The mind plays tricks

I was just reading a book the other day that discussed how the brain is rather conservative when it comes to how much you can push yourself during exercise.  Basically, when your body’s core gets to a certain temperature, your brain tells it to stop or at least slow down.  I suppose it is when you are pushing yourself to the max and don’t think you can get any further (similar to hitting a wall).  Unfortunately, I don’t think many people even reach this point.  I say “unfortunately” because folks tend to give up too easily and aren’t willing to push themselves to the limit.  Hey, I don’t do it all the time, but I do it as often as I can.  It’s actually a great feeling even though you think you are going to hyperventilate and collapse.  Okay, I will admit that the “great feeling” usually comes after the experience is done and over.

After reading about the brain’s conservative nature, I went for a run on the bridges the other day and thought about ways to override the system.  “Okay lady, you are going to get to the point when you think you are about dead, but just keep pushing through and keep those legs moving.”  That seemed easy enough, right? Fortunately for me I was running with someone who moves at a faster pace.  I often try to keep up with him and manage to for quite some time (the longest being 8 miles, but he continued on to 14 miles so I have to believe that he was just holding back).  This is always a test for me and I force myself to work harder in order to keep up for as long as possible.  Some days just seem easier than other days.

Well, it was one of those days where I really had to work at it in order to maintain his pace.  As we started running up the bridge while the burning sun shined down on us, all I could think about was tricking my mind. My mantra for that long uphill battle was: “You are strong, you can keep going, don’t slow down!”  It seemed to work because I was on his tail the whole way up.  Then I made the mistake of thinking that there was still three more miles to go with 3 more uphills.  It was all over as soon as I thought that.  After another half mile I slowed down and told him I was going back for the other runners.  Geez, that was a defeat.  Okay, not really, because I worked my butt off during those first 3 miles!  Then I made another mistake.  I looked at my Garmin which told me how fast I was actually going.  That doesn’t seem right… I only ran that fast!  Who was playing tricks on me, my mind or this technology?

So, I am pretty sure that I didn’t outsmart my brain during that evening run.  It still managed to get the best of me.  I did learn something, though.  Positive thoughts can drive us, while negative thoughts can slow us down. I have no idea what my threshold is if I were to fully apply myself, but I will continue to reach for it and someday I may find out (hopefully not the day I end up in the hospital… maybe having a conservative brain isn’t a bad thing).


Serious Runner vs. Recreational Runner

So, whenever I am out running I am always checking out the other runners I pass.  Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound right… for my husband’s sake I will say that I am not drooling over the handsome men who run past me with their shirts off.  By “checking out” I mean that I am assessing their running gear, form & pace.  I kind of feel bad doing so because my best friend recently told me that she doesn’t like running outside because she thinks people are judging her.  I would like to think that I am not being judgmental when I assess other runners… I view it more as a learning process and comparison checker.  Hey, I have admitted many times that I do not have the best form so I will not break down in tears if someone mentions this fact (actually, it has been mentioned by others on more than one occasion so I just roll with the punches).  Best of all, “checking out” other runners keeps me entertained.

Anyway, the other day I was thinking about my observations in terms of serious runners versus recreational runners.  Since I was not making any judgements, I had no way of knowing whether a runner I passed by was a serious runner or a recreational runner.  However, if I could hand them a checklist then I would know.

You might be serious runner if you:  1.  Are carrying some form of hydration and nutrition (usually when I am out running around my neighborhood I am the only one carrying water… therefore, I have to assume that I am running farther than the other runners I encounter, but some people just don’t need a lot of water so who really knows?).  2.  Have no issues running in any weather conditions because you would rather fight mother nature than run on a stupid treadmill.  3.  Are training for a long-ish distance run.  I am sure I might get complaints over this, but I do not consider a 5k a long-ish run.  You can be solely a recreational runner and accomplish this feat (but I will say that you could be on your way to becoming a serious runner).  Additionally, you always have some upcoming event marked on your calendar.  4.  On most of your running days you run farther than 3 miles.  5.  Kick yourself in the rear and drown in disappointment if you do not run a set number of miles per week.  6.  Go for a run when you are feeling a bit crabby, depressed, sick, stressed, disheartened, irritated (okay, you catch my drift) and end the run feeling a whole lot better than when you started.  7.  Are asked by random people if you are a runner because you just look like one (and you are on top of the world when this happens… more so than if someone told you that you should be a model or that you are smokin’ hot).  8.  Wear the proper attire.  Hmm, not quite sure about this one because I see older folks running around in cotton shirts/shorts and they have been running for 50 years.  Maybe I will put it like this: you do all of your other athletic activities (strength training, elliptical machines, spinning, yoga) in your running attire because you really don’t see the reason to own any of those stylish gym clothes.  9.  Run through the pain because you know that it will eventually go away (or get so bad that you finally have to seek medical attention).  10.  Have no issues waking up at 5:00 am on a weekend in order to go for a nice, long run.

