Thursday, May 17, 2012

Unexpected Treasures


“I love to think of nature as an unlimiting broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we only will tune in.”  ~ George Washington Carver

You know that almost magical feeling of walking out in the woods in the early morning?  The air is crisp and cool.  The early sun is casting odd shadows, its rays coming in sideways and deflecting off of every tree leaving striped patterns of light and dark throughout the forest.  There is usually a gentle breeze that plays with my hair.  It is the kind of serene setting that makes me breathe in deeply and smile.  I’ve heard it said that nature is God’s art.  That makes sense to me.  Nature has the most complicated textures, most true colors, and most unique patterns imaginable, down to the most microscopic detail.  Greater still, it is all in motion, alive and inviting.    

You know that feeling that you get on a really good run?  The kind of run that ends with a wish that you could just keep going?  Today was not that kind of run.  =)  I had a long way to go and I wasn’t feeling it.  However, I decided that I was going to enjoy myself regardless so I set out looking for things that I could appreciate.  I didn’t have to look far.

I soon came across a long black snake just off the trail.  He was about 4 feet long.  His head was so far away from his tail that I momentarily contemplated touching the tip of it.  I decided against it after a female runner raced past, greeted me with a friendly hello, saw the snake, and ran screaming down the trail and disappeared into the woods.  The snake and I were so shook up that I didn’t think it would be fair to risk scaring him any further.  I left him alone, disappointed that I had left my cell phone in the car.  He had some well-designed but subtle markings and I would have loved to have a picture of him.  I see at least one snake almost every time I am out on the trail.  They don’t scare me anymore.  I’ve become desensitized to their presence because of all the encounters I have had with them.  I know the areas to expect them.  I respect that they are wild animals and I usually stop to get a look but rarely ever bother them other than to move them off of the road if I know other people are following close behind me.  Most of the snake species are startled to see me and race off into the woods or the lake, but the black racers seem to be sleepy snakes.  Maybe they are just very confident.  They don’t get in a hurry and they aren’t too anxious about my approach.  If they are resting beside the path they may slowly creep off and into a low lying tree branch.  If they are on the path, they are usually so long that they touch both sides of the trail.  I just jump over them and keep running.       

Today was an especially neat treat because there were several turtles out.  I usually see them sunning on logs out in the lake but rarely ever are they on the trail.  After I left the long black snake I ran about ten feet before I saw a very large turtle crossing the path.  He was HUGE!  I wondered how old he was.  In general, the rule is the larger the turtle species the longer their lifespan.  Sea turtles can live up to 230 years while spotted turtles can live up to 70 years.  I don't know the particular species of this turtle, but I think it is safe to say that he must have had a LOT of great grand-turtles.

After leaving the turtle, I began looking for my next object of appreciation.  I came across a patch of wild blackberries just off of the side of the path.  Ecstatic!!!  There were only a handful of ripe berries left but they were a tasty juicy snack and I felt revitalized. 

After my snack I ran a little further into an area of the trail by the lake in which the ground covering is very thick and lush.  Every few steps I would be startled by a great rustling noise to my left or to my right.  The vegetation was too thick to spot the cause and despite the great ruckus I imagine it was caused by small creatures, probably a squirrel or a lizard.  Or a bear.  Whatever.  I was not sticking around to find out.

The prettiest thing I saw today was a patch of the forest in which the overhead vegetation is so dense that you cannot see the sky.  It is just a massive green canopy.  The sun never sees the ground in this particular spot so when you enter it you can feel a distinct drop in temperature, a welcome coolness that I found immensely refreshing.  Hanging from several of these branches were single leaves, each suspended by a sole strand of spider silk.  Each leaf looked a lot like a butterfly frozen in mid-flight.  They were suspended about eye level so I ran through them, the thin veil of leaves tickling my face.  I looked back to find that not a single leaf had fallen to the ground.  The strong protein fiber of the spider silk did not break.  The bright leaves were just swaying slowly back and forth.  This was much to my satisfaction as I wanted to leave this beautiful area undisturbed.     

Before I knew it my run was over.  My conclusion:  God is an excellent artist.  He loves to share His creation with us and watch us enjoy it.  He wants us to make the most of the talent He has given to each of us.  He knows that life’s race is like a marathon.  Like the volunteers who hold out cups filled with cool refreshing water to marathoners as they run, God’s "nature art" is meant to refresh us as we are moving along life’s path.  It is meant to make us breathe in deeply and smile, even if the particular stretch of life that we are on happens to be difficult. 

