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This summer has been a busy one. My wife is a busy person in general and likes to plan things months in advance so unless I learn how to claim time better I'm going to be defaulting to her schedule. She makes a good effort for making sure I get "me time," but weekends are a tough commodity to keep available. Case in point: this last weekend I ran the Spokane to Sandpoint Relay Race, about 200 miles of staying up all night either running or driving. I went along because I knew it was important to my wife (she did it last year and had a lot of fun), but I was a little unhappy about yet another weekend being taken away months in advance.
That said, I had a blast. I got to run the first leg down Mt. Spokane at 6am, so I got to see a wonderful sunrise. The 5 miles downhill went smoothly. It was designated as a very hard run because of how hard it can be to run downhill, but it was the easiest of the 3 legs I would run. I spent a lot of time focusing on how to absorb the impact so my knees and hips wouldn't get too tight. I would feel where it was going into and try to shift it into different areas...really, to spread it out. Throughout the race I found that focusing on my feet and how they struck the ground was crucial to both maintaining stamina and minimizing wear and tear. The second leg was the shortest, but toughest. My first leg was done at about 60 degrees F, but my second leg was done in 80 degree weather with a lot of gradual uphill climbs and no real breeze as I ran near I-90, sucking in exhaust along with my needed oxygen. It was only 3.5 miles, but I walked some of it and couldn't wait for it to be over. Fortunately the last leg was at 3am and after a rude awakening camping next to a sprinkler at 2am, I was ready to burn some asphalt. I had gone to bed hoping the hazy sky would clear up for my night run and as soon as I was safely out of the line of fire from the sprinkler I noticed it cleared up nicely. I missed those stars; hadn't seen many of them for over a decade.
This final leg would be the most meaningful for me. I was looking forward to an evening of dazzling stars and cool air, but it began with my headlamp and one of my flashers failing on me. It's a little nerve-wracking running along a road in the pitch black night, particularly a road with almost no shoulder an hour after "last call" (a runner was killed a few years ago by a drunk driver). The first portion gave me about a foot between the white line and the edge, which gave way to a sloping bunch of gravel before diving deeper into a small gully or flattening our into the occasional driveway. My first mile was about 12.5 min. because of all the fiddling and adjusting of the lights. I was able to get the light to turn on, but it kept popping back off again as my stride caused the internal connection to bounce around. I thought if I could just turn it on when I saw headlights I would be safe enough, but I spent the first portion looking for places to dive into if need be and getting frustrated. Finally I caught a sense of what the problem was: the battery backing was only half attached. I stopped, and after much swearing and oaths of vengeance, I got things straightened out. Suddenly I found my frustration translating into aggressive running. My second mile was 9 minutes (I was aiming for 11-minute miles) and I could feel it as I moved into the third mile. I gradually got slower, but I stayed within my goals and finished with as strong a sprint as I could manage. It felt good. The ki was flowing and while I was exhausted mentally (no more than 2 hours sleep in 24 hours time) and physically (this was the last of my 15+ miles), I felt really good. I've noticed a strong sentimentality forms after events like this. I find myself thinking more about my kids, missing them enormously all of a sudden; my deceased dad; my friends; my hopes and my fears. They all take on a new light and I feel expansive and ready for anything.
Of course this all relates most to the aspect of Aikido. I didn't do any suburi on this run or anything that most people would call Aikido, but I spent a lot of time self-regulating with the aim of managing the stresses I was mentally and physically dealing with. The nature of my mental orientation, my attitude, shaped everything. The nature of my physical orientation, my posture, shaped everything. The mind-body dichotomy was evident throughout and as I kept focusing on re-expanding my intent, my body would follow to some extent and the burden would diminish until my focus flagged somehow. As you run long distances, the body begins to collapse on itself as different areas take on more and more tension. This seems like a perfect metaphor for the human condition. I thought a lot about kannagara and musubi during all this and thoroughly enjoyed connecting to Great Nature around me (mostly ). I still am looking forward to keiko Saturdays again, but this was a good bit of training in its own right.