the art of running in the snow

21 01 2009
Running in the Snow

don't let it stop you

yesterday we got about 3 inches of snow here. it’s not much, compared to what we got in PA.  it was a normal training day, so it gave me the chance to check something off my list:  go for a run in the snow.  let me say this : its obvious where the term a “blanket of snow” came from.  i love the snow.  it’s like nature’s mute button.  there is nothing like going out alone for a run and having the planet turned way down so that all you here is the sound of crunching ice crystals under your treads.  when it’s that quiet, i can hear my breath so clearly that it’s like I can feel it entering my throat, filling my lungs and pushing back out of me even more. 

i suppose running has always been a solitary event to me.  and it’s something i really look forward to doing alone. for years now my days have been spent working with and for people, constantly talking face-to-face, on the phone, sending emails, checking blogs, updating twitter, reading articles, doing research – i often feel overwhelmed by the amount of information exchange going on around me.  not when i run.  lots of people are part of running groups, or have running buddies.  not me, at least not yet.  as i said earlier, running is a lonely undertaking for me, and it’s on purpose.  i think that sometimes we’re scared to be alone, for fear of what our thoughts might reveal to us.  on my runs, things become clearer – they seem to crystalize for me.  so that lonely trek is one i almost always look forward to.

now the first half of the 6-miler was into the snow, and that was interesting – tough to look up without getting an eyeful of snow, so most of it was done head down, eyes on the road in front of me.   once i made the turn to head back though, the wind was at my back and i could really get a good look at the world around me.  it was beautiful, white, and perfect.  other people were out enjoying it by then, and campus was particularly buzzing.  it was definitely cold, so the thermal tights and windblocker came in handy. but a handful of snow was the perfect thirst quencher.  so that’s checked off, but i hope to get to do it again.  and you should too.

today was a different story – 18 degrees when i set out for a 5-miler.  the sun was out, but dude – it was cold.  about half way through i literally couldn’t feel my fingers.  and my face was pretty numb.  the biggest trick was dodging all the ice on the sidewalks.  tons of “refrozen” snow so it required lots of focus.  all-in-all this last week has been a real baptismal in winter running for me – a 18-miler all below freezing, a GREAT run in the snow and and icy obstacle course today.  all proof for me that winter is a special time for runners, a great time to see nature in her splendor and no excuse to stay in.

A New Earth revisited

19 01 2009

Back last summer when I picked up “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and began to read it, I had just left for vacation in Western NC.  I’m really glad I got the chance to start this book in a setting like that, away from distractions, quiet and secluded.   I imagine that this book came along at exactly the right time for me, as it has begun to open up doors for me and I’m seeing things in a much different way.  

For me, the key to this book is understanding what Tolle means when he talks about the “ego.”  This is probably the most difficult part of the book to understand, a least for me, but once I did begin to understand it, some of the other messages in the book began to reveal themselves.  He does a great job describing the ego as that voice in our heads that talk to us, sometimes incessantly throughout the day.  That incessant stream of thought, or, as I perceive it, life based on that thought, is the ego.  According to him, most people are still completely identified with that stream of thought.

One way to look at it, one that really clicked with me was a statement he made in the book:  “When you say you have to convince yourself of something, who are you convincing?”  There is only one of you.  That is a glimpse of how your ego works, a constant stream of thought.

I can relate to that.  I’ve always been a person whose mind is constantly racing.  I wake up in the morning and the first hour of my day is spent in thought, just putting together what my day will look like.  Throughout the day, my mind bounces from topic to topic, thought to thought, and by the end of the evening, it takes extra time in quiet to let myself wind down, sorting through the day’s events.  So I know what Tolle is saying when he talks about an incessant stream of thought.

Another interesting topic Tolle covers is Identification with things.  Its the idea that the things you have make you more of a person, or others who don’t have them less than you.  More clearly stated, its the idea that not having something diminishes who you are.  I catch myself (and people around me) on a regular basis fighting this battle – i need an iPhone.  I so want an HD plasma TV.  I need that Patagonia jacket.  It’s as if we are less of a person without the thing we need.  So I should ask myself – without this thing, am I less of a person?  Am I not still as much of a human without it?