Now it is time for me to get back to work.  What's that you say?  Yes, it WAS a difficult but rewarding run, thanks for asking!  Yes, I DO deserve a pink champagne snocone!  What a great suggestion!  I think I will. 

Live life on the run, friend!  =)     

Friday, May 11, 2012

Halfway Through

“Run the mile you are in.” ~ Runner’s World magazine editor-in-chief David Willey

It happens to me in every race.  It does not matter what the distance.  If the race is a 5k or a half marathon, it happens at the same place in every race.  Halfway through.  Halfway through the distance I have to cover, my brain interrupts my focus and poses the thought, “You could quit right now.”  Halfway through anything in life is a vulnerable place to be.  It’s when the enemy tries to get in my head.  I’m set up for his attack.  I’ve experienced the sweat and the agony of my race.  I’ve felt the energy it takes to keep my pace and it takes a lot out of me physically and mentally.  I’m tired.  And now I have to do it all over again.  Now.  No breaks.  This is it.  Halfway through. 

“You could quit right now.”  Slow down.  Ease up.  Tempting.  The thing about running is that relief is literally one second away all of the time.  At any point I can just quit.  Instant relief.  That’s when I have to decide who I am.  Who will I choose to be.  I ask that question with a period at the end instead of a question mark because I’ve already decided who I will be before the race ever began.  I decided in the hours of training I put in leading up to the race.  I will be someone who gives my personal best.  I don’t let the enemy’s questions consume too much time between my ears.  He only gets enough time to ask the question so that I can shut him down with my response.  “I have done this, I can do this, and I will do this.”  It is my answer.

"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."
~ Muhammad Ali

I have done this.  I show up prepared.  I know what I can do because I put the work in during my training.  I can do this.  I’ve done it in training so I can do it now.  I will do this.  I’m not going to quit now.  I am motivated to put my best into my training because it indicates how I will do in a race, not only physically but psychologically.  I must have the confidence that I can do it.  For me, the confidence comes from knowing that I have been able to deliver what I am getting ready to ask my body to do hundreds of times in training.  I recite this quote by Juma Ikangaa often, “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”  I’ve got to put in the effort it takes to find out what my personal best is.  If I’ve done my personal best, no matter where I finish in the race, I’ve won.

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

God has me in training for much more important things in life than running.  But He is preparing me for them with where He takes me out on the trail.  He is teaching me about consistency.  About perseverance.  About determination.  About preparation.  About winning.  And when I fall short, about grace.  He is teaching me about who He is and about who He made me to be.  He’s building me up in the small things, giving me a chance to be faithful, to be victorious, to be brave.  All of this, so that when the important moments come, when He asks me to race, I will be ready.  “I have done this, I can do this, and I will do this.”  It will be my answer. 

He is a good coach, setting us up for success.  We just have to show up for training, trust Him, and do what He asks of us.  That is how we achieve our personal best.     

That’s my take on the halfway mark.  Here’s the take of one of my favorite athletes, Ryan Hall.  “Focus on just that step that you’re on.  If you focus on what is left to run, it can easily become daunting and too overwhelming to finish.  Just focus on that moment and that step that you’re currently on.  Enjoy every single step you take.  Don’t think about the miles down the road and how hard it’s going to be.”  Great words for runners and great wisdom for life. 

I read recently in Runner’s World about the importance of having a mental plan for race day.  “Keep your mind actively engaged in the race and think your way through the course.  Review the course map now and break it up into smaller, more digestible pieces.  It’s easier to stay focused and engaged for shorter periods of time than for several hours.  Plus, 26.2 miles is less daunting if you think in two to three mile increments.  Like life, you’ll roll through a series of emotional highs and lows on race day.  Enjoy the highs, prepare for the lows.  Pack a few ‘power words’ in your pocet to keep you focused and your mind actively engaged in the positive.  ‘Strong and Steady’ is one of my favorites.”  I like that.

I also really love Saucony’s Find Your Strong campaign.  Check out this two minute inspirational video.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRIiWWBhMFI

Until next time, live life on the run!  =)  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Passionately Hardcore


"Maybe I shouldn't have had breakfast at Denny's." ~ Jordan Kent, who vomited after running the 400 meters in the 2002 USA Junior National Championships held in Eugene, Oregon.

