An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

The white belt, soul running, and the perpetual beginner

I've posted about this on occasion on, and it's how I try to live my sporting life these days. It harkens back to some things I learned early on in my running "career", which were forgotten, or at least not thought about much, in many of the intervening years... Childlike wonder of sport.

I had a foray into Amway for a while. Don't worry, I'm past it, and I'm not about to try to sell any SA-8 or NutriLite vitamins to any one. But there were a lot of seminars that went along with it. In one of them, a lady told a story about one day when she was cleaning. The point of her telling the story isn't really the one I took away from it (her point was mostly about how her husband reacted - or more appropriatley DIDN'T react) to what she did, but what really struck me about it was the symbolism.

Her husband was a long-time practitioner of karate (no, I don't know the real "karate" term for such a person, in yoga he would be called a "yogi"), and had a many-degrees black belt. As she was cleaning the house, she saw his gi hanging in the closet with his belts -- several ceremonial black belts with ornate embroidery, commemorative belts from various tournaments, etc. Among these was an old, ratty, frayed and faded belt off to the side. It had obviously seen better days.

So in her frenzy of de-clutter, she plucked it off the rack and threw it out with the skinny ties and butterfly collars.

A couple days later her husband asked if she'd seen the belt. Oops...

Yeah, those of you who know karate can see this coming. Turns out, the belt she threw out was his original black belt that was awarded to him when he achieved that level. As is the custom, he always used it, and the symbolism of the fact that it frayed and faded was that eventually it would come full circle to white again. Real symbolism? The more you know, the more you find out there is so much MORE to know. And one should never think they know everything, because to think that is to truly not know anything.

Yes, she committed a major no-no, but the thing that really stuck with me was the full-circle thing. To maintain that child-like wonder of beginning, of discovering. Doing things for the joy of it, and learning along the way. In many ways, these are things I delved into when I was a "young" runner, adding distance, going out for hours and just running. Later adding longer bike rides, re-vamping my swim stroke, discovering speed that I never thought could exist in me.

A couple months ago I entered a contest with New Balance -- "this year I will..." My entry was "This year I will reconnect with my soul runner." Two years ago, I thought I wouldn't be able to run again. Foot surgery in 2008 led to many attempts to start running again, and every time I had stabbing pains that stopped me within a quarter mile. It's taken a year, with slow build-ups, but I'm running again. Sure, I'm not as fast as I was, and I may never get there again. But I don't care, really. I want to have that reckless abandon of running on a trail in the middle of nowhere, as I did when I was in my "beginner" years of distance running.

And the same thing applies to my triathlon participation. Sure, on race day I give everything I have, and I show up at the awards, but if I don't win anything, if I'm not part of the top 3 of the old-guys division, I don't take it as any kind of sign of diminished worth. Because I'm a beginner, after all.

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