Now, on to the recreational runner.  Basically, most of the above list does not really apply to them (one or two items might).  Recreational runners primarily run to stay fit or lose weight (and running is fabulous for both!).  They will most likely walk into the gym and decide to run on the treadmill because they did the elliptical the day before.  They really have no interest in training for a racing event and don’t feel the need to log mileage in some type of computer program.

As long as people are doing my favorite sport, I could care less if they are just running to run or actually running with a goal in mind because it all comes down to the simple fact that running is running.  Now, it can get a bit off the wall when you become obsessive… (but hey, I always say it is better to be addicted to running than addicted to drugs).

Rain or Shine?

During the summer in Florida, a runner dreams of cloud coverage.  At least this runner does!  And it doesn’t hurt if a little rain accompanies that cloud coverage.  What’s the difference if you walk outside on a sunny day or on a rainy day… you are wet either way!  Oh, I see.  Some of you in the western states have no idea what I am talking about.  It’s called humidity.  I think we pretty much average 90% humidity around here on a daily basis.  Couple that with nearly 100 degrees and you’ve got yourself a really HOT day.  Just yesterday, there was a black flag warning.  Well, that pretty much means that you should stay indoors with the air conditioning on.  Not a chance when you have to get outside to run.

So, the other day, I was standing in my garage with the jogging stroller taking a peek outside.  Lots of clouds. Lots of black nasty clouds.  Some light showers.  However, it wasn’t quite clear when those “light” showers would turn “heavy.”  It could happen any minute around here.  My only hesitation was the kid in the stroller (yes, my kid).  But heck, I had a plastic tarp for the stroller so she wouldn’t get wet.  It wouldn’t be as bad as the previous day when we were out shopping and all of a sudden it started pouring rain and we were not able to make it back to the car without getting completely drenched (there was even a puddle in the stroller when I pulled her out).  And we were actually waiting for my running buddy to pull into the driveway, so I really didn’t have anymore excuses left.  A few minutes later we were both standing there pondering over the question of whether or not to run.  But, it wasn’t a very long discussion because we both knew the conditions were actually ideal running conditions.  And hey, at least the sweat and salt would be washed off our bodies right away.

As we started our journey I looked up and saw a patch of blue sky off in the distance.  However, I was not craving its presence.  At that moment, I was actually happy to be running underneath the clouds.  Considering the soaring temperatures, it actually felt great to feel rain hitting me.  Not only that, but my daughter was flailing her legs in excitement as she watched the water trickle down the tarp.  Another runner’s dream is not to be hindered in how fast you can go.  The heat tends to do that.  Yet, that evening, it was so much easier to pick up the pace and I felt so good when we finished.  That was not the case a few days later when we attempted to run in the morning… 7:00 am is not early enough.  The sun rises in the clear sky and casts its death rays upon you.  My legs only felt like dead weights that day.

So, rain or shine?  When it comes to summer in Florida, I will choose rain any day.

Pushing Yourself Towards Greatness

First of all, this is my 50th post since I started writing this blog.  I write mostly for myself, but I do enjoy knowing that there are a few people who may find my stories slightly interesting.  I hope that I can be a positive influence on others and maybe even entice a few folks to take a crack at this running thing.

Last night I also realized that I enjoy encouraging others to be successful runners.  I couldn’t have been happier when I was asked to be a running coach for Team in Training.  I am not an elite runner so it may seem as though I don’t have a lot to offer the novice runner.  Quite the contrary, in fact, because I have a lot of passion.  I am also human and just plain average when it comes to running.  I do make mistakes and I expect my trainees to learn from my mistakes so that is why I share my embarrassing stories.  You just have to be willing to remain humble.

With that said, I love encouraging others to work harder and strive for greatness.  I suppose that is why I became a teacher.  Since I am not currently teaching, I guess that this is my new outlet for helping others. However, when it comes to this team, I find that I don’t have to try very hard.  They seem to find the motivation within themselves to push through the tough terrain.  I must say that I am proud to run next to someone who has made a choice to work towards running further from one training run to the next.  I know it isn’t easy to do something that pushes your body to the limit.  It is amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it.

