There are not many rites of passage in the modern world. Rites of passage have been used through the millennia by human cultures to initiate members of the clan from childhood to adulthood. I consider my first marathon and the training for it as a self-imposed rite of passage. I decided to train for it and complete it because I wanted to assert my command over my body. To train for the mental and physical part I read . “The Non-runners Marathon Trainer”. Just recently I read the “Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei and wish I had read that before to add an additional element of the spiritual to my training as well.
For most people including myself the physical aspect of completing a marathon seems extremely daunting. When I started I was in the hospital after just about dying from surgical complications. After getting through the worst of it I decided to begin training and completing a marathon even though I was still in horrific pain. I began by walking a few steps outside my hospital room and then I began walking around the nurses station and eventually I began to get stronger and stronger. I had purchased “The Non-runners Marathon Training Guide” two years previously. Having been chronically ill for twenty years at that time and endured multiple surgeries I was tired of having my body call the shots in my life.
I wanted to increase my ability to override the physical demands of a body which was constantly waging battle with itself. I felt like I was caught in the middle of this fight. It took me seven months instead of the 4 months to complete the training laid out in “The Non-runners Marathon Trainer” because I started in a terribly weekend state. The biggest take away from completing my marathon was the idea of “locus of control”. That concept of locus of control boils down to the what controls your mind and actions, is it your or circumstance? You either have an internal locus of control or an external locus of control. This for me is what a rite of passage is all about: putting away the helplessness of childhood and embracing the ability to chart your own path in this world as an adult.
Throughout the book there are mental exercises to help entrain this philosophy of internal control. One of them is to imagine that your inner mind is a computer screen. You imagine typing out mentally letter by letter on a keyboard strengthening and inspirational messages. For instance one that I remember I would type over and over again was “My legs are strong, my legs are light, I can run all day and I and I can run all night”. This type of mental work is something I still do today.
During training it was incredible to feel the inner experience change when I would consistently do this. The first two to three miles were usually a struggle on training days. But I would gut it out using either typed out positive messages to myself on my mental computer screen or I’d sing them out loud as cadences. The power of the mind over the body is truly incredible and if you want to experience your own rite of passage and feel this for yourself I highly recommend reading “The Non-runners Marathon Trainer” before starting your marathon training.
The other book I recommend is one I just read, “The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei”. In Japan for over a thousand years these Tendai Buddhist Monks would perform absolutely astounding feats of marathon running. These different time frames and distances would range from completing a 25 mile marathon for 100 days straight to completing a 1000 days of marathoning over a twelve year stretch.
While completing their term of marathons the monks are still expected to perform all of their chores which include cooking, cleaning and maintaining temple grounds which affords them three to four hours of sleep or less. These marathoners don’t do it for medals or for bragging rights. Their reward for completing the 100 days of The Walking Hell is to complete a nine day fast with no food or water. During the fast they are only allowed to have a small amount of water to rinse out their mouths. They say that those drops of water as the sweetest of nectars. Self imposed suffering makes everyday life more palatable.
It is incredible to read about the individual stories of men who have endured what would seem like impossible physical accomplishments to us. But these monks are drawn from everyday life and many who have recently completed the 100 days of marathons are family men. They are not in anyway extraordinary except that they choose to do something extraordinary. By doing the seemingly impossible the monks emerge changed forever because they faced death and continued to move forward. This is an important rite of passage for the Tendai Buddhist monks just as a modest 26.2 marathon and seven months of training was for me.
Humans need rites of passages to push beyond our everyday struggles so that we can tap into the higher mental and spiritual states we all possess but rarely can access. The physical part of the marathon is merely the vehicle for this to occur. Everyday we struggle in this world with having an internal locus of control. Everyday we struggle with maintaining a connection to our spiritual side and not giving in totally to a materialistic view of this amazing world we live in. Marathon training with a purpose can transcend the medals and the bragging and actually produce lasting positive changes.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in training for a marathon read “The Non-runners Marathon Training Guide” and “The Marathon Monks of Hiei”.