Category Archives: mental health

Inhale-Exhale

Breathing is something we all do without really thinking about it, unless it’s not going well. We become very aware of our breathing when it is a struggle regardless of the thing that is making it a struggle. The athletes who, I believe, are the most aware of their breath is swimmers.

A swimmer has to have a rhythm for their breathing. All other athletes we can just go and not think about it too much until we’re huffing and puffing and even then, we merely recognize it and adjust a bit or push through. Not swimmers. A swimmer has to coordinate every movement to make sure they are able to breath when needed.

Being aware of your breathing has benefits to many aspects of your life not just running (which is what we really care about, if we’re being honest). It can reduce stress, improve physical health, and increase self-confidence.

Deep breathing releases endorphins and those make us feel good and are a natural pain killer. It promotes better blood flow and increased energy through the extra oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives your body the tools to rebuild injured muscles and build muscle.

Breathing properly can reduce anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something take a few deep breaths and see what happens to how you feel. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on our body and our mind, which helps relieve you of anger, sadness, and other uneasy emotions. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps with better sleep.

Deep breathing helps with posture. An upright posture has positive effects on many aspects of your physical health. Your internal organs function better when they are not all squished as you hunch over at a desk or table. Your spine stays healthy preventing lower and upper back pain. It massages your organs such as the heart, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Deep breathing strengthens your immune system. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in your red blood cells allowing your body to metabolize nutrients and vitamins. It also removes toxins from your blood like carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing makes sure oxygen gets to all the important parts of your brain. You’re able to think more clearly and more creatively. Nerves run throughout your body sending messages from your brain to every body system and muscle. Oxygen is one of the nutrients the brain, spinal cord and nerves need to make communication quick and effective.

How do you do this deep breathing?

Ideally you would spend a few minutes each day and complete the following for two sets of ten. Sit with your back straight and tall or lay on your back. Exhale all the air from your lungs. When you think you can’t get anymore out, try a bit more. Pause for one second and then begin to fill your lungs slowly until you can’t take any more in.

Another option is to send a few minutes throughout the day being aware of your breath and make sure you’re sitting straight and breathing into your belly and not your chest. Make the breaths deep.

Losing it?

One of the most frustrating things that happens when you take time off running is you lose your hard earned fitness and have to work your ass off to get it back. We all know the longer you have to take off of running the more you lose. This is definitely something I have struggled with as I’ve been coming back from two rolled ankles and a strained hamstring. Anyone who has been forced to take time off running due to an injury knows you go through the whole grief cycle, which I’ve written about and you can find it here.
There are two aspects of losing it: the mental side and the physical side. Let’s start with the easier of the two: the physical side. There’s been lots of research about how quickly fitness is lost when an athlete has to take time off after an injury or just because they are burnt out. We lose the most fitness right up front 20% in the first three weeks. Ouch. after that things level off and up to three months you retain 80% of your fitness. For those athletes who have trained for a long time the impact over time is less because you have a stronger base of fitness. What the experienced athletes lose is what they have most recently gained. You go back to your baseline. As much as this steep drop in fitness loss sucks, it is easier to get back to where you were than it was to get there in the first place.
You can slow the loss and maintain fitness by cross training that makes sure your aerobic system keeps working at the level you had it and doing strength training to minimize the amount of muscle strength you lose. Sport specific fitness is definitely going to take a  hit though so don’t get discouraged when you go back and are sore after a run that would have been a walk in the park pre-injury.
The mental side of it, in my opinion, is the harder of the two that you work through. Depending on how long you are injured, you may have developed a maladaptive coping skill telling yourself it doesn’t matter and maybe you do something other than running. Sometimes it can go as far as, I just don’t want to run anymore. Telling ourselves these things when there is no end in sight or we when we are catastrophizing is a way that we cope with the loss of running, which has becomes a indispensable part our life and who we see ourselves as.  The problem with this, is it makes reviving the motivation to get back out there more difficult. The best way to regain motivation is by remembering the things you love about running, which can trigger those feelings of loss all over again that you were trying to avoid in the first place. See my article on working through the cycle of grief link above.
Once you are back out there, you have to get over the fear of another injury. This takes time and building trust in your ability and self confidence. The only way to build these is to get out there. Give yourself permission to go at your own pace by taking it slow and run easier routes for a bit. It helps if you come up with a plan of action. A plan will help you come to terms with the fact that you can get back to where you were.
A critical element to maintaining motivation and avoiding a lot of self recrimination is to not compare yourself to where you were and where you are. This is a particularly difficult one for me. Try to remain positive and every time this thinking pattern pops into your head, counter act it by reminding yourself that you had to work hard to get to where you were and it’s possible to do it again because you know how and you know you are strong enough mentally and physically to get there. The other half of working through this is accepting where you are. Berating yourself and dwelling on the fitness you’ve lost is not going to help you move forward. It doesn’t change where your current level of fitness is at.
It is not easy to come back from an extended voluntary or involuntary break from running, but runners are a tenacious bunch who like challenges and this is just one more hill to climb.
I’ve also blogged about the safe way to return to running after an injury. You can find it here.
Here is a post about how to run in the swimming pool. Boo!
There is also something called forced rest depression which I talk about here.

