Running to the beat of your own drum

Who needs music when there is entertainment around every corner?

Who needs music when there is entertainment around every corner?

Yesterday I ran 14 miles.  I ran those 14 miles without any music, but that is nothing new these days.  It was a crappy run, but that had nothing to do with my lack of music.  After mile 1, I was too focused on not stepping on any snakes (since I had jumped over a little guy at around mile 1).  Then between mile 2 and 5 I was in a desperate search for a bathroom.  At mile 4, I was battling the gale force winds to get myself to a porta potty I had set in my sights.  At mile 5, I was determined to find a porta potty that actually had toilet paper.  By mile 6, I was just freakin’ relieved to have the wind at my back and a calm tummy.  Why the heck would I need music to keep myself entertained?

Then today I went for a 7-mile run up a mountain.  I still had my mind focused on snakes.  Since I had seen one the day before I assumed that today would be my most unlucky day to meet a rattler lurking in the bushes along the trail.  As I ran into a canyon (with no other human in sight) my thoughts turned to mountain lions.  As I descended into the thick brush and along the narrow path, I scared myself so bad that I had to turn around and opt for the trail that was more open, but went straight up.  On my way, I traversed ice and puddles of oozing mud and then soon found myself staring up at an incline of loose rocks.  At that point, it was a matter of using the run-walk method to get up the slope while dodging rocks.  Sure, it seemed like forever getting up to the top (and I am still not sure if I actually reached the top because it kept going), but I was soon delighted with the thoughts of going down.  The delight turned into determination… determination not to fall or trip on one of those loose rocks during the sketchy descent.  Why the heck would I need music to keep myself entertained?

I won’t lie.  I used to be one of those runners who always needed to wear headphones during a run whether I was inside or outside.  If something happened and I forgot my music, then I would be pissed off during the entire run.  I remember that it wasn’t recommended during the Team in Training runs, but people would still wear them even if it meant keeping only one ear bud in.  It didn’t really make sense to run with a group while listening to music, but we did it anyway.  I don’t think that was always the case, but it wasn’t uncommon.

It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado just nearly 2 years ago when I decided to try running sans music. Most of the people in the run club didn’t wear headphones and we ended up talking a lot more on our social runs.  There soon came a point when I stopped wearing headphones even if I went for a run by myself.  Like I mentioned, I always seem to find a way to entertain myself.  I think I had reached a new level in my mental strength.  I could run fast and run far even without music.  I understood depending on it before when I needed a distraction from the pain and boredom (or so I thought it was boredom when I think it was actually my lack of true joy for running).   I do have that sense of pain and boredom when I run on the treadmill, so the headphones are still my crutch as far as that goes.  Either that or a magazine or t.v. show.  I haven’t quite gotten to that level of mental toughness yet.

Maybe introverts are better able to adapt to running alone without music.  I don’t mind being inside my own head for 3 hours or more.  I can always find something to talk about… with myself.  I make plans.  I develop ideas.  I solve problems.   Not only that, but I feel like I have more of a connection with nature when I am not trapped in a music bubble.  I can hear that squirrel moving around in the bushes (or at least I imagine it is just a cute, sweet little squirrel) or the birds chirping in the trees.  I can even make contact with the other runners who pass by and respond politely to their friendly “Good Morning.”

If this doesn’t convert you, then maybe the idea of overall safety will.  I would not be able to hear the rattle of a snake, the grunt of a bear or the flick of a switch blade if I had headphones blasting music into my ear.  Even if you don’t run in the wilderness, keep in mind that it is more difficult to hear cars and psychos when you listen to your music out on the roads and sidewalks in your neighborhood.  At least keep one ear bud out.  There are just too many cases of runners being molested, kidnapped and killed.   There is no point taking chances that just aren’t necessary.  You could be smart like me and run alone on a wilderness trail and get mauled by a mountain lion.  At least I carry a knife and leave my headphones at home.  Stay safe my running friends!

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Running and Hypothyroidism

Sure, doing something like a half Ironman with hypothyroidism might make you a little tired, but don't let that stop you from living your dreams!

