Miles apart

13-miles111“Are you ready?” – That is a question I have been asked a lot by those who learn I am running my first half-marathon this weekend. Even my mother is wondering, “Are you sure you can do this?”. And I’ll give you the same answer I gave her: “Mom, I have no idea!”

I know I probably didn’t get a “proper training”, because I simply can’t follow any rules. When I finished reading the book Running on Air for example, I put it down and hit the pavement. Between breathing and strides, I tried to apply all it’s detailed formula and somewhere during my run I lost track of it all. I came up with my own version of this technique, and managed to finished my first 13-mile run that afternoon. Sorry, Budd Coates your technique was a helpful start, but I couldn’t follow it all the way. Not surprising since I can’t even follow a cooking recipe, but somehow I always make it work.

When I am in the kitchen, I change ingredients; I mix different quantities; I add odd ingredients to everyday dishes like, cinnamon on rice, or cayenne pepper on oatmeal. I am as unpredictable in the kitchen, as I am in my runs. I know there is plenty of perfect equations with variables like carbs, electrolytes, pronated and supinated feet, orthotics, lactate threshold, taper….the list goes on. But when I schedule a run, things never go as planned. Days with perfect blue skies followed by GPS in synch, a blasting playlist, the new jacket that is just warm enough and a perfectly balanced evening meal, still might end as a battle against the asphalt in the morning. I try to follow all rules, but if my mind isn’t there, if my heart isn’t there, it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know how you do it, Pro athletes out there who must perform no matter what, when and where!

It’s the same when I’m photographing. I know the rule of thirds in composition. The four saddle points for subject placement that produces the most interesting and dynamic composition forcing the viewer to direct their eyes to the regions that follow the Golden Proportion scheme. Do I think about these rules even for one split second when I am looking through the viewfinder of my camera? Nup. That’s not how I function. All rules get lost somewhere in my brain, and I only follow what feels right. Which for me is something in between a tingling sensation in my belly, a longer inhalation and the skip of a heart beat. That’s when I know its time to push the shutter. And that’s when I know its time to push my body during a run.

And I know just as well, it is not by pounding the ground, puffing my lungs out or breaking my back, like some actually do, that I manage to finish a run. My almost fainting-breathless-self is proof. Instead, I have to go into a space inside my body where all I do is listen. The same space I had to find within myself during a 10-day-silent retreat I signed up for. Do you think running is hard? Try sitting meditation for 12 hours per day/ 10 days in a row. All I could do in that wanna-be-Budha-state was listen to my breath until I could hear my own heart beating. Only when I asked my body “What do you need?”, my hips found a way to melt into a lotus position and stay there without screaming. If I do the same while running, my body has infinite room to expand – there is more than enough air to take in and strides to push out. As long as I care to ask “What do you need?” like some magical running mantra, my body is willing to go the extra mile.

And you never know, there is always the possibility of coming across one of those mutating runs. Those mornings when I am tying my shoe laces as an I-don’t-want-to-do-this runner and finish as a gazelle-chased-by-lion one. In those runs, a sluggish-trotting-being takes over my body the entire first mile, yapping “turn around and walk home.” But if I only stop to ask: “What do you need?”, I can find myself lost in a blissful state by mile 2. In this runner’s high, my already big-mouth-smile doubles in size, and a 3-mile-run becomes 8. That’s because I am no longer running. I am dancing. Yes, sis. You are not the only one in the family that gets to do that. When I pay attention to my breath, align it with my heart, and synchronize it with my strides, a dance takes place.

I was always a quitter. One of those annoying whiny ones:  “It hurts. It’s too hard. I can’t do it.”. That was me at 13, running after my 11 volleyball teammates, the very last in line. So for the next 20 some years my “I can’t run” speech was legit. But the 13-year-old is now going on 40. In 3 months and 3 days to be exact. Mid life crises or not, I know the 13 and the 40-year-old are now miles apart. Let’s just hope they are apart for at least 13.1 miles.

And, Mom… I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you are in town, come to cheer me on and other 1000 runners during the Princeton Half-Marathon this Sunday, Nov. 3rd 2013. Race starts at 7:30AM and lasts for about 3 hours. 250 volunteers and 2000 spectators will be attending. More at https://www.facebook.com/PrincetonHalfMarathon 

Jennifer Cabral is a photographer in Princeton, NJ. Together with her husband, Photographer Eugene Pierce, she creates high-end portrait sessions and photo essays. www.jennifercabral.com

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