Yesterday I dedicated my run to a running partner who is injured right now.  She is training for her very first 5k.  Usually training for a 5k means running lots of miles and speed work, but right now her training means letting her body rest so that it can heal.  We’re hoping for her full recovery and an excellent 5k experience. 

I got the idea to dedicate my run from an inspiring post by our Women Can Run clinic director:
Hey, ladies. I just saw a post on a friend's Facebook status... an idea that she got from a friend of hers and one that is worth passing along to you. It said:
"Like my status, and while I am running/walking I will devote a mile in prayer for you, I will send you a message or post letting you know. If you have a specific prayer feel free to send me a message. (If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Matt. 21:22)"
What a great way to occupy your thoughts while your body is working! Consider trying this idea or a variation thereof.
I think this is a WONDERFUL idea and I hope that it starts a movement.  I don’t know who began the original post but I am inspired.  My runs will never be un-dedicated again. 

In honor of my friend, I wanted to pick a difficult workout to dedicate to her.  It didn’t take me long to decide what to do.  Off of Skyline onto Sheppard Drive is my town’s version of Heartbreak Hill.  It is a 342-foot elevated gain up a mile long hill.  It is the kind of road that you love to drive down at full speed but when you turn around to drive back up your engine screams in protest for the duration of the pull.  I knew my calves would be screaming in protest, too.  I was looking forward to it.    

Halfway up the hill my stomach began to feel…eh…not so good.  Halfway down the hill my stomach was not only upset, it was angry with me.  Ok, so maybe I had brought it on myself.  I had eaten a leftover doughnut for breakfast.  I know better but… What?!  Doughnuts at my house are an extreme rarity so it wasn’t an option to leave that apple fritter in the frig all day long to taunt me.  I had to knock it out first thing.  =)  But hours later, during my evening run, all of that sugar left my belly feeling a little woozy.  And it was time to find a bathroom.   

If you’re not a runner and you’re reading this right now, you may be a little disgusted with me for sharing too much information.  First, I want to say…that is not the entirety of information I could have shared.  Second, you’re welcome.  =)  If you are a runner, you’re most likely not even phased by my sharing.  We’ve all been there.  It’s a situation similar to that of a non-mother getting grossed out by seeing a dirty diaper.  Contrast that reaction with the reaction of a mother, who doesn’t even recognize it as something nasty any more – it’s just a part of life that is a little messy, but to which you have grown accustomed.  That’s how many runners feel about tummy troubles.  It’s just part of it.     

So I ran straight down off of that hill and into the little bathroom in the park.  I did not pass GO, I did not collect two hundred dollars.  I was sitting there in that nasty concrete barely-windowed poorly ventilated bathroom with toilet paper decorating the floor and the absurdity of it made me start to giggle.  Isn’t it strange how sometimes it is the odd predicament that can make us feel more fully alive.  I suddenly felt this strong sense of community with runners all over the world.  There is a whole group of people out there who understand what I was experiencing at that moment.  They are the same people who get up at 4am to go for that long distance run before the kids wake up.  The same people who get their second wind from watching the sun rising up over the trees.  The same people who chase the clouds to the finish line.  The same people who set a personal record in the middle of a trail surrounded by trees with no audience except themselves and God to cheer them on and that is enough for them.  I felt connected to them all and it was a great feeling.  And the best part?  Despite stomach problems and all, we choose it.  We choose to run.  Because we are passionate.  Because we are hardcore.   

The great thing about all of this is that we don’t have to be runners to be hardcore about life.  Hardcore is not limited to those who are physically fit or into any kind of sport.  If we are living passionately for a God-inspired purpose, we are hardcore.  If we are engaged when it would be more comfortable to be apathetic, we are hardcore.  If we are living for passion and purpose instead of for comfort and convenience, we are hardcore.  And if we are sitting it out while we nurse an injury so that we can get back into the game like my running partner is right now, we are hardcore.  Sitting it out is sometimes a necessary part of getting back in.  It takes a lot of courage and patience.  And that, too, is hardcore. 

God works to get our attention in many ways.  He speaks to us through many things, including the passions He Himself wove into our soul’s DNA.  One need only read a few chapters of the Bible to see that God loves adventure.  So I’m going to be hardcore about life.  I’m running toward the adventure instead of seeking the convenient.  I’m listening for the messages He’s been trying to whisper to me.  I’m letting Him run right next to me, matching me stride for stride, and wearing out my defenses until I can see clearly what He sees.  Passionately hardcore for this life He’s gifted to me.         

