Mental Health, Mindfulness and a Marathon
Every year I like to set myself challenges which will grow me mentally, emotionally, physically, creatively and spiritually. This year my physical challenge is to run 26.2 miles in one go. What I didn’t consider when I set this intention, was that this particular endeavour would be so much more than just physical.
In October the letter came through; ‘Congratulations, your entry for the Virgin Money London Marathon to be held on Sunday 23 April 2017 has been accepted.’ Ooo I thought, that’s exciting….and a little bit scary.’ I had high hopes for raising a lot of money for Autism Angels and a firm belief that with the right training plan it was all about putting one foot in front of the other….repeatedly!
What has followed over autumn and winter has been a journey of emotional highs and lows and a developing intimacy with my inner voice. Running alone (with the exception of my faithful hound) mile after mile, free from the distraction of any music or audio, I have spent many hours with myself. Many hours observing my mind, my ego, my emotions and my body. Being present with my unique self; myself in relation to the world and the incredible power of nature.
This all began in late October on the cliff tops of the Cornish coast. Making a trip with my family to scatter my Mums ashes I started my training. It is hard to put into words the emotions I felt on that trip; the indescribable elation of running free on the wild coastline, overawed by the beauty of nature and the spirit of the sea. This was a truly spiritual experience, so close to the reality of death and loss and feeling so incredibly alive.
I was often caught off guard by the rush of emotion which can be released when we make space for it. It was not unusual to run with tears streaming down my cheeks or a huge grin plastered across my face- it was time and space to feel, to breathe, to be present and connected to something much greater than my physical body.
It seems that spending so much time in repetitive physical effort has allowed me to go beyond my body, to witness my mind and to experience my spirit. As the runs became longer and it was necessary to be out for hours at a time I could observe the circular nature of my thoughts, the obsession with counting the miles, the continuous negotiation about how to keep going when my legs hurt or my shoes rubbed or my energy simply deserted me.
However; once I became aware of the pettiness of my mind to engage in this overthinking, another part of me was awakened, a calm and centered observer who would offer insights and creative ideas. An intuition which spoke with wisdom and noticed what was. And so this physical challenge became a mental, emotional, creative and spiritual experience too.
When the runs have been tough I think of the children I want to help and how hard life has been for them, when I want to stop and rest I bring to mind that they may be unable to stop their suffering. When I am reluctant to go out and it just seems too hard I draw inspiration from their courage.
So, with only two weeks to go until I face the big one, what have I learnt? I have been reminded that I am capable of whatever my mind believes I am capable of. I have repeatedly experienced the amazing power of nature to connect me with my heart and soul. I know that it is possible to rise above the busyness of my mind and the concerns of my ego. I have learnt to make space for my emotions and be mindful of the present moment. And after 19 miles of running, with my legs burning and my mind screaming that I can’t possible go any further; I know that I can always take one more step because there is nothing more resilient than the human spirit.