Graduation

’tis the season of graduation. Every May and June, thousands of people graduate from high schools, colleges and universities around the United States. So with graduation on the brain, how do you know you’re ready to graduate to the next race distance?

There are multiple opportunities for graduating in our life times. Each time we achieve a new level in any aspect of our lives we could say we have graduated. When most people think of graduating, they think of transitions in the educational setting to the next level.

Our youngsters graduate from kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, with their associates degree, bachelors degree, masters degree, and doctorate degree. As far as running goes we move up from 5k to 10k; 10k to half marathon; half marathon to full marathon; marathon to 50k; 50k to 50 mile; 50 mile to 100k; and 100k to 100 mile.

Basically, you graduate when you successfully complete a course of training. That’s all fine and good, but when it comes to running how do you know you have “successfully” completed a course of training?

Many runners don’t begin with the shortest distance and work their way up. They just jump in where they want too. Some proceed to longer distances and others stay where they are comfortable. Here we are talking about those runners who want to move up in distance, although there is nothing wrong with staying put. It’s a personal lifestyle choice because as you move to the next level, your running impacts more and more of your lifestyle.

We know the training that goes into each level of achievement is more difficult than the last.  It takes over our lives a little more with each step. It can change our sleep needs and nutritional needs. It changes the way our body functions (usually for the good but there are injuries too). Our time commitment to running increases and we develop friendships with new people.

We learn about new skills and absorb new information by reading books, blogs and magazines. Our vocabulary increases as we throw out the latest terminology such as being chicked, attitude training, Athena class, Clydesdale class, bandit, aquajogging, and PR. We learn a lot about our  bodies including various tendons, ligaments and muscles.

We put into practice the skills we have learned from the prior level such as foam rolling, stretching, tempo running, packing drop bags, how to stay awake and run all night, how to manage stomach problems while running, and hydration.

You’re ready to graduate when you develop the enthusiasm, drive and grit to take on the challenges of the next level even though you don’t know everything about them.

 

 

 

 

 

Run Present

We’ve all heard these catch phrases, “be present,” “mindfulness,” and “just be.” It can be difficult to be present in the moment we find ourselves in. We’re always thinking about what is coming up next in our lives. We make plans for the next day, week, month, and year.

And there are days we are stuck in the past remembering what happened in our lives sometimes for the joy it brings to us, sometimes to try to understand what happened, and sometimes to brood and despair over things we cannot change.

In the world we live in, we have to plan for our futures, but it shouldn’t consume our present. As for our unpleasant past memories, learn what you can from them and then let them go.  You lived through it once, don’t replay it in your head over and over again.

There are so many things vying for our attention every moment of every day. Our attention has become a commodity. Everyone wants it and we are the ones who don’t ever have it! You only have to look around you as you walk down most city streets or even a hallway of an office. People are doing multiple things at the same time. We have a constant flow of information from multiple sources assailing us every waking moment.

What’s the big deal you might ask? I mean everyone does it: they are thinking about the future, thinking about the past, and processing information from a million sources all the time. No wonder so many of us are exhausted day in and day out. This type of “living” is not living at all. We miss so much because we move from one thing to the next before the prior thing was even finished.

I am a firm believer in taking time to ground yourself in the present and recharge your batteries. It’s like a mini vacation right where you are. You can slip into it any time and any place. Isn’t that why we go on vacations, to get away from it all?

Running is my vacation. I try to be very present when I run and not just because I don’t want to fall on my face, although that’s a pretty good reason. I want to escape the sensory overloaded world most of us function in every single day.

Next time you’re out for a run, try to get to a trail, unplug your ear buds, feel your feet hit the dirt, feel the breeze on your face, notice the different colors around you, notice the different textures of plants, feel your breath come in and go out; be right there experiencing every aspect of your run. I challenge you all to find a new way to be present during a run.

Let me know what you find.

Hello past me…

Dear twelve-year-old me,

Remember the wind in your hair as you ride your bike around the neighborhood, and the bliss of chasing friends, siblings, and cousins at the park, through the woods, and over mountains? Running will become your true freedom; your most loyal of friends. It will save your life and see you through the most difficult of times.