Yesterday, after I had ran up and down the 34 story building we call Sheppard Drive, I pulled up into my driveway and realized that I had forgotten my pepper spray in the bathroom at the park.  So I asked my hubby if he would like to go with me to pick it up so that we could share about our day while riding in the car together.  He happily agreed.  When we drove over the crest of Sheppard Drive and began speeding down the hill he questioned, “Is THIS the hill you ran up?”  “Yes.”  And, without me mentioning my newfound buzzword of the day to him, he exclaimed, “You’re hardcore!”  Yes, honey.  Yes, I guess I am.  =) 

Please read and be inspired by this moving story about a hardcore woman who died in the London Marathon one mile from the finish line.  She was running to raise money for a charity.  I’m sorry that she is gone, but what a way to go.  I admire and respect her and promote her cause.  May we all spend our last breath in pursuit of the calling God put on our heart like this young lady did.      
  
Have fun out there today and dedicate your run to someone you love or to someone you need to love more.  Til next time, may you live life on the run.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Running: Solo or Social?

"If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." ~ African Proverb

Some things are better done alone, like eating an entire batch of oatmeal raisin cookies still warm from the oven. Not that I did that this weekend. *awkward* Moving on... Some things are better done with others, like watching a comedy and laughing so hard that no sound comes out except for the occasional squeaky gasp. But when it comes to running, people are divided. Some would argue that running is a solo sport. Others would beg to differ, saying it is best enjoyed as a social sport. Here are some considerations for each to help you decide whether you are a solo runner or a social runner.

Running Solo

I love the freedom of running alone. I like to listen to my body and let it run wild and free, according to however I am feeling in any particular moment. Sometimes I am energized by a song or a beautiful thought and I will soar through a few miles, my feet flying and my heart pounding. Other times, I just like to settle into a slow and smooth rhythm that allows me to get lost in my thoughts. I like to be able to determine my pace by how I feel and it may change throughout my run.

I also enjoy setting my own training goals. Everyone trains a little differently. Discovering what works best for you individually is a vital part of learning how to enjoy running. One of the more important advantages of running alone is that you learn how to pace yourself by listening to your body. Dr George Sheehan, a cardiologist and author best known for his books about running, said, “Listen to your body. Do not be a blind and deaf tenant.” Listening to your body’s feedback requires awareness and continual evaluation which is less likely to occur during conversation with other runners.

Listening to ourselves is a very important part of life that many skip over because it can be uncomfortable at times. In prayer and meditation we allow our character to be developed. I’ve heard it said that running is meditation for people who can’t sit still. I’ve found that most runners, by nature, are happy with their own company. They enjoy the time alone and they embrace the solitude of being able to shut the world out for a few minutes and hear their own thoughts clearly and pray without distraction.

There are cons to running solo, too. You may find yourself lonely and wishing to share the experience with someone from time to time. I tend to feel this way particularly when I have an idea or solution that surfaces and I want to celebrate it with someone.

I also find myself wanting a running partner when I could use some motivation to help me through that last mile. Friends are great at pushing each other to run a little further or a little faster. You may also be more likely to complete your workout goal for the day if are running with someone. It is much easier to give up when you are by yourself and without support. A friend will encourage you to do what you set out to accomplish.

Another disadvantage to running solo is, unfortunately, safety risks. If you like to run at night or on trails, it is obviously much safer to run with a friend or group. Attackers are much more likely to strike a lone runner than they are to attack a group. Furthermore, if someone becomes injured or starts to feel sick, there is someone who can run for help.

Running with a Friend or a Group

Sharing the running experience with a friend or group can make running quite memorable. The time spent together is great for talking out problems and sharing successes. You can obsess over the details of your run until your heart is content because you know that your running partner shares the same passion!

Running with a group can bring out the best runner in us. When you’re running with people who encourage you to run faster and farther, it’s easier to take yourself to the next level. You will have the opportunity to meet other runners and gain knowledge from their experiences. AND! You get your own personal cheering squad. =) Members cheer each other on during races and support each other on long distance runs. Friends can be highly motivational and entertaining, which can make the tough miles easier to take on. You are also less likely to skip workouts if there are people counting on you to show up.

It is a great opportunity to get to know other people with similar interests. Many people have even met their significant other or close friends through a running group. For people with busy schedules, running combines their social life and fitness into one fun package. Oftentimes groups will go away to events together. They share racing experiences which gives them a particularly strong and special bond.

