What's the meaning of "zen running"? Maybe a new fashion, or a mystic way to approach long distance races? No. It's only an enjoyable and concrete way to learn how to be happy when jogging. With the aim to reach a good balance between behaviour, thoughts and feelings of every marathon lover. In order to realize what zen running can do, it can be useful to read this exhilarating story. In the 80's I was sent by my team to an international athletic meeting in Merano (Italy), for a 5000 meters race. A prerequisite for acceptance was a personal best of 14.40 I never achieved. However my team convinced me to run the race despite my 14.59, mainly because there was a place in the car (ok, running was a frugal sport in the 80's...).
My legs trembled when I saw the other personal bests. A German runner had a p.b. of 13.30, and others had times a little over 14 minutes. Indeed I was scared to be doubled! But I was in good fitness condition and I had a great desire to enjoy the race.
What's more, you must know that Merano's ring is only 350 meters long (instead of the usual 400). Thus you run completely without chronometrical control. So, having nothing to lose, I ran the first 1000 meters in 3 minutes, and with great surprise I realized I was in "pole position".
Well. Slow race, I thought. They wanted the youngest to be the pace-maker. Ok.
After 2000 meters (in 6 minutes) I was still first, and the same after 3000 meters (in 9 minutes). Now, try to be in my shoes: 18 years old, international athletic meeting, flying legs, night lights in the stadium, soft red tartan ring, alone at the head of the race... I couldn't think of anything more: rhythm, personal best... nothing. I was pure pleasure of running, joy to be racing, emotions deeply striking my heart.
After 4000 meters, although my rhythm was very regular (always 3/km), nobody had taken my place as of yet. So I said: let's go! My legs started turning the way they had never done before, and I ran the last km in 2.42, with only the German runner beating me in the final rush. I had left all the others behind. None of the other runners had managed to reach me, even though their personal bests much lower than mine.
Today I realize that such an astonishing performance (17 seconds faster than my personal best!) was strictly due to the particular situation I lived. My body worked completely free of mental conditioning. In other words I had "run zen", completely aware of what I was doing, without any mental suggestion, totally "there" in the moment of the race.
Zen is an oriental mystical practice (indeed one of the many branches of Buddhism), whose aim is to reach the awareness of the moment, by practising meditation. This way it's possible to see life exactly "as it is", free from all the mental structures we always build on it. Meditation (key idea of all zen practice) is a full encounter with ourselves, with our deepest side. We can reach it with an instinctive perception of our being, by liberating ourselves from the crowd of the conscious thoughts that are usually on our mind (please read these concepts a few times until they become familiar). Zen running to me means to enact the meditation process, which is usually performed in a sitting position, on the run. Whether you're racing or training, the important thing is to be completely free from conscious thoughts, letting yourself go to the deep freedom of your running.
Do you have an idea of the amount of power springing from such a game? Do you have an idea of what your body can express, if only you succeed in cutting all ties? Did you never feel such an intense desire to melt body and soul in what you're doing? Well. Zen running gives you all this, and much more.
A lot of recently published scientific works confirm the positive effects of meditation on body and health. On runners it can reduce the intoxication from lactic acid; it can also improve the monitoring of heart rate, and so on. But more than through any scientific research, the only way to realize the meaning of zen running, is to do it. Bite the apple and feel the taste, as a zen teacher would say. The future is within us, not out. Don't let it go away without biting our apple.
Run The Planet thanks Luca Speciani (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the permission to reprint the article "Correre zen". Luca Speciani wrote his suggestions in the book "Lo zen e l'arte della corsa" (Zen and the art of running) published in 2001 by Editoriale Sport Italia. Text copyright © 2001 by Luca Speciani. Illustration copyright © 2001 by Run The Planet.