Marathon and the long road to sleep

training-botanic-garden

After three months of training, four bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and, for my standards, an exaggerated amount of animal protein, I’m ready for the marathon. Today I began my taper week so, when I woke up this morning, instead of my running shoes, I reached out for my laptop—I finally have a bit of time to write and reflect on my training. I’m still in bed, the early morning sun is shining through the spaces of the Venetian on this glorious Sunday, I hear the birds chirping and feel itchy to join them outside like I did every Sunday for almost 12 weeks. The birds have been my companions throughout this training season as I attempted to incorporate some meditation during my runs—I’ve tried to attend to their sounds instead of the unwavering thoughts that keep buzzing around seeking my attention.

Most of the time, I failed, the voices in my head spoke louder than the birds—my endless to do list, work stresses, kids’ homework battles, an upcoming small surgery, mum and her dementia—a symphony of anxiety was constantly brewing in my head. But still, the training for this marathon made me reconnect with my meditation practice. You see, I did the mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) program four years ago and felt, first hand, the benefits of meditation. During that time, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and I started to suffer from insomnia but thanks to meditation, I was still able to look at life with equanimity during those difficult times. Mindfulness meditation taught me how to pay attention to my thoughts, feelings, and emotions as if I was watching a movie. There I was, lying awake at night thinking about my sister, knowing that I could not change her diagnosis, the unfairness of it all, feeling helpless. Prior to the MBSR, I would have felt panicky and anxious but with the help of meditation, I was feeling more compassion than fear. And although many times my mind would not let me go back to sleep, I was able to accept my states on consciousness, both the good and the not so good, and soldier on.

That was four years ago. Unfortunately, little by little I started slacking off on the practice of meditation. Life got in the way, thoughts got in the way and eventually, I went back to being more on auto-pilot, highjacked by my mind. Since then, my practice has swung back and forth and prior to start training for this marathon, it was not really top of mind.

Until, and, much to my surprise, I started to have bouts of insomnia again. Even though my body is exhausted from training for the marathon and wants to rest, my mind isn’t. I haven’t had insomnia everyday but a couple of nights per week is enough to cause havoc to your life and there is the odd week in which I battle with this dragon almost every night.

So, I took a reinvigorated interest in meditation. I’ve practiced it formally almost everyday, even if only for 10 minutes. It hasn’t fixed my insomnia yet, and maybe it never will, but it is helping manage the rumination as I lie awake at night. When I’m not meditating, I can easily have this type of dialogue with myself: “Rosana, if you don’t fall asleep, you will be feeling crap tomorrow and will be struggling at work and short fused with the boys.” Or “If you don’t sleep you may get sick and won’t be able to run the marathon.”

Of course, those thoughts normally put me in a state of anxiety, I would get out of bed in the morning with a bad feeling that something was going to go wrong. But at present, the nights that I have insomnia and am able to pay attention to my thoughts without getting caught in the emotions, I can see the other side of the coin. Instead of seeing an anxious person laying there, I see myself as someone who wants the best for her family, wants to do well at work and look after her wellbeing. This makes me feel calmer even if I cannot go back to sleep.

At present, I’m doing guided meditations from various sources (Tarah Brach, Dan Harris, Sam Harris, Headspace and others) and when I go out for a run, I try to bring mindfulness to my workout by listening to the birds, my feet pounding the pavement or paying attention to the landscape. I keep getting distracted but I’m getting better.

Preparing for the Sydney Marathon has been an amazing physical feat and this time I feel like I’ve added a new dimension to it by trying to train my brain. I’m looking forward to crossing the finishing line—I’m not going for a gold medal but hopefully, will be rewarded with a good night of sleep. If not, I’ll get up to accept the gift of a new morning even if the night was not what I signed up for.

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