Some people like to run alone so they can use their running time for brainstorming because exercise gets our creative juices flowing. However, running in a group may be more helpful than hindering for brainstorming because you can bounce your ideas off other people.

There are some disadvantages to running with a group. Sometimes the group dynamics can be stressful and competitive (see March's blog post titled What a Difference Support Makes about having a healthy attitude about competition). Just remember to that there may be someone who mistakes the purpose of a friendly workout for a chest beating competition. Stay true to who you are and don’t let their mindset become your own. Strive for your personal best and encourage others to do the same.

Another disadvantage is inconvenience. Your group may choose to meet at a time that is not the best for you. They may run at a slower or faster pace than you. Different runners are strong in different parts of the run. Your group will not necessarily pace themselves according to your natural pace. They may take a route that you don’t particularly like. Inconvenience will usually be part of any social activity. Personally, I think that making memories with good friends is worth the small price of inconvenience. If it helps, treat the group runs more like a social gathering with a run thrown in for fun. Don’t take them too seriously. Save that desire for control for your solo runs.

Here’s one last thought to ponder. The fact is that Africans dominate marathons. Any advice that they share about running, the rest of us could benefit by taking notice. I am referring to the African proverb at the beginning of today’s blog. I believe it is referring to life in general, but I think it may also have some useful implications for our running strategy. We might include both solo and social running into our lives so that we may get the maximum benefit of both. “If you want to go quickly, go alone.” In other words, use those solo workouts to push yourself to improve your speed. “If you want to go far, go together.” Make those long distance runs more enjoyable by celebrating the camaraderie you share with other runners.

Try it and see what you think. Are you a solo or a social runner? Or both?

And, finally, for those of us who have encouraged our significant other or friend to start running with us… check this out and get ready to smile. =)

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Runner’s Biggest Fear

Recently Women’s Running Magazine asked women what is their biggest fear about running. Some of the answers were quite entertaining. On the chance you missed it, I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you.

One incredibly honest soul said, “Falling and messing up my teeth.” She must have a really beautiful smile. =D

Someone else’s fear is, “Getting injured and never ever being able to run again.” Never. Ever. Ever. Someone needs a hug and a first aid kit.

I’m seriously concerned for this next commenter, who responded, “Having a heart attack.” I understand. I can’t say that thought has not crossed my mind during especially strenuous workouts. Um, may I suggest cutting back on the speed work? Staying alive should be tippy top on the to-do list today and every day. At least top three. (I hope that person was exaggerating!)

The list of running fears went on and on. There were many comments.

“The dreaded line at the port-o-potty that ruins your time!!” She must have been running a few paces behind this lady, whose greatest fear is, “Peeing in my pants…….” I like the dot dot dot, as if there is a story behind this.

Another brave runner faces a particularly dangerous obstacle on the trail every day. She has fears of “getting eaten by a mountain lion.” Wait…what!?! Note to self: Don’t run on the sidewalks by the zoo.

One woman said, “It’s a toss up between throwing up while running, stray dogs, and criminals.” I don’t like vomiting either but on the scale of scary things I don’t think it places anywhere near assault. But that’s just me.

This comment left me perplexed. “I love running outdoors! But I fear a crazy person taking advantage of a solo female runner! So I run with mace, stun gun, and pocket knife!” Yes, that will scare off the crazy people. And take some scissors with you just in case you drop the knife somewhere along the way. I believe you may be your own worst enemy.

But I must give out my Honorable Mention award to this lady’s response when asked her biggest running fear: “Teenage boys with paintball guns.” Honey, where do you LIVE? You’ve got to get yourself into a safer neighborhood. At least find a new route. Mix it up a bit! We might need to hook you up with Runs With Scissors to get some protection for yourself.

So I ask you, what is it you think about when you’re out there running? Mountain lions and mace? Are these ladies’ fears representative of us as a group? What do you think? I think that there may be an ounce of truth in them or it wouldn’t be so hilarious. =D

Ok, so away from the ridiculous and into the relevant. One of the most frequently mentioned running fears is a “did not finish”, or “DNF”. In the world of running there may be nothing that messes with our head more than to set out with determination and a goal but instead go home disappointed. So here is something that I learned about while studying psychology and it really helps me to stay in a positive frame of mind while running.