Within the next year, you will fall into a darkness so deep the possibility of a happy ending will never even occur to you. The existence of a warm heart and soaring soul will be a faded dream. You will lose touch with the places you love; the woods, the streams, the mountains, and lakes. As incredible as it seems you will lose your connection with the earth, your love of dirt between your toes and sifting through your fingers, the sun on your bare skin, and the rain tickling your face.

It will be years before you find these things again, but they have never left you and are waiting for you to return. The mountain trails of the Wasatch Front will be come your home away from home. They will become your comfort, your therapist, your peace, and your clarity.

The trails will teach you patience, mindfulness, forgiveness, and acceptance. They will heal your deepest scars because on the trail you are strong and complete. There is no judgement in the wild. Every tree and every flower is beautiful just the way it is and so are you.

Running will give you confidence to take on any challenge and fortitude to accomplish your goals. You will find grace in a face plant; warmth in the snow; rooted in the clouds. Running will be more than a pastime, hobby, or a way to stay fit. It will become much more than you ever imagined weaving itself among the very core of who you are.

The hours and hours you spend alone in the mountains will remind you how much you have to be grateful for in your life—health, friendships, family, education, financial means, and living in a place where you have the opportunity to run.

You will work through major and minor injuries carefully trying to balance your mental need to be on the mountain and your physical need to heal. There will be anger, frustration and many tears, but running is not going anywhere. It waits for you and the reunion will bring more tears, those of joy.

You will see the world as a child sees the world—an exciting adventure with discoveries around every bend.  This perception will spread to many aspects of your life. All of the lessons running teaches you will make you a better friend, mom, advocate, significant other, daughter, and member of society.

I wish you could have found it sooner, but know it is always waits for your return.

With love,

Nicole

 

Are You Strong?

All you have to do to train for a race is run, right? Wrong.

Wait a minute, my legs are really strong. I mean check out these calves, quads and glutes. I used to think the same thing. The number one reason to incorporate strength training into your running training is injury prevention. The other reasons are increasing your speed during your long runs.

Running beats up your body, if you haven’t noticed. If you don’t have a lot of time to add in strength training, and who does, work on your hips. Strong hips are essential to preventing injuries. There is tons of research that supports this. You can prevent some of the most common running injuries such as runners knee, shin splints, and ITband issues.

Your hips stabilize your upper and lower body. The muscles surrounding the hips are recruited when other muscles become tired which can cause overuse injuries and compensation injuries. Weak hips throw off your gait, causing your knee and ankles to be unstable, in addition to your hips. You can develop mid-line crossover of your arms and feet. Cross over is an over rotation of your upper body during running. This twisting action wastes energy and can cause you to fall if you’re running on an technical surface.

You don’t need to do strength training every day, three days a week is best, more is not better. Your body needs a chance to build after you work the muscles. It doesn’t take a long time to add in some hip strengthening either, you can throw in 20 minutes after a run or on your cross training days. Let’s eliminate one more excuse too, you don’t need any equipment or a gym.

Here are some exercises that will get you started:

Fire hydrants: Get down on all fours. Lift your right leg out keeping the knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Lift slow for four counts and then lower for two counts. Repeat this for 10-20 times and three sets. Repeat on your left side.

Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of one another. Lift your top leg to about 45 degrees and then lower it back down. Repeat 15 to 20 times per leg.

Bird Dog: Get on all fours on the ground. Focusing on balance, lift your right arm and extend it straight out in front of your body. Simultaneously, lift your left leg and extend it out behind your body. Bring your extended arm and bent knee back to center under your body, and then extend them both out again. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Hip Hikes: Standing on one foot, drop the right side of your pelvis a few inches downwards while keeping the left side in a neutral position. Activate your left hip muscles and lift your right side back to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

Single-Leg Bridge: Lie on your back with both legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your left leg off the ground and extend it while you raise your lower back and butt. Hold the position for two seconds and lower back downwards in a controlled manner. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.

Donkey Kicks: Get on all fours again, but this time you will only be lifting and extending your legs, keeping your hands on the ground. Instead of extending the leg backwards like you did during Bird Dogs, keep the knee slightly bent and kick upwards, with the bottom of your shoe facing the sky. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.

