This is part of a diary I’m keeping on this blog about long-distance running, which I’m calling The Run Diary. All pieces can be read here.
Silence in its most meaningful sense is not an absence of sound or distraction, but almost an immunity from it. People, sounds, objects, and even memories, are often harbingers of anxiety and temptation.
The ability to have such things in front of you, be aware of the mistakes they invite, yet somehow simply acknowledge them and continue moving forward without confrontation, is true silence. That silence is an inner strength that allows one to find an authentic peace and persistence.
When Steve Collins fought Chris Eubank, his eyes were closed and head tilted toward the canvas of the ring throughout the pageantry that typically commences a championship fight. He remained seated, the hood of his robe cloaked over his head, somewhat in the fashion of a Franciscan at vespers, while he and his opponent were introduced.
Eubank, as expected, showboated for the crowd, proudly and prominently displaying his adonis-like physique and flashing his cocksure stare all around the arena, gestures made to seem even more brazen by the fact that the crowd was clearly behind Collins. “Steve-O! Steve-O!” they chanted.
Collins remained seated, eyes closed, and head cast downward, not bothering to even acknowledge the cries of support let alone drink in those shouts of his name and strut for the crowd. The fight commentator pondered whether or not it was safe to be seated for that long before a fight.
Even as the chants of Steve-O continued, Collins is robotically proficient, remaining the more active fighter but refusing to remain in front of Eubank long enough for the Brit to counter meaningfully. Where the chants of the crowd and early successes of nailing Eubank, a previously undefeated and thought to be untouchable fighter, could easily invite recknlessness, Collins remains as attentive and steadfast in purpose as St. Antony in the desert.
Collins wins by fighting his fight. He wins by finding silence in all the distraction and temptation, remaining almost meditative in the midst of the violence in the ring. I would like to think that he was indeed deep in meditation, reminding himself of the plan that he brought to the ring and repeating it like a mantra. How brilliant it seemed to me that one could be so committed and immune from temptation. How genius that by making no rash moves, Collins executed a performance that was the stuff of legends.
I hadn’t run in Hamilton in over a year and wasn’t terribly excited to be back. I was there more out of the necessesity of getting my legs used to the notorious hills of the Around the Bay course. The group that gathered in the parking lot of LaSalle Park was large, an amalgam of Toronto and Hamilton runners.
I hadn’t seen the hills since the previous year and standing in that parking lot before we took off, they were really just memories. I remembered for a moment the last hill on North Shore Boulevard that leads on to Plains Road and just how overheated I was and how the gels I had taken for fuel were not settling right when I climbed that hill during the race in March of 2014. I remembered my legs feeling shackled during a training run the previous year and getting progressively slower the more I ran.
In the moments before we took off, I found myself silent, knowing that I was surrounded by other runners and would encounter many more along the route, all preparing themselves for the truly unique race that was Around the Bay, and that I might be tempted to keep up when I couldn’t. I knew that the hills were going to find themselves in front of me and that I could find myself daunted or tempted to attack them aggressively.
I committed to myself that all these potential obstacles and temptations would merely be acknowledged before I continued in my meditation that all good runs should be. Just like Steve Collins knew Chris Eubank, I knew those hills and I knew what running was supposed to be. Furthermore, I knew myself and what my body could and could not do.
I had spent the winter constantly running hills, repeating mantras to myself as I did so about looking straight ahead, not hunching forward, pumping my arms appropriately, and so on. No thoughts had to occur to me as I found myself at the bottom of another climb. I just had to go, repeating my mantras along the way.
When we were off for what would be a total of twenty-three kilometres, I saw runners in front of me, but made no effort to keep pace with them. Their presence did not act on me in any way. I just did what I trained my body to do.
Most of the run was an “out and back” type route along North Shore Boulevard and its constantly rolling hills. My body knew how to ascend hills and so I let it. My body knew the pace it could keep and so I let it. I never looked back to consider whether or not others would be gaining on me. I never felt compelled to be anything other than what I was.
No outside forces compelled me to relent from my intentions or tempted me to exhaust myself unnecessarily. I was as steadfast in purpose as Steve Collins and like the Celtic Warrior as he was known, I knew that I was fully capable of achieving that purpose so long as I did what I was trained to do and did not give in to caprice.
Meditation and silence ask that you keep to form and process no matter what may confront you internally or externally. Winds still whipped off Hamilton Harbour and each hill made itself felt, but I simply trusted myself and continued because I knew that I had stopped many times in the past because I told myself I couldn’t do it and not necessarily because I truly couldn’t.
I was asking no questions about myself or what I should have been. In silence and complete trust in myself, I quietly triumphed on roads that previously made me suffer.
One of the joys of running is just how solitary the journey can be. Even the most elite among long distance runners do not enjoy the notoriety afforded to athletes in more popular sports. What’s more is that there is nothing to really confront or defeat that is external. No opponent really exists, especially for the amateur runner. In running you have the privilege of making the journey anything you wish it to be. Your only accountability is to yourself.
Understanding this has been for me the key to taking as much joy as I can out of running and making it a pursuit where the triumph is in the mere doing. I don’t always have the kind of run that I did in Hamilton that day. Applying the principle that my journey in running is mine and mine alone has been a work in progress. My ego and self-doubt both present themselves when I run and often I yield to them.
Just as meditation is discipline over the long-term, running is as well. If you are merely out for glory every time, you will be perpetually disappointed. If you place trust in yourself, if you commit fully to the process of learning and training and exercise extreme patience over time, if you do not map your journey in comparison to others, then you are free from the aggravation that comes from falling short and growth is inherent, making every run glorious. In exercising this patience and devotion only to your growth, your journey is commanded by you and nothing or no one else.