So can I get beyond this?  Can I at least start to become present, to be aware of my inner presence and see things more clearly.  Since beginning to read this book, I’ve worked to become more aware of the times when I’m more present than others.  One of the times when I am most present, most aware of my inner strength, is when I am running.  

There is no other time when I have more clarity than during a run.  I’ve discovered that when there is nothing but me and my breathe, when I can run until my mind can no longer incessantly whisper to me, when I can only focus on breathing in and out and moving my legs forward, I become keenly aware of my inner self.  My senses are heightened  and I begin to process things more clearly and see people, situations and scenarios more for what they are.  

So now my new goal is to practice getting to this point, a point of clarity, without actually having to be on a run.  I want to be able to get to that place and for now at least, the best way for me to do that is to focus on my breath – to even practice that and put myself in that state of only me and my breath, with a goal to be present when I need to be – at least at first – and a long-term hope of learning to always be present.

Musical Music – i mean really musical music

5 01 2009

I know I said I’d be discussing “A New Earth” and I will be.  But today is a good day to talk about music, I think.  Occassionally, I find myself catching a new song, or at least one I haven’t heard on the radio and down I go on this trip through music as I try to discover as much as I  an about this new artist.  Not too many years ago I’d have had to go to a music store and buy a CD and hope I liked what I heard.  Now with itunes, google, xm radio, pandora and all the other goodies out there, i never have to leave my desk to go wander down a musical road that leads me who knows where.

I particularly like any tool that can let me immediately get from listening to a song to itunes.  Both Pandora and StarlightXM on my Mac give me that ability.  With one click, I go from listening to a song to itunes to cha-ching! It’s mine.  At this point I have to plug XM Radio and channel 51 – coffeehouse.  True, they do have a limited playlist and I hear quite a few repeats, but they genre and artists are just what I need for a nice little diversion.

XM is where I found my true favorite artist of the last couple of years – Amos Lee.  If you’ve missed out, stop reading this now and look him up on Itunes.  Seriously.  Stop and search him.  I’d suggest starting with “Keep it loose, keep  it tight” and then follow it up with “Seen It All Before” then move into “Night Train” or “Black River.”

The latest I’m hooked on is Ben Taylor.  He’s the son of Carly Simon and James Taylor, so really he had no choice but to be a great singer/songwriter.  Again, I was listening to XM and on popped this song “Nothing I Can Do.”  Wow.  First of all its got a melody that’s really easy to listen to, and any time a song is led with an acoustic guitar, I’m hooked. But even more engaging are the lyrics.  From the start you can tell it’s a love song and the lyrics and the tempo in which they are delivered are absolutely hypnotizing.  Check this out:

First morning ever to have seen the sun
Must have run the other way
Until she found that it was only getting earlier that way
When she spun one-hundred eighty degrees
And beheld the sweet light rising through the trees
She fell to her knees and she began to smile, because
She had been in darkness for a long long while,

It’s clever and clear and meaningful and it’s got a great sound.  If you want to see talent, watch the video below and keep an eye on his fingers as they make a pretty impressive reach.  The lyrics go on:

And the first river to have met the sea,
I beleive he must’ve sighed, said
All this rambling I’m glad to finally find, that
After all I haven’t just been wasting my time.

Good stuff.  I’m a bit fanatical about music.  For me, it must be spiritual and special and somehow a language given to us so that we could communicate after all our words quit working.  So I often find myself moved by music.  I also continue to be impressed and in awe of talented musicians.  There have certainly been times that I have depended on music to “talk me down” from emotional edges when I’ve been wound tight or completely wired. 

I can’t imagine a world without music.  As a matter of fact there are few moments throughout the day that aren’t filled with music in my world.  Even right now I’ve got earphones in and i’m tapping my foot to the beat.

I hope you find a song, artist or genre that speaks to you, that moves you, that means something when you hear it.  I hope you hear a tune that you can’t help singing along with.  Do it.  At a stoplight, in a parking lot, in the shower, on Friday evening, after work, in your kitchen with a glass of wine in your hand.  Then share it.  Because great music is meant to be shared, or it would never get written.  Here’s one for you to enjoy.