Archive for February, 2012

Steppin Out

Posted on February 24, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , |

I prefer to run alone, before dawn.  Down deserted sidewalks or streets, preferably near fields and woods, with only the fireflies and stars as companions.  I don’t even like streetlights.  For me, there’s something about running alone in the dark that’s invigorating, fulfilling.  Joyful.

Selfish.

At least that’s the way it struck me recently.  It seems like everyone I talk to lately is struggling with their health.  Maybe they have high blood pressure and need to get it down.  Their life could be on overdrive and they’re looking for a way to manage stress.  It might be that they’re tired of waking up tired every day, barely able to drag themselves out of bed, and they just want to feel good.  Or maybe they need to drop a few pounds—for their own self-satisfaction as much as for their health.

Where do they begin?  It can be overwhelming to even think about joining a gym.  Intimidating to take the first step on a run.  Easier to stay where they are, status quo, good as any other day.  Same as yesterday.

I’ve been thinking about all the times I joined a gym.  And didn’t go.  All the runs I started.  I got dressed and put on my shoes, at least, even if I didn’t quite make it out the door.  All the times I tried and failed to even begin.

So how did running finally stick?  Someone invited me to join her on a run.  More than once, in fact, before I finally accepted.  I’m glad I did.  Running with someone else gave me hope and confidence.  It held me accountable first to her, then to myself.  After awhile, I discovered that accountability to self is what comes first.  That’s what integrity is, isn’t it?

How many people have you asked to join you on a run?  Why not ask someone today?  You know that neighbor who’s been eyeballing you each time you head out the door, looking after you wistfully as you stretch?  Maybe he’s a closet runner and doesn’t know it yet.  Maybe he’s a heart attack waiting to happen but doesn’t know that yet either.  Maybe he’ll turn out to be a good friend.

Set a new goal for yourself, a challenge.  Once a week, ask someone new to run with you. And when they say no, ask again.  See how many people you can introduce to health, to joy—to running.  You might just make a new friend. Or save a life. You never know. Someone saved mine.

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It’s About Time

Posted on February 17, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I stopped wearing a watch nearly four years ago when I started working from home.  There was no reason to wear one anymore, since my house had a clock visible from nearly every room and I spent much of my time in front of a computer anyway.  Funny thing, time.  It seems to change when you feel like you own it.

It made me think a lot about what my attitude toward time had been, particularly how much time I wasted because of the mindset I had adopted.  I often thought of Henry Thoreau saying, “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”  I had been injuring eternity all right, by doing a lot of nothing, or by doing the same thing.  Stagnating, which is what happens when we feel like we’re moving backward or standing still.

I had experienced the feeling of time standing still when I moved in the dead of winter from Chicago to Guam, a tropical island near the foot of the Mariana Trench.  In Guam, it’s always the same temperature and flowers are always in bloom.  The seasons never change.  Sound like paradise?  Maybe.  Until you realize that months and then years have passed with each day essentially the same.

I realized then the importance of seasons in triggering change—not only the obvious, outward changes like leaves first budding then browning, but the change that begins within, with us.  When we stand still we stagnate.  We do the same thing, repeatedly follow the same routine until it becomes thoughtless habit, like brushing our teeth.  We get in a rut without realizing it, and before we know it, we are standing still.  It’s as if time has stopped.

This can happen with running, or any other form of exercise.  If you do the same thing again and again, your body stops responding to what you’re doing with your time, and you get nowhere.  Fast.  Has your pace stalled at the x-minute mile?  Are you running the same number of miles a week you always have been, but suddenly seeing dimples show up on your thighs instead of your smile?  It’s time, then, to do something different.  It’s time to own the time you put into your workout.

It’s critical to change your routine, even if the change is as simple as taking a new route on your run or adding extra weight or reps to your workout.  Your body will respond positively and thank you for it.

It’s almost spring—isn’t it about time for that change?

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Mind Games

Posted on February 10, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Self-discipline is hard.  If it were easy, we wouldn’t worry so much about keeping New Year’s resolutions.  We wouldn’t have to enlist workout accountability partners.   There would be no such thing as a diet.  And “regret” would be as foreign a word as “in shape.”

