the 6 Foot Event so he could meet up with all his mates. He is as Aussie as you can get.
Something opened in me this last weekend. I have noticed an increase in small miracles…little things…like needing a hair tie at the pool today and almost immediately looking down on the ground and finding one lying there. People being in the right place at the right time, offering to give me lifts, take me to the airport, or the train…
Having spent 50 years with a deeply held belief that life is hard, maybe in no longer being interested in flogging myself, I have released myself from the grip of those smothering tentacles. And in so doing, as Rumi says, life rolls in ecstasy at my feet. Or as Lindley said on Thursday, treat yourself as you would your very best friend. (Would you verbally beat your friend up if she made an innocent mistake? Would you have your friend push themselves into the danger zone just to suit you? Would you want your friend to suffer from overwork? Would you starve your friend for the sake of appearance? Or deny your friend of regular good sleep?)
I will keep running, for now. I may even be back for 6 Foot Track next year. But my intention has changed. I run to be in balance with all, to partner with my body, and nature. To flow with. This is where the joy is. This is where my heart sings.
And my meltdown. I have been in a meltdown for a few years now. My reactors (everything that makes me react instead of respond) are being/have been exposed, and they need cooling. I have sat in my anger, and my fear. Now it is time to be in my love, and be love. What a revolutionary, evolutionary thought.
Sending love to all the people in the world who are suffering. And to all the animals who are suffering. And to Mother Earth in her suffering. Lets stop flogging ourselves, and our world, and each other.