The NYC Marathon is 17 days away. This is the largest marathon in the world, with over 50,000 runners traversing through the five boroughs of New York City and crossing the finish line in Central Park. Having spent a good deal of time in the Big Apple over the last year while working toward an advanced yoga certification, I’m looking forward to the 26.2 mile guided tour through this city I’ve grown to love.
The preparation for any marathon is significant, and each event comes with its own set of challenges and logistics to navigate. As I press on with my training, and the general flow of life with all it’s twists and turns, I find myself trying to simplify and preserve my energy in every aspect. In having a family and running a business, I can’t get away with doing less, but I can choose to focus on what’s most important, and let go of the nonessentials.
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
This gem of a passage is just one of many in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I came across this book a few years ago, while fully on the minimalism bandwagon. While furiously getting rid of possessions, paring down and decluttering had some satisfaction, essentialism quickly became my new minimalism, as it helped me zero in on distinguishing this life purpose. It wasn’t so much about living with less or minimizing, it was about connecting to what is most vital.
This mindset spills over into my training. As a casual marathoner, I run just enough weekly mileage to prepare myself for race day, yet not burn out by overtraining or running “junk miles.” Competitive with myself, I keep my goals realistic, yet high enough to stay challenged. In this balanced and relaxed approach to training, I am less fixated on the weekly mileage and pace, and put the emphasis on how my body feels, while taking into consideration my priorities. Family, my work schedule and sleep are what requires the most maneuvering. These factors affect which races I choose to run, and when during the year I commit to the months of training. There are many weekends I need to reschedule or split up my long run to attend my boys’ sporting events, and gone are the days where I set a 4am alarm for the sake of logging sub-par miles. There are days I trade a run for a long hike with my dog, and other days I choose a longer yoga practice over a run. More often than not, I head out the door without a watch, and I have no guilt around, nor do I see diminished returns in occasional slower-paced trail runs instead of pounding it out on the pavement. By allowing for this flexibility, I find when it’s time to bear down, training runs have more focus and serve a higher purpose beyond crossing it off or getting it done. Loosening the tension that can accompany training, takes away much of the pressure and helps to stay dialed in on that which is most important to me, which is feeling good on race day, enjoying the process and keep running a sustainable, lifelong activity.
The essentialist mindset comes into my yoga practice, too. By eliminating the nonessentials, the time spent on my mat directly reflects what I need in that moment. During those higher mileage weeks leading up to a race, working handstand press or padmasana, for example, are not priorities in my practice, and I choose to invest my energy in ways that will physically and energetically complement my running. Yep, that’s another plug for Yin Yoga.
Of course, there are times I divert, or may not feel motivated to stay the course. There are periods when I try to fit too much in, or make poor decisions that end up requiring much more effort from which to rebound. In preparing for two marathons, seven weeks apart, I’ve had many of those blips. Yet, it’s nearly always a run, or the time spent in seated meditation that can ground me when I temporarily lose the filter to discern what matters the most. It’s there where I can fully reconnect with what I value the highest. And from that place, the journey back is that much easier.