Our minds and our bodies are connected. Our thoughts have an affect on our bodies. When our minds are focusing on how difficult a run is, our bodies have a physical response to those thoughts. It may be at a subtle level, flying just below the radar of detection, but it weakens our overall performance and increases the difficulty factor. We can improve our performance by being proactive in choosing our thoughts.

  1. Focus on the benefit instead of the cost. Remind yourself why you chose to take up running in the first place. Weight loss goal? Feeling of accomplishment? Raising money for your favorite charity? Improved self esteem? Some quiet time by yourself to think? Stay in shape to keep up with the kids? Put that prize in front of you like a mental carrot and chase it down the trail.
  2. Put it into perspective. Eavesdrop on that conversation going on in between your ears. What you hear is called your self talk. Research shows that self talk has a tremendous impact on your performance. If you haven't learned how to enjoy running yet, what are you saying to yourself when you run? "I really don't like to run. This is so hard. I want to quit. How much further?" Try this instead. Put the truth into perspective with the bigger picture in mind. “I don’t enjoy running right now, but every time I run it gets a little easier. My body gets stronger, I gain confidence, and I get a little closer to my goal.”
  3. Embrace the difficulty. Release the idea that life should be comfortable and convenient. Research suggests that a life purposed for comfort and convenience results in a rather unfulfilling, not to mention unremarkable, life. Overcoming obstacles is one piece in life’s puzzle that makes an interesting, happy person. If we stop wasting emotional energy being unhappy that life is not easier than it is, and we choose to accept that the best things in life are worth fighting for, we can redirect that emotional energy into pursuits and relationships that make life worth living. If running were easy, everyone would do it. It is difficult and that’s partly why it is so rewarding.

Worst case scenario...you don’t finish a race. Yes, you will be super disappointed. Yes, everyone will tell you, with honest sincerity, that you made the right decision to pull out. You will appreciate their support and you will agree that you made a wise choice, but you will still be disappointed. However, the story does not end there. Your life is more than a single moment in time. There will be another race. Dust it off and get back on the running trail.

Challenge: Listen to your self talk during your next run. What adjustments can be made to make your running experience a more pleasurable one?

Friday, March 30, 2012

What a Difference Support Makes

“If you lose faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” – Kathrine Switzer

(Written last Saturday but I’m just now sharing.) Good morning!!! It is a beautiful day here. It is a cool 60 degrees and the sun is shining brightly without a cloud in the sky. I had a wonderful run with the ladies at the Women Can Run clinic this morning. There is something about running with a group of dedicated people that just endlessly inspires me. From the expert runners who volunteer their time to coach us to the newcomers who may be learning to walk three consecutive miles, I can’t help but be motivated by the company of people who are actively working toward their goals. Hope is contagious. I like to get it on me if I’m low and I like to give it away if I’ve got some extra. At a clinic like this there is more than enough hope to go around. When one person reaches their goal, they share hope with others that they can reach their goal, too. And that is where inspiration is born. The whole track buzzes with it and it gives me extra bursts of energy that improves my running performance.

I saw people cheering other people on. I saw people encouraged by watching other people succeed. It was like “having church” on the track. It was beautiful and it was contagious. We ran a 2 mile tempo run. During the last quarter mile I was running next to another woman and we were cheering each other on the whole way. When we finished we walked back down the track to cheer on the other runners as they came in for their finish. Another woman in our group set a personal record today and we were all excited for her accomplishment. It was a very inspiring way to start the day.

It reminded me of something I want to share with you. We will enjoy running more when we focus on achieving our personal best. Competing with other people creates adversarial relationships. It sets up a “me against them” approach to life that robs us of the joy of being inspired by the success of other people. Competition suggests that resources are so limited that we must all scramble to get what we can for ourselves. In order for you to get what you need it must be taken from me because there is not enough for both of us. It is based on a poverty mentality. In running, someone else’s success does not diminish your personal best. So go ahead and cheer for them. They may not have anyone else supporting them. Your support may mean more than you think it does.

Keep this in mind. It is a great big world and someone will always be faster than us or be able to run longer distances than us. If we view our success in comparison to their success we will get discouraged and burn out before we reach our goal. Somewhere down the road there may be someone who will try to make it into a competition. Don’t fall for that. Keep encouraging them as well as everyone else. Stay true to who you are and don’t let their mindset become your own. It is healthy to strive for our personal best but keep it in perspective. Our self worth does not hang on how fast or far we can run or what place we finish in a race.

