Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Tao of Training: First Insight

Two years ago, as I recovered from a severely pulled hamstring, a very simple, yet profound, thought occurred to me. For the greater part of my adult life I have found wisdom within the pages of Tao Te Ching and used it to guide me personally and professionally. But it wasn't until I had attempted to race again and failed because of the injury the thought, "Why not use the Tao to guide your training and racing?" came.

In training and in life in general, the "why" or reason for for doing something is usually, at least on some basic level, understood. But ironically the "Way" or how we choose to go about carrying out our chosen mission can be clouded in superstition and mystery and heresay. How we often go about our training is often shrouded in a series of complex equations with variables including things such as nutrition, heart rates, volume, power, recovery, duration, and motivation.

Loosely translated the word Tao simply means " The Way." But as with most of the wisdom in the Tao Te Ching, there is more too it. The mind we come to the words with usually provides a framework for any insights we are able to draw from the book. Just as the mind we come into each training session will say a great deal about what we ultimately take from it whether the transformation that results is physical, emotional, mental, or some combination of the three. Over the next few weeks I'll share a few of the insights that I've taken and used to form the pillars of my training and return to racing. Here is the first insight:

"...A journey of a thousand miles starts under one's feet.."

In most translations it is probably more common to see this idea expressed this way: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Scholars routinely split hairs over which translation is in keeping with the spirit of the original sentiment, but I don't really think it matters. They both say the same thing. Wherever you are, "begin at the beginning." For me a couple of years ago it meant walking all winter to restore leg and tendon strength. At first walking 2 miles was a challenge. By spring walking 10 miles two to three times a week was routine. And by early summer I was able to run again. Sometimes we let the enormousness of the task at hand prevent us from even attempting to begin. As a result we don't do anything and our goals and aspirations never come to fruition.

But now I'm also trying to follow a sequential pattern of training moving from recovery, to strength, to flexibility, to endurance, to race prep, to racing each year. In the past, I might have been tempted to skip some prep work thinking my past fitness made some portion of a current phase unnecessary. I might have also tried to jump into race prep type work just because people was I training with were working on speed or were just training haphazardly. In retrospect, in looking through the lens of The Tao, I understand the problem with this pattern of behavior. When dealing with fitness, especially race fitness, it is best to respect where you currently are. Not respecting where I was in my training is probably how I wound up with a pulled hamstring in the first place. No bit of wisdom could be more simple or more clear:

"Start wherever you are and build from there."

1 comment:

jlyoung23 said...

Nice post. I am recovering from a severe hamstring pull, and it's frustrating not to be able to do anything, especially ride my bike. Thanks for posting your philosophy as well; the hardest part about anything is getting started, but once you do, the rest seem to come easy.