Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Long Run

(thanks for the inspiration NG, SB, and my other friends)

Last weekend some of my friends ran the Tokyo Marathon.  While I am certainly not a runner, at least not anymore due to my dodgy knees,  I am very impressed with those who do distance running, and they have my deepest respect.

There is a lot that we martial artists have in common with marathon runners, and our paths are closer than many would think.

The Journey of Self
As every competitive runner knows, even when you run with a group running is a journey of the self.  Running puts you in tune with the rhythm of your body and many consider it a type of "moving meditation".  Running is a way of exploring the self and challenging your own limitations. Martial arts is very much the same.  Although friendly competition is welcome in both, at the end of it all, success is dependent on the self.  That being said, the camaraderie among runners is no less passionate than that of martial artists.  Good runners know each other and share a common understanding and respect of each others' commitment and dedication.  We martial artists should do the same.  Everyone has a personal journey and deserves the support of those around him/her.  No one's challenges are greater or less than another's. We each have our personal goals to achieve.

Longer-Term Objectives
Differing from sprinters, distance runners have a very special mindset.  Completing a marathon requires unwavering focus on the longer-term objectives.  Even at the 5-mile mark, good runners never lose sight of the finish line.  It is important to avoid distraction and keep moving forward. As martial artists, we too have a vision for how and who we want to be, and each step brings us a little closer to that.  Just like distance runners, good martial artists stay the path and do not lose their way.

A Series of Smaller Goals
Good runners know that a long distance run is really a series of smaller goals in sequence.  To achieve a good time, it doesn't do to run slowly all along and then try to spring at the end.  Pace is critical, and each milestone is an important part of achieving the whole.  Martial artists also know that the whole is a sum of the parts, and each training session has specific goals that contribute to the end result - a better YOU.

Training, Training, Training
My distance runner friends have tremendous discipline in their training.  None of them achieve good times by simply rocking up and having a go.  They all train for months in advance, following a set regimen to prepare their body for the task.  Not only does this exact training regimen yield a better time, it is an important part of letting the body adjust so as not to suffer injury.  In every activity, recovery is absolutely critical, and that doesn't happen well unless the body and mind are trained,  In martial arts, too, the commitment to training shows in every movement.  Nobody is born a world-class martial artist, just like no one is born a performance runner (although our bodies are certainly designed to run).  It takes years of dedication to reach an elite level in either one.  Good athletes of all types can and should be just as proud of their training discipline as they are of the actual end result.

For all sustained effort, proper breathing is essential.  Good runners carefully monitor their VO2 and train to increase their lung capacity and set their breathing rhythm, since they know that this is a key part of achieving peak performance.  The relationship between proper breathing and martial arts is also well documented and has been proven for more than 5,000 years.  Without a specific emphasis on proper breathing techniques it is not possible to achieve good results in running or martial arts.

Dealing With Injury
Injury is inevitable.  At some point in training or practice, injury will occur, and dealing with injury is an important skill.  Both mentally and physically, we need to understand how to cope with injuries, and accept that proper recovery is necessary for our long term performance.  Injuries require proper medical care and enough rest to recover fully.  Pressing on through injury is a conscious choice that should be made with utmost care, since it can affect the future.  Mind over matter is all well and good, but the goal of running, just like martial arts, should always be personal development, health and longevity.

Determination and Willpower
No post on running (or martial arts) could be complete without mention the mental aspect.  Great runners, like great martial artists, have iron will and determination to achieve their goals.  Rain or shine, they train.  This is why distance runners, like martial artists and other elite athletes, are highly sought after in the professional world.

Good runners, like all good athletes, master their diet.  They know that what you eat determines how you perform.  They are careful in how they absorb calories, and carefully monitor their bodies.  Martial artists, too, should care about their diets, since diet affects every other aspect of our lives including mental/emotional state.

You Get Used to It
Starting out as a runner by trying to run 26 miles is a very bad idea.  As I mention above, conditioning the body to handle those kinds of distances without serious injury takes time.  During a distance run, various aches and pains come and go, but a good runner simply monitors them and lets them go, continuing on to the finish line.  Adjusting to the training regimen, and ultimately the pace of the performance, is a key part of running, just like it is a key part of martial arts.  Too much too soon leads to burnout.  It is far better to set up and maintain a sustainable routine, and slowly increase the workload over time.

Many athletes talk about how addicted they get to running, especially to "runners' high", the feeling of elation at the sustained, high-performance level.  Once the body is conditioned to avoid injury, runners can run "in the zone" and find their body craving more.  I have friends who run frequent marathons, as well as trail runs, triathlons, and other elite endurance events throughout the year, and their lifestyle revolves around it.  I find that my life revolves around my martial arts, and I think about it constantly, even after 35 years of training.

In conclusion, MUCH RESPECT to all my friends for challenging such a worthy goal.
You taught me a lot.  Thank you for your inspiration.      

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