Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weekend Reading: Zen and the Art of Running

In Zen and the Art of Running, Larry Shapiro uses basic principles from Zen Buddhism shows how runners can use them to their advantage. He starts out with the Buddhist idea of attachments—how attaching negative emotions to bad weather, running in the city, and darkness can create problems. Then, he explains how to change these attachments and improve motivation using the Buddhist idea of mindfulness.

Shapiro's method for explaining Zen principles relies heavily on stories to illustrate his points—some real and some hypothetical. I particularly enjoyed his explanation being mindful of one's reasons for running and using this mindfulness to avoid family tension. Spending so much time away from the family to pursue a hobby can create conflicts with family members, and his explanation helped me sort out some of my own reasons for running.

I tried some of the advice Shapiro gives on meditation and meditative running and found them to be a pleasant and different way to experience something I already do for hours a week. I enjoyed trying some meditative running on a treadmill after our first snowfall left our sidewalks icy and snow-covered. Shapiro pointed out that for some, meditative running may be easier than sitting and trying to meditate in a quiet room. For this runner, that was definitely the case. I'm someone who usually has a lot of thoughts flying through my head and entering a state of relative quietness significantly lowered my stress level. The time on the treadmill also went by quickly and was a great alternative to watching TV, and I found it to be a pleasant and relaxing experience.

While I enjoyed most of Zen and the Art of Running, I could have done without Shapiro’s chapter on training the Zen way. Perhaps newer runners who are clueless on how to train can find some benefit, but Shapiro would have done better pointing runners to other resources on training than coming up with some of his own terms and training ideas. Or, he could have talked about training programs that were out there and explained to runners how to use the Buddhist principle of the middle way to evaluate and modify these programs.

When I first began Zen and the Art of Running, I couldn’t decide how I felt about Shapiro’s tone. It was different than any other running book I’d read—very conversational. It seemed like I was listening to Shapiro give a lecture on Buddhism and running, which makes sense as he’s a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin. After reading a couple chapters I came to appreciate the tone, although at times the stories he included seemed too fabricated.

As far as the Zen Buddhism, it was very surface level but also easy to understand. An appendix offered more information for the interested reader. This book was not about Zen Buddhism but got me interested in learning more. Much of Zen philosophy is more a system of thinking and experiencing the world, not religious doctrine. In fact, a Lutheran professor who, after spending some time in India, told me he believed there were Buddhist Christians.

Overall I enjoyed Zen and the Art of Running. Some of the advice was particularly timely as winter approaches with its slower paces, miles of stationary indoor running, and shorter daylight hours. I'd recommend Zen and the Art of Running to anyone who struggles with motivation, wants to experience their running in a different way, or would like to understand more about why running is important to them.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Post 101!

That's right, this is post number 101. Sure, I could have celebrated post 100, but palindromic numbers suit me better.

These last 100 posts have been fun. I don't know what I was aiming for when I started this blog. I knew I liked writing and had just gotten back into running. I was working a reasonably stress-free job that allowed me some time to read lots of running information online. While searching for reviews on Garmin Forerunners I ran into a hilarious blog called Half Fast, which lead me to Feet Meet Street, which lead me to Running Off at the Mind (see the right side bar if these are sounding interesting).

Having read many blog posts on many blogs along with forum posts on Runner's World, many online and print articles from Running Times magazine, approximately three-and-a-half running books, and the side of several running shoe boxes, it was time to add my voice to the fray.

And now, in honor of my 101st post, this voice is going to tell the story of how Jared and I tricked our wives into running a 5k:

Back in July of 2010, Laura and I were going to go camping at Minneopa State Park with some friends. Unfortunately there were tornadoes, thunderstorms, and flooding in the Mankato area that day. As we drove through torrential downpour, retina-searing lightning, and post-bending wind, Laura continued to insist that we'd still be able to camp.

Instead of setting up camp in an inch-and-a-half of water, we ended up staying the night with Brittany's parents' house in Good Thunder. Their power was out so it was sort of like camping. We stayed up fairly late eating, drinking, and talking. The next morning, however, Jared and I were up early to run the Pioneer Indian 5k. Laura and Brittany were still in bed while Jared and I hatched an evil plan to get them up to run the race.

"Laura," I said, as I gently shook her awake. "Brittany's waiting for you to warm up for the 5k."

Meanwhile, in another bedroom, Jared was saying the same thing to Brittany. It wasn't until they were up and dressed in their running gear that they realized our diabolical, though admittedly genius, scheme. At that point they had no choice: they bowed to our superior intellects and ran the 5k.

The photo above shows a subtle, yet noticeable look in both Brit's and Laura's eyes--the unmistakeable malaise of the vanquished foe. Not only did Jared and I beat them on the race course--we also beat them in an admittedly unfair battle of the wits.

Thanks to everyone who reads my blog. Have a wonderful weekend of running!