Some do need more encouragement than others.  When an activity becomes too tough it is human nature to back off and take the path of least resistance.  That was how I used to approach running.  If it became too hard, then I would slow down.  Yet, running is very much a mental game.  I have learned that if I push back when it gets difficult, then I can achieve more than I ever have before.  It does take a lot of willpower to do this, but it can be done.  One step at a time is the best approach.  You can’t expect to run a half-marathon in under 2 hours overnight.

Not only does it take willpower, but it takes passion.  You can only achieve greatness if you want to.  Someone recently told me that they didn’t want to run fast.  Well, they won’t run fast.  If you don’t want to run far, then you won’t run far.  That makes perfect sense.  What doesn’t make sense is when you say that you can’t.  If you want to, then you can.  It does take work though.  Sometimes people can’t do something because they don’t want to work at it.

I tell my trainees that if they make it over the hill before everyone else, then they have to turn around and come back up the hill.  If they want to improve their running and not just settle for what feels comfortable, then they will turn around and come back up the hill.  Yes, it is a challenge, but that’s the point.  The point is to move out of your comfort level in order to achieve what you never thought possible.

Running with a group

If you are new to running you will find that it is often difficult to drag yourself out of bed, struggle into running clothes, shove down a bit of carbs and protein and trudge out the door.  Then you are left standing there wondering why you got out of bed when it is already hot and humid at 6:00 in the morning.  It takes even more effort to start moving your legs as you meander down the street contemplating about how fast you should go.  As you round the corner, you eye the end of the street and suggest to yourself that it is a great place to turnaround and head back.  However, you manage to convince yourself otherwise and remind yourself that your goal for the morning was 3 miles.  At mile 1 you reconsider the 3 miles and make the final decision to turnaround.  You see your cozy home in the distance as you reach mile 2.  As you walk up the driveway and enter the air-conditioned environment you are relieved, yet disappointed.  You gave up too soon and didn’t reach your goal.  How will you ever finish a half marathon?

All beginning runners have experienced this situation.  As with any task, activity or sport, it takes time and committment to do it better.  Not only that, it takes the “want.”  You have to want to do it.  I know it sounds funny… I mean, who really wants to power through 3 grueling miles?  I guess it is a different kind of “want” that really implies something that we know is hard to get, but feel like we “want” to work through the challenge to reap the rewards.

You do the right thing by signing up for that half marathon and then moments later you wonder what you were thinking.  How will you bring yourself to wake up early enough to beat the heat?  How will you be able to function after expending all your energy?  How will you keep yourself from getting bored on a long run?  At that point it all just seems crazy.  Yet, you try it out.  You run a few times (or at least attempt to run) and then you tell yourself that it isn’t working.  You get mad at yourself for spending money to register for a half-marathon, but that isn’t enough to keep you in the game.  You just quit.

Is that it?  Is that all you have?  Some of us just need a little external motivation.  Yeah, it is hard to start running on your own.  You feel alone out there on the pavement and think that no one else understands how you feel about your attempts to gain confidence in running.  Little do you know that the person you pass along the way is feeling the same way.  Well, they looked like they weren’t struggling to put one foot in the other, but they were.  It looked like they weren’t finding it difficult to breathe, but they were.  It looked like they could go on running for hours, but all they really wanted to do was run straight home.

Running takes committment and sometimes we find it easier if we hold each other accountable for making it work.  A group of people with the same goals in mind can work together to carry you through the rough spots and cheer you on during the victories.  Yet, the group is another kind of committment.  If you want to benefit from the group, then you must join the group.  That means becoming a part of the group and showing others that you are dedicated to the group.  You are an individual, but the group acts like a unit.  You are there to be supported, but you also have a job to be the supporter.  With the group, you will make it to the finish.  We can’t be so sure if you choose the other path that is bare and isolated.  It is possible, but that takes a different kind of dedication.  And why not make lifelong running buddies?  You don’t have to do it alone.

Is it selfish to run?

I’m sure you already know the answer to my question.  Unless you totally think I am just a selfish person (gee, I sure hope you don’t feel that way).

Why do I bring this up?  A woman at the gym approached me today and we started talking about the crazy people who take the Cardio Sculpt class right before they participate in the Bodypump class.  Then, she turned towards me and looked me directly in the eye and asked me if it seemed obsessive to work out 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.  I immediately thought about myself and my own addictions and told her “absolutely not.”  She obviously found the right person to ask.

Then she continued by asking if it was selfish to work out so much, especially when you have 3 kids.  Once again, that was my story in a nutshell and I once again told her “absolutely not.”  Of course you can’t just make that kind of statement without backing it up.  So, I said “what about the moms who spend 2 hours a day scrapbooking or the moms who browse the internet for 2 hours?”  (okay, more specifically I am referring to the facebook addicts here).  Oh wait, what about the moms who read the Twilight series over and over again?  There is absolutely nothing wrong with those hobbies (I, myself, have partaken in some of these activities), but the point is that nearly everyone has a hobby that they enjoy.  What’s the difference if you are at the gym or if you are curled up in your bed with a book?

