Tokyo Marathon: a test of my yogic self
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on March 7, 2017

The Tokyo Marathon start line.

Ready or not, do or do not.  There is no try.

I tried to remember this during my meltdown two nights before the Tokyo Marathon.

Tokyo doesn’t play.  If I wasn’t over the 10K marker by a certain time, race officials would be blocking the road, and all stragglers would be disqualified.

That wasn’t a big worry until I found out I would be in the last corral.  With 35,000 runners in front of me, it could take me 30 minutes just to get to the start.

I hadn’t trained for the pace I needed, so I started to sweat.    

I’m a happy zen runner.  I don’t watch the clock.  I commit to the distance, however long it takes. I run every race with the energy I have that day and breathe through my nose.

If I wanted to finish Tokyo, I couldn’t dabble in zen luxury.  I had to blast out of the gate and maintain an uncomfortable pace for an uncomfortable distance while wiggling through thousands of people.

This was going to hurt, I thought, and test me as a runner.

I was wrong. The running was easy.

This challenge would test me as a yogi.

Test #1: Intention or results.

I sat before the full-length mirror in my hotel room and held my own gaze, looking into myself.

It never mattered how long it took me to run a marathon.  I just wanted to feel great doing it.  What was different this weekend?  If my time didn’t matter, why should finishing?

Non-attachment to results is yoga quicksand, and it can be a seductive, convenient excuse for not rising to life’s challenges.   I set a goal to run a marathon, not a goal to try to run a marathon, and I was going to do it. My word to myself had to remain impeccable.

Results, in this case, mattered.

Test #2: Living in the present.

Goals are stuff of future.  Process and intention are in the present. The present was where I needed to be.

On the course, I withdrew my senses and forgot the finish line.  I shut off the wind and the 40-degree temperature. I did not sightsee, chit chat or snap pictures. I focused on my breath and the sensations of my feet moving along the earth, my glutes propelling my body forward, my arms releasing all tension from my body. All the while, I monitored the flying time on my Fitbit and adjusted pace accordingly.

Focus.  Dharana.

Test #3:  Appropriate detachment.

Yes, it hurt, and I had to control my response.

I imagined all the pain and fatigue, my screaming quads and glutes and shoulders, in my right fist.  I tightened my grip, crushed it all and said, “Not now.” Then I released.

With my body’s sabotage thwarted, my brain dispatched its gremlins to tempt me with quitting.

My higher mind drowned them out with “Keep Moving.”  And I did. Mantra.

Test #4: Gratitude.

In the final 5K of the race, I noticed I was surrounded by walkers.  I checked my watch, and there were no checkpoints between me and the finish – just plenty of time.

It was time to gift myself with joy.  I slowed to a walk, and took it all in.  A single man played an infinite loop of the Rocky theme song on his saxophone.  The crowd bounced to the taiko drummers and waved stuffed animals in the air.  Children reached over the barriers, and I obliged them all with high fives.

I was safe. I finished.  And it mattered.