This mentality will serve us well on the trail as well as in other areas of our life. Encouraging each other creates a thriving culture of inspiration. It raises the level of performance for everyone because we all want to give our best when people we respect are counting on us.

I have always found inspiration in people who encourage me to do my personal best, rather than encouraging me to beat out over someone else. My family has always been my biggest support. They are always the first to encourage me. I’ve never ran a race without at least one of them there to support me. They are always proud of me no matter where I finish in the race. Their support makes a huge difference. In one particular race it may have been the difference between finishing and giving up.

In June of 2009, I ran a half marathon in Estes Park, Colorado. This race is known for being the highest paved marathon route in the United States. The average elevation is 7,785 feet above sea level, with the highest point reaching 8,150 feet. It is common for runners to experience altitude sickness at elevations of 5,000 feet or higher. There is less oxygen in the air at that altitude which can cause a host of symptoms that decrease running performance.

So flash forward to me standing on the starting line, getting ready to begin this race that I’ve been preparing for over the last three months. Several family members are there and I’m energized by their support. Although I had some nervous energy that morning, when they showed up all of that melted away and my confidence returned. The race begins. For the first several miles, I spot my family at several locations along the route. They’ve created these wonderfully hilarious signs to help me enjoy the journey and keep me in good spirits (check them out in the slideshow on this page). If I had any liquid to spare, I would have spent it on happy tears. It meant so much to me to have them there.

So I’m running and I’m enjoying every step. I feel great. The scenery is breathtaking. Snowcapped mountains. Bright blue skies. Clean mountain air. Fields of wildflowers in every color. I’m in heaven. Whenever I start to get a little bit tired, I round a corner and there is my family, hopping out of the van, slinging signs, and cheering me on. They keep me motivated and pushing forward.

About mile 10, I really start to feel the affects of the higher elevation. My muscles are weak. My heart rate is more elevated than usual. My pulse is racing. I can tell that my performance is decreasing and that my breathing is not pulling in as much oxygen as I need. In addition to the altitude sickness, I'd made a common mistake for new runners - I had started out way too fast. Blame it on the adrenaline. I’ve been averaging a little over an 8 minute mile, but I hit a mile long uphill stretch and it got really hard from there on out. My legs are lead and I can feel myself slowing down. I still have over 3 miles left.

Out of nowhere, my younger sister runs up along side me. She ran a mile or so with me just to ask how I was doing and to encourage me. She and the rest of my family had gone on ahead in the van to scout out the remaining route so that she could relay to me what the last few miles looked like. This prepared me mentally for what was ahead. Being able to visualize the finish line recharged my batteries. I was still physically exhausted but her encouragement had given my brain its second wind.

Those were the hardest 3 miles I have ever raced to this day. I was so exhausted. I am a fighter, but I might have considered dropping out of the race at that point if it weren’t for my family being there to support me. But there was absolutely no way I was going to stop or even walk. I wanted to do my absolute best for them and for myself. They had supported me while I was in training and I felt like I was representing all of us. The only thing that kept me going for those last few miles was the people who supported me.

Waiting for me at the finish line was my family. My dad gave me a big hug as I crossed over the finish line. He said, feeling relief for me, “You can stop running now.” My husband was waiting with an orange juice and what he calls "Vitamin I" (ibuprofen). My sisters crowned me with a homemade crown made of Styrofoam and had bejeweled it to say, “Marathon Queen”. My parents had arranged for me to have a post race massage immediately after the race, which is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten. =) And then we all went out for lunch together.

I wish every runner had people to support them. Make sure you appreciate the people that support you. They are volunteering their time, too. They listen to hours of talk about running - which they probably have no interest in - but they are interested in us, so they listen. They are spending part of their income to buy us those ridiculously expensive running shoes. They are watching the kids so that we can have some time to ourselves out on the trail. They are making dinner so we can run that long distance run we’ve been trying to get in all week. We would be much less ambitious in setting our goals if we weren't able to rely on their help to achieve them. They aren’t setting a personal record, and they aren’t walking away with a finisher’s medal. Their role is one that will go unnoticed if we don’t make a point to notice it. So we get the fun job of being creative in letting them know how much we appreciate them. Not everyone has someone to support them and it makes a world of difference. Appreciate the people that support us. We know they deserve it.

If you don’t have someone to support you, don’t let that discourage you. Consider joining a running group. The Road Runners Club of America is “the oldest and largest organization in the United States dedicated to distance running.” They have over a thousand running groups. If there is not a local group established where you are, consider starting one.