Sure, doing something like a half Ironman with hypothyroidism might make you a little tired, but don’t let that stop you from living your dreams!

It has been just over a year since I found out I have crappy thyroid.  They ran a few blood tests during a routine physical and soon informed me that my thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) was elevated above the normal range.  TSH is responsible for telling your thyroid that it needs to produce more hormone.  If the TSH is too high, then that means it has to keep reminding the thyroid to produce more hormone (kind of like your mom nagging you to clean your room when you refuse to listen the first time).  So, when you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism it means that your thyroid is not producing enough hormone.

I was lucky that I was even diagnosed (well, I suppose I shouldn’t consider myself lucky) because most people are unaware of the fact that they have hypothyroidism.  I never thought twice about being overly fatigued because I am so fortunate to have already been diagnosed with Thalassemia Minor (another story for another time, but it basically causes a decreased production of hemoglobin and creates anemic symptoms… but not the type that iron supplements can fix).   Other symptoms of hypothyroidism can include: excessive weight gain, hair loss, swelling, digestive issues, low body temperature, weakness, yellowish skin, muscle aches, depression… and the list goes on.  The long list of symptoms is no wonder why people would not be immediately led to assume that hypothyroidism is to blame.

Fortunately, hypothyroidism can be managed with medication (that you have to take every day for the rest of your life).  However, it is often hit or miss and TSH levels can change based on what you eat, how you are feeling, what the temperature is outside, etc.  It is difficult to pinpoint an exact dosage that will keep your thyroid actively producing the right amount of hormone.  I am never really quite sure if I am tired because I ran 10 miles, chased 3 kids around the house, cooked dinner, did chores and worked with my clients all in one day or if it is my thyroid on the fritz.

Running (as long as you don’t overdo it) is supposed to make you feel re-energized and ready to start your day!  At least that is what I always tell my clients.  However, sometimes I feel like it makes me downright exhausted.  If I haven’t done a long run in a while, then it is almost necessary to come home and take a short nap right away if I am expected to accomplish anything else the rest of the day.

To make matters worse, I have often been told that running too much (or being involved in too much strenuous activity) can exasperate the symptoms of hypothyroidism.  “Well, you probably shouldn’t be training for a half Ironman in that condition.”  Well, screw you.  Don’t you know that runners are hardheaded?  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend my approach, but I also would never tell anyone to stop doing something that they love just because your body might not be operating at 100%.  I mean, who really operates at 100% anyway?  I’m almost certain that nobody has a perfectly functioning body (unless you are a robot).

So, as a not-so-restrained runner, I just have to accept the consequences for my actions.  If that means being a little more tired and finding the need to fit in a nap, then so be it.  I don’t give a crap if you judge me for my midday couch slump.  I have to work at 150% while the woman next to me with the normal functioning thyroid can keep it all in check at 100%.  It’s just another one of those challenges that only makes you stronger (at least that is what I keep telling myself).  I know that I could have it much worse if my TSH levels go through the roof.  I could gain weight (even after running 2 hours a day while eating only vegetables), lose my whole head of hair and slump into an extreme depression (which would probably keep me from running and cause me to gain more weight as I eat my misery in cupcakes).

If you know that something isn’t quite right, then don’t wait to have it checked out.  Figure out what the problem is so you can fix it (the best that you can) and find a way to continue moving forward.  Sometimes challenges try to keep us from doing what we love, but don’t succumb to the easy path.  Take the road less traveled and find ways to use your experiences in order to help those you see struggling along the side of the road.

If you want more information regarding thyroid issues, then check out Mary J. Shomon’s website: http://www.thyroid-info.com/

The Novice Trail Runner

Breathtaking views courtesy of the Centennial Cone trail just 10 miles or so from my home.

Breathtaking views courtesy of the Centennial Cone trail just 10 miles or so from my home.

