February 8, 2012

Run Like Dean (Not Karnazes)

Run Like Dean (Not Karnazes)

I was on the phone the other day with my very dear friend Samantha and at some point – so often the case for me now – the conversation turns to running.

“I got jealous that you were running,” she tells me, “so I have started doing it too.”

“Yay!” I exclaim into the phone. “You have to promise to tell me about it for the blog.”

We chat a bit about where she is starting and where I started and at some point the conversation moves to the various places we both hurt. Is this just a normal thing when you get older…do you just talk to your friends about your aches and pains? For a brief instant I can see Sam and me as old ladies sitting on a porch playing Boggle and talking about our arthritis. That might really be my future.

She is talking about her shoulder which has been an incredible source of grief for her recently. I also have a bit of a history of shoulder and neck pain, and and feel like I can offer some truly useful guidance here.

“Did you ever watch Dean Foster run?” I ask her. “You should try to run like Dean when your shoulder hurts.”

Then I explain. Many years ago, in what almost feels like a past life, Sam and I both did martial arts with Dean. A naturally gifted athlete, Dean was also a great teacher with a lot of passion. He was always pushing himself, and always pushed the rest of us – mostly with a smile on his face. But when I told him I was going to include him in this blog because once, a long time ago, he taught me something about running, he responded “I did?”

Sometimes the best things people teach you are what you learn by watching them just do what they do. Our advanced class used to run sometimes.  It was always painful for me.  This was Portland – usually it was cold and wet. I was not managing my asthma then so I was always wheezing and lagging behind. It was kind of miserable. So to keep myself going, I would watch the guys who were good. It was always great to watch Dean. Why? Not just because he made it look easy, but because he always looked so relaxed.

Here is what I observed – and what I shared with Sam – Dean would often do this thing when he ran where he would just completely let go of his upper body. He would his shoulders drop and his arms relax by his sides so they would almost just hang. it made him look a little like a blond gorilla – running like that with his arms down – but in as much as it was a little funny, it stayed with me all these years.

When I started to run, I began to notice all the places I held tension. I could feel my neck, shoulders, arms tighten and clench as I ran and sometimes I would finish a run with more pain in my shoulders than my legs. Then I don’t know why but I am running one day and feeling all this tension build in my shoulders and I think of Dean. I find that I am seeing an image of him in my head, running, with his upper body completely relaxed like that. I breathe deeply, drop my arms, shake out my head a little, and try to let go.

It’s hard. Letting go must come naturally to some people, but I am not one of them. For me relaxing takes effort (does that seem wrong…). It takes practice. But I sort of hope that if I keep practicing, I will get better at it over time.

Even if I am not an expert, however, I can share. I can take what I learned all those years ago, practice it now and pass it on. Maybe it will help Sam, maybe it will help you. I can’t know.  Learning, after all, is a lot about trial and error and trial again. Had I just been happy to go with my early experiences of running, I would have never done it again. But now, I can try reach back into my past and try old lessons on again to see if they fit today

Usually we think about observing as a thing in our present, but we can also observe our past. When we look at our lives from the view we have today, we might just be surprised by what is suddenly valuable.

The me of today, after all, is made up of all the my experiences in the past – good, bad, memorable, unmemorable. We just have to trust we can bring forth what we need when the time comes.

So here is to learning to relax a bit 15 years later. Thank you, Dean. Maybe I can repay the favor one day.






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