Yet, that wasn’t the end of the conversation.  I proceeded to tell her that she was setting a good example for her kids by staying active.  That is when she told me that she had lost 105 pounds.  That is just amazing and more power to any woman who has lost weight!  We aren’t as lucky as the guys when it comes to that kind of challenge.  She stated that she was worried about not being there enough for her kids and of course, like any parent, she fears they will get mixed up in the wrong crowds.  I told her that her activity would most likely have the opposite effect on her kids.  She is the role model that they need to have in their life and they will hopefully follow in her footsteps by participating in sports or joining local clubs and organizations.  This is what our kids need to do in order to stay busy and out of trouble.  Well, that is my plan anyway (I will let you know how it works out in 20 years).  I know my focus is athletic activities, but it really doesn’t matter how you stay involved (community service, arts & crafts, dance, music, nature expert, etc.), it’s the involvement part that shows you are an active member of society and this sets the good example for your children.

Okay, so that wasn’t my last point to make.  You see, I feel it is truly important to do an activity you enjoy because it makes you feel happy.  When you feel happy, you tend to share that happiness with those around you.  You are improving your own personal well-being as you do so.  So, I might miss out on 2 hours with my kids while I take a class at the gym or go for a run, but I return a much better mommy so that the hours that I do spend with them are extraordinary (okay, not all of the time, but at least I am better able to cope with the downsides to parenting so that I can relish in the upsides :).  Since I started running I noticed that I am less stressed, have more energy and  just feel so much better about myself.

So, is it selfish to run?  Absolutely not.

Why Run?

Okay, so someone recently mentioned that running was a form a torture.  Therefore, why would I torture myself?  Hmmm, that is a good question.  I guess the easiest way to answer that question is to say that I don’t consider it torture.  Yeah, sometimes I test my limits, but I still keep coming back for more.  If you ask me, I think that I could torture myself in worse ways.  I could sit in traffic for hours during a long commute to work or I could jump out of an airplane with nothing but a piece of fabric to bring me safely to the ground, or better yet, I could stay inside all day with my three girls (okay, okay… I love them very much, but parenting isn’t ALL fun and games :).

No, running is actually the opposite of torture for me.  It is like going to a tropical island and sitting on the beach drinking mai tai’s with no one else in sight.  Seriously, it is pretty much a vacation for me.  I did just mention that I have three kids!  It is one of my few escapes from reality.  I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself and I have the freedom to go where I want to go (well, except for when I have to succumb to the dreaded treadmill).  Not only do I run to escape, but I run to feel good about myself in health and mind. Surprisingly, I have more energy on the days when I run and I just feel that sense of accomplishment when I finish a really great run.  Running has just become a part of who I am.

Everyone has their reasons as to why they choose to run.  Some people start running to lose weight.  I have to say that it worked for me after all three of my pregnancies!  Running burns twice as many calories than walking the same distance (actually, it burns more calories than most other activities, especially when you get into that interval training).  Some people just have a goal in mind, like finishing a half-marathon or a full marathon (maybe it is on their bucket list) and they train to finish.  Those goal-oriented runners may stop running when they have reached their goal or they may continue setting new goals (totally happened to me).  I think that running can actually become very addicting.  Hey, at least it is a healthy addiction (smokers tend to have issues running… something about not being able to breathe).  Running is something that you can take with you far into your later years.  You gotta love it when the really old couple passes you at mile 18.

Running is a great way to make friends.  During most of your runs, you should be able to sustain a decent conversation with someone who is running close to your own pace.  It is easier to run when time seems to fly by as you discuss your aches and pains, recent running gear purchases and upcoming races.  This naturally creates more happiness in your life and can bring you from a low to a high.  The other great thing about running is that there are so many events centered around the activity.  Just in Jacksonville, for example, there are races nearly every weekend.  Sure, it can get spendy, but at least you can choose a few great races each year.  It also gives you an excuse to travel to new locations.  And can you believe that they now offer running races on certain cruise lines?  I was just excited to have the opportunity to run through Disney World before the park actually opened to the general public… and we even went backstage :).

Sure, some people just don’t like to run.  I just hope that they at least gave it a good try before they came to that conclusion.  You really need to do it for 6 weeks, 3 times a week, before you can say that you don’t like it. However, I will say that I don’t like jumping out of an airplane before I actually try it because I will never bring myself on to an airplane with only a parachute strapped to my back.  No thank you.