 

 

Giving Back

Races of every distance could not happen without their volunteers. Giving back to the running community is essential because of this. We’ve all be “saved” by a volunteer at some point during our running careers. It could have been something simple, like them handing you a Gu or a cup of water, or as complex as helping you remove your shoes, take care of blisters, and get your shoes back on your wet muddy feet.

The volunteers out there may or may not have family or friends running in the event. I’ve run into many an aid station to find out the aid station is run by a family or community group who does it every year and no one runs.

I know we are all very busy with training, working, family, and some minimal form of social life, but there are races nearly every weekend, especially 5k and 10ks. They are not a huge time commitment either, just a couple of hours.

Experiencing the running world from the volunteer’s side, will give you a new perspective and much appreciation for what they do. It will help you make their lives easier when you come into their aid station. It will also help you, if you ever decide to be a race director or organize a race of your own to benefit a non-profit agency.

How do you get started?

  1. Contact the race director for a race you have run or that supports something you can get behind. There are always 5k and 10k races support things like prevention and research of medical and mental health problems. There are also a ton of races raising money for local non-profit groups. Even schools have them to raise money.
  2. If you don’t know about any races, go to your local running store or get on their website and find the race calendar.
  3. Search on the internet.
  4. Once you have a race selected, email/call the race director or volunteer coordinator.
  5. Let them know you’d like to volunteer.

If you are considering a big event, such as a ultra, it’s good to let them know your experience as a runner so they can place you at points in the race where you will be the most help to the runners. The other thing to know about volunteering for an ultra, especially if you’re going to be the captain of an aid station, is you have to bring a lot of your own stuff.

The bigger races such as Western States, Leadville, Hardrock and the like, will have bigger sponsors and more supplies. But your smaller races that draw mostly locals and rarely the top runners of the ultra world don’t have as much and you may be expected to bring things, including food items, canopies, chairs, cots, heaters, and whatever else you want for your own comfort and that of the amazing runners.

Don’t be put off by bring your own stuff. Call in friends and family. I’ve always been able to gather the things I need and haven’t had to buy more than some food items and even that cost is split between my friends who volunteer with me at the aid station.

Remember none of us would be out there without the amazing volunteers.

Eager Beaver

Not everyone is an eager beaver. Pulling yourself out of the winter hibernation can be quiet the process. “But it’s running!” the beavers say. I know I totally get it beav. I’m right there with you rearing to go, chomping at the bit, barely containing the animal within.

But for some, it takes time for the snow to melt, the limbs to thaw, and the warm blood to reach the toes. It can be especially challenging if you have dropped your miles very low over the winter months or if you had a disappointing race season before the cold hit your neck of the woods.

When your miles drop to the point that you are having to work up to the fitness level where you were at the close of the race season, overcoming that mental hurdle of knowing how hard it can be to come back is your most formidable enemy, but you’ve slain this foe before. Write yourself a good gradual training program, set some goals along the way, sign up for races with increasing distances, and help your running partners thaw themselves out as well. Remember how great it feels when you’re at peak fitness. And at the end of next season, rethink the idea of maintaining a higher milage base.

A disappointing race season can leave you depressed and questioning why you work so hard only to miss the goal you set for yourself. If you find yourself in this space, you really need to get out into the sunshine, even if it is just to sit on a park bench. Soak in some of the suns rays. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Wiggle your toes in the grass and earth. Brush your fingers gently on the blossoms covering the trees. Breathe the mountain air. There is nothing like getting outside away from the business of the city to reignite the fire that fuels your engine.

Once your brain is in a better place, it’s time to rethink your race season. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and continue to repeat them. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Failure is not falling down; it’s not getting up.” Find the places where you think you were less than your best and pull them apart until you know why. That “Why” is your starting place.

Turn your why around and look at it from every angle. Get intimate with it. Pull it apart and turn it inside out. Now, come up with a plan to kill the why. This will likely be trial and error during your training.

Trial and error can be fun. It makes you think outside the box. It makes you dig deep and find something new about yourself. You may make new friends through collaboration as you work through this little issue of yours.

We’re runners, we stare into the face of challenge and smile.

 

 

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.