When I started writing about contemplative physical practices, I never imagined I’d write so much about running. Yoga and meditation were at the top of my list. When I stop and think about it, running, jogging, hiking and walking (really, any physical practice that allows you to access your best self and inner truth) are moving meditations. As with most contemplative physical practices, there are many parallels between doing the activity and its practical application in life. So if running isn’t your thing, feel free to switch it out for physical activities that resonate with you.

All I Do Is Win: Trail Running Version

For the past few years, every spring me and my running friends have completed a local running event: the Hot Springs Trail Run. Before you go thinking that we’re a bunch of professional runners (that’s where you were going, right? Thanks for believing in us!), we proudly given ourselves the moniker Team Chit Chat which should give you a good idea about how fast our pacing is and what we do during our runs. This Hot Springs Trail Run gives you the choice of two distances: an 18-mile or 5-mile and it takes place at one of my favorite places in Oregon, the McKenzie River Trail. This trail meanders next to the McKenzie River, through old-growth forest, volcanic rock fields, mosses, ferns, and the sapphire turquoise Tamolich (Blue) Pool. If you picture the forest scenery in Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back with the technicolor saturation of the Wizard of Oz and then set a soundtrack of gushing water white noise, you’ll have an idea of the sensory bliss that is the McKenzie River. It is a magical place for me and no matter how many times I go, I always feel the surreality of being immersed in so much natural beauty. It’s one of those places where you say to yourself: “I live here. I am here now. Wow.”

This year, Team Chit Chat was not able to join me for a variety of reasons, so I found myself talking to a lot of new people this weekend. It’s nice to meet like-minded people who share your interests. The course ends at Belknap Hot Springs and your entry fee earns you a soak in the hot springs which is always a win, even more so after you’ve physically exerted yourself.

The Great Anointer: a Party Bus in the Forest

To get us into the festive running vibe, the organizers rented a party bus to get from the hot springs to the start line. Board a party bus complete with empty wine classes at nine in the morning en route to a running event is a great way to break the ice amongst strangers; well-played race organizers! Pink Buffalo always puts on a well-organized event, so I had plenty of time after my short-lived (and unfortunately dry) ride in the booze cruise bus to go hang with one of my favorite rivers and catch up before the event began.

Self-Deprecation is Toxic Social Currency

I met a lot of nice people at the event, many of whom had run this event before. The participants were from all over Oregon; Eugene, Bend, and Portland to name a few. All but one of the people were amateur runners meaning 99 percent of us were here for the pure joy of it, or so I thought. When I spoke to people, I couldn’t help but notice a strong thread of self-criticism. At the end of the race, no one seemed content about their finish time, their pace, or their division placement. Failure seemed to be the social currency. It was as if there was a secret rule: “We can’t talk about how we feel good. We can’t acknowledge the stunning beauty of this place we just ran in. Suffering is the only acceptable topic of conversation for this activity which we all paid $50 to willingly take part in.”

Can We Just Remove “Just” From Our Vocabulary?

I also overheard people downplay their efforts and say: “Oh, I just did the 5-mile run today”. This is something that half-marathoners (13.1 miles) commonly say when there’s also a marathon (26.2) event happening. I was even asked: “Why didn’t you run the 18-mile run?” to which I replied: “The 5-mile works for my life right now.” I got d the feeling my running conversation partner expected me to say something along the lines: “I’m injured right now, so I just ran 5-miles” or “I’m tapering in preparation for a big race” or “I just didn’t feel like it” or some other “lazy” admission of truth.

Even the Nice People Turn on Themselves

Even the woman in front of me who paced with me (meaning I ran behind her and tried to keep up) for most of the race surprised me with her self-deprecating talk. She seemed so friendly and confident during the run. Trail etiquette dictates if you want to pass someone, you are expected to call out “passing on the left”, so each time someone called out to pass her, she would say: “Good job!'” and cheered them on. “What a nice and sporting thing to say!” I thought to myself. “I’ll start doing that too.” In our 4-ish miles together, she told me how she had originally signed up for the 18-mile event but instead opted for the 5-mile distance and that actually she had driven up the trail and started earlier in the day, giving her a total 10-mile distance for the day. “Impressive!” I said to her in earnest, as my legs felt like they might win the prize for “Most lactic acid produced”. She and I stuck together and I pulled ahead of her in the last mile. As we got close to the finish line (which was mercifully downhill, thank you event planners!), I could hear her closing in on me. We both finished strong, had the bottom of our race bibs torn off by volunteers, and picked up our unofficial race results and hot springs ticket. Then I hear this same woman, who had celebrated other runners, adjusted her own distance down and still ran an impressive distance, straight up berate herself. Because she placed fourth in her age division. Her people placed in the top three, earning themselves a finishing medal. “If only I hadn’t stopped so long at the aid station! What’s wrong with me?” she said.

I wanted to lovingly remind my fellow runners that we are amateurs (all but one of us that day). We do this for fun theoretically. We paid to play and run in the forest for the day and have it timed. We soaked in the hot spring and had a sandwich. We all have to go back to work on Monday. The Olympics, a sponsorship, nor a paycheck are on the line for us. So why can’t we just be happy with that? Why is our joy contingent upon placing in our age group, getting a specific time, or some other self-created limitation?

How to Show Up at a Race (or Anything) and Win

Here’s how to show up at a race, or any major challenge, and win the day for yourself and your people.

Commit

Commit to a do-able goal. If you’re running 3-miles consistently and you’re a busy person, you can probably safely go run five miles without much extra training. If you sign up for an 18-mile event, stop and ask yourself if you have time to commit to that training. If yes, hooray! If no, sign up and do the 5-miler and don’t use the word “just” before the distance OR I WILL FIND YOU AND REMIND YOU!

See the Big Picture

What do your surroundings look like? Are you in an office with recirculated air and fluorescent lights? No? You’re in the forest or somewhere outside and hopefully it’s beautiful or at the very least refreshing. BE THERE.

Prepare and Release

Prepare by doing your training, eat well, sleep well, and hydrate the night before, give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the start. Then release into race-day magic and let what will be, be.

Trust Your Body

In training, you will have days where you surprise yourself with what you can physically do. You may even consider signing up for the Olympics because you had such a great physical day! You will also have days where you do everything right and you’re really slow. Your body’s agenda and influential power should be your primary coach and your mind your assistant coach. Your body contains infinite wisdom, so listen to it. Which leads us to the last piece of advice.

Check Your Ego

One easy way to tell if your destructive ego is driving your motivation is if you hear yourself say things like: “We can do this NO MATTER WHAT” and “LET’S RUN FAST EVEN IF IT HURTS, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST! NO PAIN, NO GAIN!” Remember the big picture. What are your long-term goals? Do you want to keep being physically active? Do you want to keep running? Is your value as a person tied to meeting your pacing goal or finishing time? If yes, your ego is running the show. Your ego is a destructive force that only seeks outside approval from others. It is never satiated. It always wants more. You can differentiate “ego” from “ambition” when you tell your ego that you’ve met the goal that you’ve already set and it tantrums out and says shitty things to you to goad you into doing more than is prudent. Let it tantrum out. And remember what your mind and your body committed to in the first place.

Have you ever had an experience where you ego hijacked the wisdom of your body? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Breathe and believe, beauties!

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