“Are you trying to prove something?” This was the first question posed to me by Yogrishi Vishvketu (Vishva-ji) at the beginning of our first session together. I contacted Vishva-ji to help me prepare for the Annapurna 55k trail race that I will be running in October. While I do have a running coach to provide me with a training plan for running, I was curious about what’s possible by integrating an athletic performance yoga plan into my overall preparations. Vishva-ji is a Himalayan Yoga Master with extensive training and study in yoga and sport. (More in a separate post on the astonishing results from the practice Vishva-ji created for me.)
Getting back to the question, “Am I trying to prove something?” My reply was, “No. I’ve never run that far or up a mountain so I’m curious to give it a try.” He asked me the question a second time. “Are you trying to prove something?” Again I replied no and we moved on in our conversation.
The next day as I was practicing the practice that Vishva-ji had created for me, his question hovered in my mind. I wondered, “Am I trying to prove something?”
My thoughts wandered back to my earlier running days and how caught up I became in the “BQ” frenzy. BQ stands for ‘Boston Qualifier’ meaning marathons where runners can qualify to run the Boston marathon. Qualifying is based on completing a marathon in a particular finish time dependent on age and gender.
Running a marathon was initially a dream for my next lifetime. Then, after completing a few marathons, I thought, “Gee, maybe I should try to qualify for the Boston marathon.” And so it began – my relentless pursuit of finishing a marathon fast enough to qualify and run the illustrious Boston marathon. It took completing 15 marathons before I finished fast enough to qualify for Boston. In general, I enjoy running so I don’t mind the training. However I tended to overdo the training and end up injured. I wanted so desperately to qualify. I was sure I could do it having missed by only a couple minutes on several occasions. If I ran more and faster and longer…
As I reflect back now, my entire focus was on my finishing time. And all the marathon finishes that didn’t qualify weren’t good enough. I never truly celebrated completing a marathon if it wasn’t fast enough for Boston. My best was 3 hours 53 min. A great run. A great finishing time. But 3 minutes too slow to qualify for Boston for my age at that time. So not really all that great of an accomplishment. Or so my thinking was then.
Fast forward about 15 years, and I ended up qualifying for Boston twice, then ran the Boston Marathon in 2011. AND it was my slowest marathon finishing time ever despite perfect running conditions that day. Disappointingly, I didn’t really enjoy the race either. It took a while to be at peace with my slow time and unpleasant experience. While I was pleased I ran the Boston marathon, I never truly celebrated this incredible accomplishment.
I spent so much time, effort, energy and money running marathons to prove I could qualify and run the Boston Marathon. In the end, I felt a big ‘so what’! And the truth is, because the conditions were so great that day, I was disappointed I didn’t re-qualify for Boston. I’m sure what drained my energy and zapped my joy was the voice in my head saying I must now re-qualify for Boston at Boston, or it just wasn’t good enough. Proving, in that race, was about being good enough. I’ve realized how dangerous ‘proving’ can be. Proving to who? Why? For what purpose?
Here I am eight years after my Boston marathon. I signed up for the Annapurna 55k because I’m going to be in Nepal at a Himalayan Writing and Meditation Retreat and the timing is just right to run this race after my retreat. “Why do I want to run this distance anyway?” Vishva-ji’s question had me think deeply about my intention and expectations from running 55k in the Himalayan Mountains.
I’ve written about turning 59 and fearing 'getting old' and choosing to celebrate this year and make it one of adventure, learning and challenge. To enjoy the discovery process of what’s possible. To be present in each moment. To develop and hone practices that will sustain me … wait …sustain is not the right word. I want to develop and hone practices that will rejuvenate me as I enter the third third of my life, supporting me in becoming more of who I want to become …since we are always in the process of becoming!
I contacted Vishva-ji to help me on my journey to completing the Annapurna 55k because he can help me increase my lung capacity, and develop greater stamina and efficiency while running. As we chatted in my second session about the practice he had created for me, he reminded me that yoga is a whole person practice. While this practice will help me with my athletic performance, it will also help me with overall health and well-being — mind, body and spirit.
Yoga is an optimization in total self, and its effects are really far-reaching in our lives.
Jishva-ji’s wise question about whether I’m trying to prove something was a total self question. Completing 55k in the Annapurna Mountains is a total self endeavour. Nothing to prove this time. I am an experiment of one 59 year old woman athlete and human being who is curious about what’s possible both from athletic accomplishment and who I am becoming. The journey from the time I signed up for the run till I get to the start line is as important as whatever happens after the start line. My goal is to feel confident, able and strong even when it gets tough because I have no doubt that it will get tough.
What I’ve learned is that ‘proving’ is about external validation – an ephemeral state of accomplishment based on what we believe will meet other’s known and unknown expectations so that we feel good enough. The only person’s judgement that matters is our own. Ask yourself these four questions to prevent slipping into the proving rut like I did.
Asking myself these questions every time I train means I get to enjoy the journey every step of the way to 55k – both the good and the tough days. I can think of no better way to prepare for this adventure into the unknown.
Why am I running the Annapurna 55k? My first answer to Vishva-ji was truthful. I’ve never run that far or up a mountain so I’m curious to give it a try. I’m grateful for the reflection his question initiated reminding me that the overall joy from the experience will be heightened by being present on the journey to getting there. And finding more-in-me every day along the way.
Do you have a ‘proving’ story? How have others’ perceived expectations influenced your choices? What is your story of catching yourself ‘proving’ and how did you shift your intention and actions?
At the core of the More-In-Me Movement is the presumption that we are good enough. In fact, more than good enough. We’ve got what it takes to achieve unknown possibilities. Our potential is unlimited. Take a big breath in and connect with your more-in-me. Then get moving!