Run-It’s who I am.

What does it mean to be a runner? Do you have to run a certain number of days a week? Do I have to run a certain number of miles or time? Do I have to have been running for a certain amount of time? Do I have to race? What if I take a break from running of a month, two months, three months? What if I’m injured and have to take six months or more off of running?

These are all questions I’ve contemplated while out on the trails, especially over the last four months. These questions and other similar ones, have jogged around my head because my ability to maintain a consistent running schedule over the last six months has been seriously compromised by a hamstring injury.

I began to ask myself what it really means to be a runner. I’ve written blogs about being a jogger or a runner.  The defining feature addressed in that blog was speed, but I’m talking about something different here.

I’ve been running for awhile and I’ve run in races from the 5k to the 100 mile. Being a runner is a big part of who I am, it’s more than what I do. It’s not I run, it’s I am a runner. Losing running is like losing a part of myself. Some may think I’m being overly dramatic, but many of you will understand.

Running has made me a better person; more patient, understanding, compassionate, and mindful. It’s given me appreciation and gratitude for what I have; opportunity, health, material objects, freedom, and dreams.

You do not have to run for a specific number of days each week or a specific number of miles, or a specific amount of time. You do have to run on a regular basis though. You’re not a runner if you jog across the street to get lunch every day. I’m comfortable saying you are a runner if you run two days a week for twenty minutes, even if you run walk those twenty minutes. As to distance, it’s whatever you cover in those twenty minutes. Many runners don’t measure by miles. They measure by time.

You can call yourself a runner after you’ve run consistently for a month. It’ takes 21 days to form a habit, and if running has become a part of your weekly routine, you’re a runner.

Now the big question for this post—taking time off. Runners have to rest for a lot of different reasons and runners get injured and have to heal. Sometimes this takes a long time. If you’re still a runner in your heart and mind, if your intent is to get out there as soon as you can, if the reasons for your time off is to make you a better stronger runner, You’re a runner.

As long as being a runner is woven into who you are, you are a runner.

Time to Heal…

Being patient with your body and allowing time to heal is difficult, but absolutely necessary if your goal is to run for a long time. I struggle with taking time off just to rest and recover; an injury is just as difficult for me. Usually, I continue running on it-telling myself I can run through it. And many times running through minor injuries is fine. It’s the not so minor ones that you can’t run through. Even some minor ones, get worse if you try to run through them. Knowing the difference, is the difference between an experienced and novice runner.

Injury and time off is unfortunately part of the running experience. Alternatives to running are just not the same. You don’t get that runners high. You don’t get that peace and sense of freedom. The longer it takes to heal the more agitated you become. It’s easy to fall into a pessimistic and defeatist attitude. You become an expert at positive self talk or you fall into a depression. The longer you are in the recovery mode, the farther off running feels.

You definitely go through the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance.

