Special Days Call for Exertion Rituals

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the spiritual side of training and racing. I realized that I have a thing for marking special occasions with little mind/body rituals. This just makes so much sense to me, and I kind of feel compelled to do it.

It was my birthday last week. I turned 50. But thinking back to a decade ago, I was in such a different chapter. At 40 I hadn’t really discovered my athletic side. I hadn’t yet done a triathlon, and probably hadn’t worked up to running more than a mile. I did do yoga, however. And my friend Dana Wootton, was a yoga teacher. On my 40th birthday, Dana and I were at a small lake high in the Sierra Mountains, where our husbands were doing an ultra cycling event summiting five high-altitude passes. Dana proposed we do our own challenge on my birthday, so as the boys rode, Dana and I set up yoga mats in the sun next to the lake and she led me through 40 sun salutations.

It was a good challenge, a discipline that required effort, and definitely a way to mark the day as special. It remains such a crisp memory. I can’t remember any other birthdays in nearly that much detail—not my 20th or 30th or even last year’s. I was glad to have someone doing it with me, partly to keep count, but also because Dana’s wonderful light energy kept me inspired and focused. And, that experience has linked us ever since.

And there are other examples of my fitness ritual obsessions:

Last year on December 12, 2012, I had a sudden urgent desire to mark 12/12/12 with a honorary exertion pattern. I did 12 100-meter sets at the pool, a 12-mile bike ride, and a 12-kilometer run. Can you get how satisfying, if exhausting, that was?

People who come to my Strength & Stamina classes have also learned this about me. Birthdays, equinoxes, solstices, and other holidays all become something to recognize through the exercises and formats of class. I’m pretty sure they like it!

I also realized that this sensibility goes back to my childhood. The summer I turned 12, I imposed a little initiation ritual for myself: every day for a week leading up to my birthday, I would start at noon and walk for an hour in the Memphis heat. Maybe some other 12 year-olds make up stuff like this too? Did you? Do your kids? I’d like to know.

And yes! Last Friday I did do 50 sun salutations on the shore of Lake Washington. A very good way to mark the day.

(I really would like to hear about your active rites and rituals. So share ’em, okay?)