So here’s some practical advice when preparing for a race. Research the elevation of the course. If you’re planning on running a race at an altitude of 5,000 feet or higher, arrive to the area 2 – 3 days before the race. It takes this length of time for your body to produce more red blood cells so that it can acclimate to the decrease in oxygen at the higher altitude. Also helpful when preparing for a high altitude race is to avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages. You will want to drink more liquid than usual but stick to water or your favorite sports drink. Because altitude sickness symptoms can include stomach troubles and nausea, choose foods that you are familiar with. Stay away from anything that may irritate your stomach. Last, consider what you will do if you begin to feel altitude sickness during the race. Be prepared to walk. I know! That’s difficult advice for most runners but it is far better to add a few minutes to your time and finish the race than to be forced to quit because of altitude sickness.

Check out this link for a story about what a difference a little support can make.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Motivation for that Long Distance Run

“Do a little more each day than you think you possibly can.” ~ Lowell Thomas

A friend recently inquired about the mental aspects of running a long distance race. She had no idea I write a blog about just such things. Neat how people with common interests come together like that. So I am dedicating this blog to her. She knows who she is. =)

Some things I’ve picked up along the way regarding long distance running…

  1. You can go further than you think you can. Yes, you can. Yeah. You can. When I was training for a half marathon, the last mile or two of those long runs would have me believing that it would take every single ounce of energy I had left to reach my target distance. However, I would always run 10 steps past the finish line just to prove to myself that I had more in me than I thought I had. Training is not only to build you up physically but to also build you up psychologically. Every run that you complete builds your confidence. It will help you shift your focus away from your perceived limitations and toward your ambitions.
  2. It will get easier. When you first started running, one mile was difficult. After you adjusted to one mile, you added another mile to your work out. By the time you had built up to four miles, one mile didn’t seem so difficult. Your idea of what is difficult will adjust as your body and mind adapt to the new challenges. It is all in perspective. If you want to train for a long distance race, remember that you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Don’t think about all of the workouts you have left between today’s workout and your goal distance. That is overwhelming. Just focus on today’s workout. One day at a time.
  3. Set challenging but realistic goals. Don’t set a goal so far above your capability that you will dread the run. It is not good for your body or for your confidence. Goals should respect that your body and mind need time to adjust to the new demands. Even if you white knuckle it through to complete your ruthless goal, it may be so difficult that you have a hard time being motivated to go on your next run. You are more likely to burnout if your workouts are intimidating. Set yourself up for success. Choose a goal that challenges you but that you know you can complete.
  4. If you have an ambitious goal that is outside of your current capability, don’t give up on it. Break it down into smaller, more manageable goals to accomplish over time. If you are running 3 miles per day and you want to run a marathon, you can do it! A good starting place is to choose a training program that gradually increases your mileage over time. There are a ton of free training programs available on the internet for various race distances. My personal favorite and the one I am training with currently is found at this website. (This is a schedule II chart but a schedule I chart is available if you are starting out running at or less than 20 miles per week). I like this training program because it fits realistically into the time that I can allocate for running and because it provides adequate time to recover between runs. I also like that it trains up to 23 miles. Many marathon training programs only train up to 20 miles with the belief that adrenaline alone will carry you through those last 6.2 miles on race day. Personally, I want to be better mentally and physically prepared for that full 26.2.
  5. Be consistent. It is tempting to skip a run here and there. We’re only cheating ourselves. On race day we will feel so much more confident if we know that we’ve completed our training and we have no doubts that we are prepared for the race.
  6. Log your workouts. If you are the kind of person that gets all excited about checking something off of a list then you thrive on achievement. Use that to your advantage. I log my workouts on mapmyrun.com. You can log your miles and it will automatically calculate how many calories you’ve burned and your pace as well as lots of other cool stats for you graph lovers. I love the feature that allows me to upload information from my Garmin watch and then provides a visual of my route, my pace, splits, and even elevation changes. You can also track the mileage you’ve put on your running gear so that you know when it is time to buy a new pair of running shoes. If you like to obsess over your run for a few minutes after it is finished, this is a great way to do it. =) This is also a great way to track improvements over time and set objective goals.

I really like the information found in this article on how to stay motivated on your long run. I use a lot of the same techniques mentioned in this article to stay motivated but since the article mentions it I will avoid redundancy. I encourage you to read it. I especially like Tips 2 and 3.