“Shoshin” is a Japanese word that roughly translates as “Beginners Mind”. It basically describes an attitude of humility and openness, of striving to see things from new perspectives long after they become familiar. The Japanese also have another word – “Oritatami-gasa” – which is a type of folding umbrella and has less to do with this blog post.
In the world of running I must be a very balanced individual, as not only do I have beginners mind, but also beginners legs and beginners respiratory system.
So, without getting too grasshopper about the whole thing, I’ve had a couple of new insights in the last week or so. For instance, when I decided to head out for one of my first runs since the onset of man-cold* I learned that there comes a point where you have to stop trying to kid yourself that the phlegm you keep coughing up into your mouth mid-run is actually exotic fruit punch.
But anyway, my main revelation came at the beginning of last week when I headed out for a lunchtime 10k around a nearby lake. I’ve run this route many times before and usually manage to get round without too much fuss, enjoying the flat terrain as much as I do the pleasant, peaceful surroundings.
But this time, as I struggled to find a comfortable pace, enjoyment was far from my mind. More than far, in fact. It had jumped in a taxi, bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, turned its phone off and hid in a well with a blanket over its head. My legs were heavy and unresponsive, every step was a test of endurance and I found myself wondering if I should have just stayed at work eating wagon wheels. I’d had runs like this before, and I’m sure most of my lovely readers have too at some point**, but that didn’t make it any less annoying at the time, when I’d been looking forward to it all morning.
But then as I ran, it started to dawn on me why I was struggling so much. I went through a mental checklist of how many carbs I’d had in the last couple of days.
I then tried to work out if I’d been keeping properly hydrated over the weekend.
I couldn’t believe my stupidity, and slapped my head as I ran, causing an old lady walking in the opposite direction with her Yorkshire terrier to look at me aghast, as if I was some sort of sweaty head-slapping man. I’m not a professor of nutrition, in fact I’m barely even the bloke who comes in to put all the chairs on the tables and empty the bins at the college of nutrition, but I know enough to understand that running (even my sort of running) requires a certain amount of fuelling. And I was running on empty.
Now comes the beginners mind bit. You thought I’d forgotten about that didn’t you? Cheeky. Like I said, I’ve had runs like this many times before, and always just put it down to experience, chalking it up as “a bad run” and hoping that the next one would be better. But I bloody love running, so why I let any run be a bad run? As my leaden feet pounded out a laboured rhythm I started to think, turning the situation over in my mind, and suddenly I was hit by an epiphany***. This was a bloody horrible run. It was hard work. It was challenging and unpleasant. And yet I was doing it. I was enduring. I was overcoming. It was a good run.
As runners, we run up hills to prepare us for running up hills. We do speed intervals to prepare us to run faster. So why not run on empty to prepare us for those moments in a race when, after pushing ourselves to the limit, the cupboard becomes bare. On top of that, pushing yourself through this kind of run brings its own sense of achievement and victory. So that’s good.
Incidentally, if you actually carry a cupboard with you on a race, bare or otherwise, then you deserve everything you get.
*I say “decided“. It was more of a quick and necessary escape after Mrs Plod threatened to lock me in a cupboard if I didn’t stop referring to it as “my disability”.
**Those of you who run, obviously. Which is most of you. But not the small but significant cross-section of my readership who keep being directed to my blog after googling “swan attack”.
***It’s a type of badger.
PS: I just thought I’d share this with you, cos I like you. Every now and then, a bog standard run will become infused with a moment of magic. Yesterdays was such a run. A nice steady 11k where I felt strong and generally in my happy place. I was running through one of the nicer parts of town, and enjoying the festiveness of the xmas lights, when I heard music coming from round the corner. Assuming that it was coming from a pub gig or someone’s car stereo I carried on, until on turning the corner I realised that it was in fact an open air xmas choir. An open air xmas choir dancing along while singing a festive version of “Can you feel it” by the Jackson 5. As I’ve said in previous posts I’m more easily distracted than most, but this took first prize 🙂
Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera with me. But I drew you a picture. Then added Batman. Just because.