Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mental Focus...Just How Important is It?

I mentioned in a previous post that I experienced a horrid day of running just a few days after experiencing a fantastic day.  The horrid day had nothing to do with how my body felt.  It had everything to do with my surroundings, the area in which I was running, and the stupidity of others.  We decided to stay close to home and run a few laps in our neighborhood because of the possibility of thunderstorms.  We didn’t want to get caught too far out from home with no quick way back.

Our neighborhood is not the best.  It goes through cycles where good people come in and everything cleans up, but then we also have the cycles in which not so good people come in and our neighborhood changes to one in which burglaries increase and so do drugs.  Fortunately, the tendency has been to remain in the good cycle longer than the bad.  Still, when out there running, we take many precautions like mapping out our run and sticking to the course at a pre-determined pace so we know where each of us should be at any given time.  We also try to stick together as much as possible, at least in twos, though that doesn’t always work out.

On that particular day, I decided I wanted to run at least three laps, if not four, to get in at least 6 miles.  On the first lap, I felt pretty good as I eased into a good pace and stride.  It was as I entered the second mile that I experienced a break in my mental state when a dog came snarling and snapping after my daughter and me and would not back down.  It took three times of stomping towards it with a snarl on my face and yelling at it to get back for it to finally back down.  This all happened with the dog owners standing there, doing and saying nothing, until the third time I yelled at it.  I guess they decided they should say something, so they meekly called for the dog to come back.  It did not back down as they called it.  It backed down when it realized the ferocity it was going to have to deal with if it kept coming for me or my daughter.  The hair on the back of my neck was standing up and I felt like I was snarling and snapping back at it.  Oh, to have a picture of my face at that moment…

As we resumed running, it took some time, but I was able to fall back into a decent mental state, though I knew I would be coming back down that same road in another 20 minutes or so and I was not sure what I would face.  We continued on, making our way back to the starting point without another incident.  At that point, my daughter went back to the house and I went for my second lap, this time by myself.  Making my way down the first street, I felt this sense of being very alone.  Normally, this is not a bad thing for me.  I usually like running by myself because it is very cathartic.  I am alone with my thoughts and I have the opportunity to work through things.  It is also a time when I go into a meditative state, where I am aware of my surroundings but deeply in tune with my body.  The sense of aloneness I felt was not this same sense I describe as a meditative state.  I was very focused on my surroundings, especially as I rounded the corner on to the very street on which the dog had come out at us.  Thankfully, the dog was restrained this time, but then, another set of circumstances came into play.

Our city utilizes inmates from the state prisons to do clean-up work around the city.  They do various jobs on city property, such as cutting grass, painting, taking down overgrown foliage, etc., any where from 5-10 inmates under the supervision of one or two deputy sheriffs.  I think it is a good program, but that doesn’t mean I want to be out there running by myself in an area where they are working.  Am I paranoid?  No, I don’t think so.  But, I am cautious.  I believe it is better to be cautious than caught in a situation that could have been prevented.  All this is to say, as I turned onto the next street, I saw the van used to transport the inmates just down the road from where I was running, but I could not see any inmates.  I kept my eyes peeled for where they might be working because I was going to be taking a side road that has little traffic on it and I did not want to be running down that road to find that was where they were working.  I was able to see down the full stretch of road and saw they were not working there, nor were they working on the ball fields that line that side street.

I proceeded with my run, but just felt out of sorts.  I struggled with getting into any kind of rhythm, realizing later that the struggle came because I was not going “internal” at all.  I was so focused externally, I did not have the natural balance of focusing both internally and externally, that meditative state where I am aware, but highly attuned to my body.

As I started another lap through our neighborhood, I was, whether intentionally or not, followed down the street by a man and no one else was outside for the entire length of the street.  I decided if I was going to keep running, I was going to carry my protection in my hand instead of in my pack, so I would have it at the ready if needed.  Once I turned down the next street, I never saw the man again and, as I made my way back around the area in which the inmates were working, I figured out they were working at a building a ways down from my route; however, I never reached a good mental running state.  I realized after I was home for a bit that my disgust with my run had nothing to do with the run itself; rather, it had everything to do with my hyper-awareness of my environment and my inability to meditate along the way.  It was a very tiring run and I do not wish to repeat it any time soon.  Still, I will not let that stop me from getting back out there and participating in an activity I love dearly.  I will just be sure to be as prepared as possible while I’m out there, for dogs, people, and the like.

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