When it comes to running, it sometimes takes more mental discipline to go not the extra mile, but the distance I’ve planned for the day.  It doesn’t matter if I have a training schedule posted on my refrigerator and I’m preparing for a race.  It doesn’t matter what distance I ran yesterday, or the week before.  Or ever.  Some days even the shortest distance feels like a marathon.  On those days, I have to trick myself into running.

We’ve all done it.  Forced ourselves to stare at the ground a car’s length ahead, to focus on where we are right now and not on the hill in the distance or the looooonnnnng length of road up ahead. Yet we glance up periodically, seeking out the nearest landmark.  If we can just make it to that stop sign, we tell ourselves, we can stop running and walk.  When we reach the stop sign we reward ourselves, pat ourselves on the back.  But we don’t actually stop.  Instead, we choose another landmark and promise ourselves that if we make it to that azalea bush, then we’ll stop. Smell the flowers.  Tie or retie our shoes.  But, of course, we don’t stop even then.  We scan the horizon, pick another landmark, and plod on.

Sometimes our mind games are more emphatically played.  We must run a little faster, we tell ourselves, around this curve and past these few houses.  We have to, you see, because we refuse to vomit on these nice people’s lawns.  And so running becomes incredibly mental as we push our bodies to do—or not do—what at the time seems like the impossible.

How do you keep yourself going?  Leave a comment and tell us what mental games you play when you run.

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If I Let My Mind Wander, Will It Come Back?

Posted on February 3, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

One thing I’ve always loved about running is the freedom and peace it brings me.  No matter what life throws at me, I’ve been able to catch it on a run, reframe it, shrink it, smooth it out, and move on.   When I’m outside and let my mind go, it seems to know where to run on its own.  Until recently, I’ve only associated that freedom and peace with being outdoors.  As a result, each time I lace up and move out, I get excited.  But each time I lace up and move in—to run on a treadmill—I get weighed down by dread.

Lately I’ve been running on a treadmill to heal an injury.   My task is to overcome muscle memory from years of running crooked, the result of a glitch in the spine and a pelvic girdle that swivels to the left like a broken bar stool, culminating in tremendous hip and knee pain.  Our bodies, brilliant as they are, adapt to our movements, however inefficient and “wrong” they are.  This is muscle memory.  Bodies unconsciously perform the way they’re trained to.  In trying to retrain my muscles to work right, I have to make a conscious effort to intervene and redirect them to reshape their memory.

Running on a treadmill where I can set my pace and forget both it and the terrain is something I should have been doing for months, but it took me that long to move myself inside, to face the deadening dread I’ve come to associate with treadmills and ceilings.

I’ve come to realize, however, that as much as our bodies have muscle memory, our minds do too.  What’s more, the two are linked.  Runners particularly seem to get this, whether they know they do or not.  Runners often feel the connection between mind, body, and soul.  When they are in harmony, we forget ourselves; we feel a runner’s high. When they are not, we feel everything, including pain.

Our mind’s muscle memory is at work all the time.  What we think, feel, remember is tied to places, people, events.  What we think effects our emotions; what we feel affects our body.  This explains why our stomach knots up when we enter a certain building or see a particular face. Our bodies have been trained by our thoughts to react in a certain way.  Muscle memory is part of the mind/body relationship. There’s no separating them.

Like our body, our mind can be retrained.   We can let our thoughts go out to wander while we run—such is the joy and peace of running—but how mindful are we of where they go?  We hold thought in our hands like a bird.  Is it a dove, sent out in hope of returning with the olive branch of peace? Is it a falcon, unmasked and driven to hunt down the answer to a problem?

Where your mind wanders is up to you.  You can choose to let it be contained, to surrender to dread, or you can choose to set it free and bring you joy.  If you let your mind wander, it comes back—but it will always wander out in the direction it’s been trained to go.

Now, I make a conscious effort to train my mind as much as I train my body.  Where my mind goes, my body follows.  And as my dad always used to say, wherever you go, that’s where you are.

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