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.

From Turkey Trot to Santa Run

turkey-trot

Maintaining your running schedule/training can be a challenge during holiday seasons. There are so many reasons and excuses to not get out there: family is in town, too much holiday preparation to get done (shopping, cooking, wrapping, decorating, house cleaning, it never ends), it’s cold (at least where I am), and travel time.

Holidays are very stressful for many people, sometimes they are tied to hurtful memories, sometimes it’s just getting everything done and looking perfect for those you love; sometimes it’s both. The holidays present us with an opportunity to get creative and to bring balance to our lives.

The most important thing to remember about training through this time, or just getting out there at all, is that you don’t want it to be another point of stress. Look at your daily schedule and decide where your run will fit the best and be less likely to cause disruptions or to be disrupted by other commitments you have.

Run what you can, meaning, if you only have thirty minutes don’t bag the run because well it’s “only thirty minutes.” Just get out there, thirty minutes is better than zero minutes and you’re a lot less likely to criticize yourself if you get out there for a short time rather than just not going.

If you do miss a run, let it go. Don’t beat yourself up over it and don’t try to cram it in somewhere else. You’ll have another opportunity to run the next day.

Explain to your family how important it is for you to be able to get your run in and see what they are willing to do to help you. You may be surprised by their giving spirits during this time of year.

I don’t know about all of you, but when I miss multiple days of running, things start to get ugly around my house. I get grumpy and frustrated with things that are normally not a problem. Obviously, grumpy and frustrated not within the scope of “Holiday Spirit.”

If you can stop your running from becoming a stressor, it will be an excellent source of destressing. Running can be your time to just decompress; to get away from all the hectic planning and preparing; to escape from overly involved family; and to compensate for the extra five pieces of pie we plan on eating.

 

santa-run

 

Apps to Keep you Moving

runner-apps

Sometimes running can get boring, at least that’s what I hear, or you lose your motivation. Phone apps are a great way to take care of both situations. Here are a few apps you should check out:

Lesser known motivational/tracking apps

  1. Runner’s world go provides tracking tools, expert knowledge, and motivation. For iphone, it’s free, and has in app purchases.
  2. Runkeeper has training plans created by expert coaches, social networking, motivation awards, audio cues for pace, distance, and time. Iphone and android. Free.
  3. Endomondo tracks a lot of different activities (table tennis included). It gives in run audio pep talks from your friends who also use the app. Free for apple and android.
  4. Couch to 5k great for new runners, provides three 30 minute workouts per week, tracks your time and distance, has a virtual coach to give you verbal cues. $2.99 for apple and android.
  5. Ismoothrun tracks distance and time, but also steps, weather, and the name of the street you started on. You can also migrate workout data between training logs. $4.99 for apple only.
  6. Pacejam is an app that helps with pacing. You set the pace you want to maintain and it adjusts the music speed depending on if you are running too slow or too fast. Free on apple and android.
  7. PaceDJ scans the music on your phone, breaks down all the songs by beats per minute and creates a playlist to match your preferred pace. If you don’t know your pace, the app can measure it as you go and help you choose one. Free on apple and android.

 

Other well-known tracking apps: garmin mobile connect, strava, nike+, and mapmyrun

Fun apps

  1. Runtastic is a story running app. You can download different stories for $1 a piece. Each one is 30-45 minutes long. There are some free stories. It’s free to download, it’s for apple, android, and windows phone.
  2. Charity miles tracks your distance and donates 25 cents per mile to a preselected charity.
  3. Zombies, Run! Gives you missions to run in a zombie apocalypse situation. Your running is vital to your survival. Yyou collect gear and supplies, and you build a base. $4.99 for both apple and android.
  4. For those days or times where you are resting or injured there is Temple run and Subway Surfer.

 

Other interesting apps related to running:

  1. Myfitnesspal tracks calories, breaks down your diet into fat, protein, carbohydrates, sugar and more when you log the food you’ve eaten. You can set weight loss goals or maintenance goals. Free for iphone and android.
  2. Outsider tracks your runs and gives you detailed weather reports. It has a run weather index which tells you how your run will be based on the weather. Free and only on apple.
  3. Localeikki recommends local running routes and gives you details about the surface, traffic volume, and restroom facilities. Free and only on apple.

Use any method to keep yourself running, we all hit ruff spots.

Aunt Flow in town?

womens-health-1

Hold on guys! This one is for the lady runners. Alright you can read it, but you can never unlearn this information, which may be a good thing if you have women in your life and I hope that you do in some way because we’re pretty awesome.

One of my new runners misheard something I was talking about and believed I was saying something about running during the menstrual cycle. Even though I wasn’t, she wanted to know how being on your period impacts your running, so this one is for you, Charity my girl.