Shock and denial are lumped together most of the time, “It’s not that bad,” “I can’t believe this has happened.” “It’s nothing to worry about,” “I can still run, it’s fine.” “It’s the shoes, I’ll just get a new pair.”

Anger is directed at pretty much everyone including other runners and yourself. You beat yourself up about not taking time off right when it happened. You decide you could have prevented it and were just stupid.

Bargaining-” Dear God, I’ll take time off right away next time, if I can just have my running back now.” “I’ll volunteer more and donate money, if I can just get back out there.” “I’ll do anything to get back out there!!” Anything, but take the time to heal that is. You  begin doing research about the fastest way to heal. You spend hours looking at new training programs, super foods, stretches, miracle vitamins, and strength training.

Depression comes in the form of the defeatist. “I’ll never run again.” “this is going to take years to heal.” “It will always hurt to run.” “I can’t be happy without my running.” “I can’t live without my running (you think this is going to far until you’ve been there).”

Testing-“I’ve taken a few days off, I can go back.” “I know it still hurts a little, but a little run won’t hurt it.” “Just an easy three miles.”

Acceptance- “this sucks, but my goal is to run until I die, so I guess I’ll spend six months doing physical therapy and then I’ll take the time to get back to running in the right way because if I don’t, I’ll be back where I was when this started.”

When you’re ready to start your epic return to running make sure it’s slow. Review my return from injury training program found above under the 5k and 10k training program link.

It’s a shame that we can’t start with acceptance. Maybe that should be our goal for our next injury because if we’re honest with ourselves, the next injury will come.

Chores

Does anyone really like them? Maybe you’re one of those interesting people who have convinced yourself that you like them. What makes them so bad is we feel we are compelled to do them and we would rather be doing something else.

To the newly initiated, running can definitely feel like a chore after a week or two when the excitement of something new and shiny wears off. Getting past that is key to gaining the benefits of running to your mental and physical health.

Everyone always says it takes 21 days to form a habit, but for some it could take six months. The first thing to remember when you are building a new habit or trying to change an old one (which usually go hand-in-hand) is that you are not failing if it takes you longer or if you hit bumps along the way.

Habits are built in the neural pathways of your brain. These pathways transform running from a chore to an enjoyable routine, of course there are hard days, there is in everything. As your brain paves the road for you to run down, going for your run becomes automatic.

Things that will help you clear the area for your road and then begin laying the pavement are:

  1. Know why you are going out there. Set an intention for each run. Ask yourself what do you want to get from your run today? Burn off the lunch doughnut, time to think about something, time to destress, time to be alone, get that runners high, reach the next level of speed training, climb the hill that’s been giving you hell.
  2. Focus on small, achievable goals. These keep you motivated and help you feel successful along the way to larger goals. Track your progress even if it is small including, speed, distance, even number of times a week.
  3. Create a routine for your running. This can be as simple as keeping your running shoes just for running. This will set your brain up to go into running mode when you tie up your laces or begin your routine.
  4. Get your running gear ready the day before. Whether you run in the morning or in the evening have your gear where you can see it. If you tend to forget stuff and workout mid-day, keep extra in your car.
  5. Schedule your run on your calendar. If you have time set aside for your run, you’re much more likely to go. When it’s time, just go. Don’t give yourself time to make excuses.
  6. Give it ten minutes. Get out there for ten minutes, if you still want to turn around after that, then do. In my experience, going from zero to moving is the hardest part, once you’re going and warmed up, you’ll want to keep moving.
  7. Create a healthy reward loop. We like rewards. They make us happy and more likely to do something again. What is the best part of your day? Make that a reward after you go for your run. Love to watch a particular TV series, make it after your run. Love your morning coffee, after your run. Love a long hot shower, after your run.
  8. Focus on the good feelings. When you’re out there and when you finish your run. Focus on those positive feelings. Store them in your memory, make them strong. When you’re having a hard time getting out the door remember them—replay them in your head.
  9. Join an established running group or commit to a friend.
  10. Running is hard, but it gets easier. Positive reinforcement goes a long way. Fake it until you make it, does too.

