Monday, April 21, 2014

Running is Suffering

I have been getting re-acquainted with Buddha's teaching on suffering lately. My wife had gotten copy (audio CDs) of "Coming Closer to Ourselves" by Pema Chodron from a colleague, so we have been listening to it during our morning and evening commute. I had studied some of Buddha's teachings and philosophy back in college when I majored in Philosophy at San Jose State. During my long run on Saturday, Buddha's teachings about suffering came to life and brought me to a more enlightened state of being. Words will surely fail to describe all the thoughts and feelings I had that day, but I know I have to try. 

"Life is suffering". Life is full of suffering, regardless of how blessed you are or think you are. Suffering is complex subject. We suffer due to sickness, death, pain, and a variety of things that are outside of our control. I thought about the suffering in my life and the suffering of everyone close to me. Compared to many of the friends and family I know, my suffering is minuscule. My brother has Cerebral Palsy. A friend is fighting Cancer. An uncle has lost a son to suicide. Another uncle has lost a son to Heart Disease. I cried for them. And I cried tears of joy for all my blessings. I have two beautiful daughters and a loving, supportive wife! I laughed at my own suffering. It was a very emotional run. 

I have been suffering more lately during my long runs. I took a few moments to try and understand why I have been suffering. I have been training for the biggest race in my life - the Western States Endurance Run, and it represents something that I really want. And for that reason, I was suffering. I was afraid of an unfavorable outcome on one of the biggest stages of my life. And because of that fear I had stopped listening to my body on these long runs. Most long distance runners know that on long training runs, you need to listen to your body and just take what it gives you in a very relaxed manner. Save the aggressive running for races or for the shorter speed oriented training runs. 

After 13 miles, I was tired. My training plan for the day included 30 trail miles. I took a 20 minute break to rest and recover before heading back on the trails. I did not know how much further I could go. My coach had told me to "do what you can." So my plan was to go as far as my body would let me. Suffering is greater when you resist that which you cannot change. Because I wanted to do well at Western States, I had been running harder during these long runs. I was resisting the possibility of failure at Western States. When I realized this, I let it go. I accepted my fate at Western States and it automatically lifted a huge weight of suffering off my spirit. And miraculously, I could listen to my body again. I could simply take whatever my body gave me, whether it be a slow hike up a hill or a relaxed shuffle down a hillside. And I could run with the ebb and flow of the earthly trails. I was one with the world around me. It was a beautiful run. I felt so blessed and so alive.

With a mile before arriving back at my car, I tried to assist a little furry caterpillar across the trail, so that it won't be trampled on by any unsuspecting hiker or runner. But instead of climbing on my little branch, it took it's time across the trail - much like the way I found myself running my own pace. We accept our fate and our pace, and in doing so, we lessen our suffering. 

On a scenic hilltop, I stopped and practiced a few Tai Chi movements. I am more than just my running. I am also a martial artist, a husband, and a father (among many other things). I am blessed regardless of what happens at Western States. Even though I deeply desire a good finish at that race, it does not define who I am or who I will become. It is all part of the path to MY awakening. I found such joy and peace during those last 12 miles. 

At the end of run I found a little inch worm and two other little bugs on my shirt and arms. I gently helped them get back to their home on the trails. 

During those 12 miles, I also ran into a fellow runner wearing a bright yellow Adidas shirt and Boston blue shorts. I cheered him on and told him that I recognized his Boston colors. I may have also yelled out, "Boston Strong!". Congratulations to all you Boston Finishers today!


  1. Philosophy? I thought you were a computer guy...

    1. It was the dot com boom! Even philosophy majors could get IT jobs!