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10 ways meditation helped me complete a half marathon

It's done! Three-and-a-half months of training, 13.1 miles covered in steady rain, and I even managed to run up the hills — albeit at a snail's pace.

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This 50-year-old body of mine held up pretty well, but mindfulness training played an even bigger role in completing my first half marathon earlier this month. The funny thing is, I don't really enjoy the running part of running. A bout with breast cancer six years ago pushed me to overcome my aversion when doctors told me that running would reduce my risk of recurrence. It wasn't until I signed up for Headspace two years ago that running became not only bearable, but something I looked forward to, especially if I was connecting with other health-minded people in the process. When I started meditating, it was all about me. I wanted to reduce my stress levels, clear my head, and boost my creative output. But little by little, as I followed Andy's guidance to think about those who would benefit from a calmer, more aware Martha (even beyond my family), I understood the power of the practice in daily life. The heightened sense of compassion and connectedness I've gained from Headspace has nudged me to say "Yes!" when girlfriends more ambitious than I have asked me to run races with them. So, despite the fact that not very long ago I had sworn I would never sign up for a half marathon, I found myself at the starting line with 25,000 other runners. By that point, meditation had prepared me to:

  1. Accept the reality of "what is" and not waste energy worrying about things outside my control (like the rain that fell from start to finish).
  2. Reject negative self-talk. I never once questioned my ability to complete the race. Even if I ended up walking, I would still be covering the distance.
  3. Stay in the present moment. As we waited for the starting gun, I reveled in the fact that I had been able to train well and show up for this race. I remember thinking, "Just by standing at this starting line I've accomplished a goal that had once been unimaginable to me."
  4. Listen to my body. If I thought I was getting tired, I checked in with each part — lungs, legs, feet —revealing each time that everything was still working and I could, indeed, keep running.
  5. Breathe. Breathing techniques I had learned through meditation practice kept me focused and centered during especially tough stretches (hills!).
  6. Stay focused on the positive, instead of falling prey to head games. Rather than telling myself, "Oh my god…I have another ten miles to go," I reminded myself, "You've run three miles! That used to feel long to you!"
  7. Recognize my connection to others. I've only entered a few big races, but each of them has reaffirmed the power of collective positive energy. It's one thing to show up on a rainy day for the race you've paid to enter. It's quite another to volunteer or just come out to cheer on strangers. The crowd's energy is contagious.
  8. Be grateful for my health. Remembering how weak my body was during my cancer treatment, tears of gratitude welled up unannounced several times that day.
  9. Be grateful for my friends. My three running buddies and I stuck together, sharing stories and offering encouragement along the way. We were in it together and nobody would be left behind.
  10. Be grateful for my family. At the end of an emotional 13.1 miles, the best part of the whole day was seeing my husband and two teenaged sons at the finish line, soaked to the skin but cheering me on. My sons probably didn't realize how much they had prepared me for that rainy race. But having watched them both persevere through countless grueling soccer games in rain, snow, sleet and hail, I had their example to follow. We had come full circle.
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