The menstrual cycle is twenty-eight days long on average. The first fourteen days is called the Follicular phase and the second fourteen days is called the Luteal phase. During the follicular phase, the uterine wall thickens and prepares to become pregnant, estrogen levels increase and your body tries to conserve glycogen and relies more on fat stores for energy, serotonin levels drop and cortisol levels rise, causing cravings for sugar and fats, which help balance out moods imbalanced by the increase in hormones.

Sugar and chocolate cravings the week before and during your period are common. Cravings are typically a sign that your body is in need of something. Some women become more sensitive to insulin during their menstrual cycle and when the blood sugar levels drop they crave sweets.

A chocolate craving can be instigated by low iron and/or magnesium levels. Low magnesium levels can cause imbalances in electrolytes and muscle cramps. It’s not menstruation that causes low iron levels, the myth lives on, but it could be running. There are newer theories, which suggest each time our foot hits the ground we break red blood cells and lose iron. Another theory, is that a hormone that’s released in response to inflammation inhibits the uptake of iron.

During the Luteal phase, your plasma volume reduces by 8%, this causes an increase in your body temperature and slows down the sweating process. As if that’s not enough, the lower plasma thickens your blood making it more difficult to shuttle around fuel and oxygen, which of course, reduces energy levels. The lower plasma affects recovery time since your body is working harder to get oxygen and fuel to tired or injured muscles.

By the time you reach the luteal phase, you’ve likely put on a few pounds and your hormones are at their highest causing cramping, bloating, lower back pain, and headaches and then you can’t, or shouldn’t, take iburprophen because of the risk of kidney damage and other things (white willow bark and Aleve are recommended). Then ovulation happens over the next three to five days, then the blood begins and continues for five to seven days.

When you think about this, it’s not surprising to find out that your running performance can be affected by your monthly visit from Auntie Flow. So ladies, be aware there will be fluctuations in your performance caused by your cycle, keeping a training diary will help you pin point a pattern of changes and plan for them.

Who isn’t stressed?

mom pulling hair out

Stress can be good and stress can be bad for our running. Stress forces our body to adapt and get stronger, but too much stress can wear us down and not allow us to recover. Too much stress plus to many miles or hard workouts can lead to injury which then causes more stress and thus the cycle goes on and on my friends.

Stress can come from many different places in our lives leaking into our running, impacting our performance, and syphoning our energy until we dread getting out of bed in the morning resorting to smacking the snooze button half a dozen times.

Maintaining a balance in all aspects of our lives is a very lofty goal and impossible to maintain on a consistent basis making ebbs and flows the standard. That is standard procedure in my world. Sometimes my life blows up and nearly every facet of it becomes a hot mess pressuring me to not get out and run at all, but focus on putting Band-Aids on everything to stem the catastrophe.

Our bodies are interconnected systems. If one system is overwhelmed with stress, it impacts others. Most people divide their lives into seven different facets: physical, emotional, social, environmental, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual when one of these is out of wack, another picks up the slack. This is not a bad thing as long as it’s doesn’t become the norm, in fact, we see it when we have a physical injury. Our supporting muscles take on the work of the injured muscle or tendon allowing it to persist in that way will eventually lead to additional injuries and imbalances.

Chronic stress reduces your body’s ability to recover by compromising your body’s immune system. Breaking your body down too much is not going to produce performance gains. You need to allow your body time to adapt and get stronger. It can’t do that when you’re putting it under high levels of stress on a regular basis even if it’s from different angles of your life.

How should this change the way we train? If you know you have an especially difficult day, make your training for the day easier. When you are planning your training for the season, look at the things you know are coming, which could cause some extra stress. Schedule a rest week during those times. By reducing your miles you will reduce the risk of over training. Schedule your intense workouts such as speed work and long runs for days where you are least likely to be high stress days. Prioritize your workouts. If you have to skip a workout or change things around, dump the easy days and keep your high quality workouts like speed work and long runs.

Feeling Lucky

lucky

Every once in awhile, it occurs to me how lucky I am and how I take many things for granted. I had this very thing happen during my run last Thursday.  I was out on a trial I had only been on one other time. It’s very beautiful with aspens trees standing right up against the trail edge, and as you climb higher this changes to a pine forest. The temperatures dropped with each step up toward the saddle of Lambs Canyon Pass. I watched the sun rise from behind the mountains surrounding me. I heard the rustle of birds, squirrels, and all manner of other small creatures waking up.

Whenever I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be out on the trial, I stop and just breathe it all in and try to appreciate it. I think about everything that has to happen and come together to allow me to be out there such as time, where you live, financial ability, freedom, work schedule, family support, and obviously health.