That Can’t be Good for You

jogger - vascular system

Have you heard this one from your family and friends? I have, but the research doesn’t support their concerns.

Many of my friends/family worry that ultrarunning is bad for my heart because it has to work for extended periods of time, like 36 hours, at an elevated rate. The research shows that there is short term stress (duh) but there are no long term negative effects on the heart. Overall, ultrarunner’s hearts are normal and often more healthy than the general population.

The most chronic ailments ultrarunners suffer from are allergies and exercise-induced asthma. On average, ultrarunners miss 2.2 days of work a year for illness. It’s 3.7 for the national average.  All those people concerned about your knees, tell them to rest easy the research doesn’t support that or damage to other joints or cartilage.  Yes, runners get injured. They pull muscles and tendons and sometimes they get a stress fracture. What athlete doesn’t get hurt at some point, even recreational athletes (aka not extreme)?

So ultrarunning is not bad for you. Perfect, that’s exactly what all ultrarunners wanted to hear, so we can look at our friends and family and roll our eyes. Then we walk into another room to sit down with our crew for the next 100 mile race. “Alright guys, you know how this goes. There is no quitting. I don’t care if I’m puking, peeing blood, have diarrhea, twisted an ankle, bloody from falling down. It doesn’t matter. I go until I cross the finish line.”

Sounds like optimal health status to me.

I’ve heard ultrarunners say they want to be healthy and they may have started running to be more healthy. Many of them eat well and take care of their bodies, but I believe it’s more of a taking care of the body to run 100 miles and not running 100 miles to take care of the body.

If it can get so tough out there, why do we do it over and over again? Because crossing the finish line of a 50 or 100 mile run is remarkable. The more difficult the race the more we love it. We earn ever belt buckle we have. We run into hell with a smile knowing it’s going to get hot, we’re going to get burned, and we’re going to want to die.

We do it because we refuse to believe we won’t come out on the other side. We stare down our demons, pull on the boxing gloves and go round after round after round. We’re fighters. When we get knocked down we get back up and keep going toward our goal.

The true benefits of running Ultras: mental fortitude and the belief that you can.

Never Surrender, Never Retreat.

What are your intentions?

intention

It occurred to me today while I was running that I’m selling out on the HURT 100 finish. What! Yeah, I know, right? But here’s what I’ve been thinking this whole time.

HURT is really hard, it’s the most difficult race I’ve ever run and it’s hard for really great amazing runners who are genetically blessed. Plus there are two significant things working against me:  first, the total climate change, and second my inability to shape my training to match the environment I’ll be running in.

Because of this line of thought, my goal has been to just finish the HURT. Just cross that finish line in one piece before the 36 hour cut off.  My goal was to finish under 36 hours…finish at 36 hours…squeak across the finish line minutes before 36 hours.

And that’s when it hit me. I said goodbye to just squeaking across the finish line a year and a half ago when I finished Bryce Canyon 100 eight minutes before the cut off. From that day forward I set out to become faster and stronger. Every work out and run I’ve done since then has been with the intention of becoming faster and stronger. The only “goal” I’ve had has been to become better than I was the day before.

That got me thinking about the difference between goals and intentions. A goal is something out in the future. It’s an object or place we want to reach and sure goals are great, but they are a moment in time. I think this is the underlying problem in lack of motivation. We get board of achieving particular goals. We get bored checking the boxes.

Intentions are unstoppable.

Goals are future oriented. They are a single moment in time—setup, achieved and passed on by. Intentions are right now, they are in the moment. Intentions are guided by your values and beliefs about yourself— who you are and want to become. They are continuance and evolving.

Sometimes with goals we don’t really care how we get there, so long as we get there. Sometimes we take short cuts or cheat a little (only a little). You can’t do that with intentions. You’re either in line with them or you’re not. Every day is not going to be easy and there are days that are going to be downright hard without much movement toward the GOAL, but if you’re true to your intention you’re always making progress.

So from now until HURT I’ll be getting stronger and faster, I will do my best in Hawaii, and my best will be better than what I’ve done in the past.