I will just start this blog by saying that I am not an experienced trail runner.  Sure, I am an experienced runner (even a running coach), but the trails and I only started having a serious relationship a few months ago.  I do remember walking into a running store many years ago (back when I lived in the Bay Area) and told the running shoe expert that I wanted a pair of trail shoes.  Did I ask for trail shoes because I had started running on trails in the local area?  Um, I guess if you count that one trail race I did.  I was the idiot who bought the shoes for no reason and then I never wore them (at least I never wore them on any trail).  

Then I moved to Florida.  The thought of running on trails and getting attacked by a snake or alligator just seemed scary.  Yeah, I never really considered it.  All my friends ran on the road or paved trails.  Well, I moved to Colorado after that.  A wonderful place full of many trails within and right outside the metro area.  I actually live right down the street from a trailhead that goes up and over the mountain right behind my house.  Still, it took me over a year to get my feet on the real “get yourself dirty” trails.  

Now that I am roaming wild and free, I figure I will pass along a few tips I have learned within the past few months.  Here they are:

1.  PATIENCE is very important when running on trails.  If you are used to zooming along on the road, achieving personal records and finishing a run in time to get the chores done, then you will be extremely disappointed with yourself when you hit the trails.  I had a friend just ask me what my pace is on the trails.  Um, somewhere between 8:00 min miles and 18:00 min miles.  Don’t expect to be fast and don’t try to run fast or else you will not be able to make it up that last hill.  If it normally takes you 60 minutes to run 6 miles on the road, then you can expect to be on that 6-mile trail for an hour and twenty minutes or more.  

2.  If you can’t embrace HILLS, then the trails are not for you.  Sure, some people might argue that the flat dirt trail running through downtown is a “trail,” but that is not the kind of trail I am talking about here.  Trails take you someplace where you can witness nature firsthand, scale summits and explore new areas.  Those types of trails usually include hills.  There is really no escaping them.  

3.  Be prepared to battle the elements and trail conditions.  If it starts pouring, you can’t duck into your friendly neighborhood convenience store.  Watch out for the wind that might knock you off the summit or the warm, sunny day that suddenly turns dark, cold and menacing.  You just have to suck it up and roll with it.  You never know when you might encounter a sheet of ice, a foot of snow or a puddle of mud.  And you can forget about any bathrooms out on the trail.  Find a tree and pop a squat (but this is really nothing new).  

4.  In the city you might need to be worried about getting mugged.  On an isolated trail you need to not only worry about crazy humans, but also about wild animals that call that place home.  I still have a fear of running certain trails in the summer because “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs are posted everywhere!  I have seen deer, rabbits, elk, snakes (supposedly harmless ones), prairie dogs, coyotes and other random living creatures.  I carry a knife with me on my runs.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a can of pepper spray.  If you have a fear of encountering wildlife, then trail running is not for you.  A trail running buddy is ideal, but not always possible (or always wanted… sometimes it is nice to run in peaceful solitude out in nature).  

5.  Stay off the trails if you don’t know how to navigate.  Sure, you might find a few trails that are one loop or only have one trail, but honestly, these are usually the trails meant for the out-of-towners who are looking for a quick hike near the city.  Yep, that means that they are usually pretty crowded.  If you want to really get out there, see wildlife and explore new territory, then you will have to delve a little deeper into the forest or climb a little higher up the side of that mountain.  That takes some navigation skills, whether you can read a simple map printed off the internet or use landmarks to find your way.  Remember, if you get lost, then you are adding on some extra miles you probably didn’t intend on.  And did you bring food and water?  Maybe not if you are used to running through the park downtown where drinking fountains can be found every mile.  Dang, you are totally screwed if you are lost without food and water.  

6.  If you were a hiker back in the day and just recently started running trails, then you probably won’t be able to look at trails the same again.  Why hike a trail when you can run it?  If you try to hike again, then it will be very LONG and SLOW and take all day.  Might as well run it and get home in time for dinner.  

I think that is enough information for now.  If you haven’t tried trail running, then you should because I am pretty sure that I made it sounds like lots of fun!  I am not quite sure why I waited so long to try it…