Injuries make us stop and think about how much we do have as runners. It’s unfortunate that, in many aspects of life, we forget what we have until it is gone. As a western society, I think we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives. With our focus on the things which are going wrong or badly in our lives, we lose sight of what is going well and how much we have.

In the United States, there are still many people who live way below the poverty line and lack the ability to meet their own basic needs. But there are also many who are able to do so and those who are able to have enough financial means to provide for their wants and desires as well.

It’s important to remember and be grateful for how much we have compared to those who have so little in our own community and worldwide. This change in perspective will make you more content in your daily life. We all have struggles and obstacles we face at various stages in our lives and because of our choices. Dealing with stressors is easier when you see the things that are positive in your life.

Life gets busy for all of us and we lose sight of the positive things in our lives, but once things slow down stop and remember the beauty in your life. Surround yourself  with small reminders of the positive things in or to slow down and see them.

Next time you are out there with your feet floating over the trail or pavement, take thirty seconds, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you, and call to mind all that is positive in your life.

The Critic

critic

 

Many people criticize what others do. Some make a career out of it, such as movie and book critics, but those are not the ones I’m talking about. Runners don’t escape the critic’s notice.

How can you spend so much time running rather than with your family?

Think of what you could do with the money you spend on shoes and race fees?

Your race metals hanging on your office wall make others feel bad. Is that your wall of bragging?

Is it really fair to you family that all your vacations revolve around your running?

Why do you like to be alone all the time?

Is running more important than hanging out with your friends?

This type of criticism is sort of easy to brush aside. Some of us do feel a little guilty about the amount of time we spend running rather than with family and friends, but it’s easy to justify. Running makes me a better parent, sister, son, friend, and whatever. And there’s always the classic response, “You’re welcome to join me anytime if you want to hang out.”

Our worst and most difficult critic is the one in our heads. It tends to be much more cruel and has higher expectations than others do. It echoes all of the above statements and adds to the list.

It’s hard to get out and train some days and god forbid you miss a workout. If you do, the internal critic is all over that shit with, “You’re lazy, you’re going to get slow, and how do you ever expect to finish a race when you can’t even do a training run.” These are all beautiful guilt ridden statements.

I suppose they motivate you to move your ass sometimes, but there are so much better ways to get yourself going and sometimes it’s best to take a rest day or have an easy day. Step back and think about what you would say to a friend or training partner doing so can put things in to perspective.

When we don’t hit our goals, it can get ugly inside our heads too. “You should have trained more or harder.” “You had some left in the tank and could have passed one or two more people.” “You’re really not as good as you think.” “You’ll never make it.”

When we have an injury… “Don’t be a baby, it’s nothing.” “You’re weak.”

The mental side of running is more difficult to deal with than the physical training. These thoughts come so “naturally” to many of us that it’s impossible to stop them entirely. You have to prepare for them and learn how to counter act them.

When they show up during a race, they can shut you down and become the infamous self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-sabotage is another great way of thinking about it.

Ignoring the critic or telling it to shut up is not enough. You have to have examples to prove it wrong. This means you need to hang onto and store your successes. Those moments were you thought, “I did it.” Most importantly, the moments where you pushed through a particularly difficult run regardless of the reason it was difficult.

These successes are your secret weapon so keep them safe and close at hand. Then when the critic starts with its stream of negativity, you can pull out your triumphs.

Can running help with depression?

depression

I’m not advocating going off your prescribed medication. Not at all, going off psychotropic medications must be done under the supervision of your doctor and never just a complete stop. Running should not be the sole treatment for depression, but it’s my firm belief that it is a necessary component of treatment. Also always talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you have any chronic or serious health issues (see the lawyer in me showing). With that said, let’s see what the psychological benefits of running are.

Running boosts self-esteem because you’re body improves and you feel like you are accomplishing something as you improve in your times or your distance. Running also releases endorphins, which trigger positive emotions. The “runners high” is a real thing people. This feeling of euphoria can change your outlook on your day and if you run daily, it can change your life.

I know I’m talking about running specifically here, but any type of moderate exercise is going to bring up your mood. The difficulty is getting started when you don’t have any motivation and don’t even feel like getting out of bed.

If this is you, start with something light such as yoga and definitely get someone to go with you. Pick someone who can give you some tough love and really support and validate your feelings and accept where you are with an open heart.

Next think about activities you enjoyed in your past and whether or not you like group activities or individual. A class may be the perfect thing for one person, and individual tennis lessons may be better for someone else. You should pick something that fits well in your schedule and eliminate any excuses you see yourself coming up with when you are having a difficult day.

Start small with twenty to thirty minutes three days a week, and as you feel better, you can increase your duration and/or the number of days each week.

It’s hard and you are going to have to force yourself to get started, but in the long run you will be glad you did.