Category Archives: Thoughts on Life

When It’s Better Not to Run

No, this is not a post about not running while injured, when it’s dark out, when it’s hailing, when you’re burnt out, right after a big race, or when your running shoes resemble flip flops.

Those are all reasons not to run, but this post is about when it’s better not run when you just as easily could run.

I will be the first person to admit that I can over-exercise. I’ve gotten much better about it, and I’ve learned that a rest day can be a bff, but generally speaking I would say that I could loosen the reigns on how strict I am about fitness. I am not in any way saying this to show off or boast about how much I exercise—because frankly, I’m coming to a point where it’s a quality about myself that I’m growing to be less proud of. Which is so contradictory to what Pinterest/Twitter/Facebook/blah blah blah always preaches about “getting it done” and “sweat once a day.”

In a nutshell, after years of constantly feeling the “need” to exercise and beating myself up over any rest I took, I’m beginning to seriously re-evaluate my priorities—and in that process, my death grip on my exercise security-blanket has really started to loosen. And you know what? It feels great.

And yes, I’ve written about this before and I’m sure to write about it again—but hey, I’m a work in progress.

I’m really back and forth sometimes between maintaining my title as a “runner” and just being “normal.” Because let’s be honest…runners are not normal. Admittedly, it baffles me that people who I love and respect are equally as happy and upbeat about their day-to-day lives without running at all. Furthermore, I’ve realized that over time I had become so dependent on running that I’d lost touch with all the other aspects of life that can be just as rewarding.

And I really don’t think I’m alone.

There is a sizable demographic, particularly within the running blog world, that is quite the opposite of lazy. We plan out workouts a week ahead of time, we track our progress, speed, and miles, and we live for the content feeling every day that we’ve logged a good workout. And rightfully so, because there are few better feelings than knowing you’ve poured sweat hours before most people are even at work.

And all of these things are okay…because of course, exercise is so powerfully good for you.

But the fact of the matter is that there can always be too much of a good thing, and exercise is no exception. It’s really hard to see this—because  a) we’re in a country with an obesity epidemic and b) endorphins feel so damn good. But when exercise-induced highs start to take away from other parts of our lives, a red flag goes up.

My red flag went up a long time ago. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally begun to admit to it, internalize it, and slowly but surely—hold up my white surrender flag.

Which brings me back to the topic of this post—when it’s better not to exercise.

I had the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of decision this weekend. And I use the word practice because it is something that is still very difficult to do.

I spent Friday through Sunday morning in Colorado for a Film Festival that my mom is the Executive Director of. Yes, she’s super badass.

Mommy on stage.

In normal RB protocol, I would have planned out ahead of time exactly which hours I would have available to run. And truthfully, I did pack all my running gear with the intention of keeping on track. But when the hour presented itself to knock out some miles, I simply chose not to. And you know what? It was such a good choice.

Part of being at a Film Festival requires you to watch several movies, literally, all day. You wouldn’t think it—but this requires A LOT of energy and caffeine. When I laid in bed Saturday morning (my intended run time) and thought about the day ahead of me and the option for 1.5 hours of more sleep—the decision seemed ridiculous. I came to Colorado to be at my mom’s film festival…why would I want to inevitably sleep through parts of it for the sake of a run?

Films!

I know this sounds silly…because there are so many people who would have understood this kind of prioritization much earlier on. But for me, it’s hard—and it’s taken a while.

There are so many times when I choose running over other activities (namely sleeping) in order to maintain my sanity throughout the day. In many ways, I love this about myself—but I’m finally realizing that over time, the exhaustion and pressure of uber-prioritizing exercise completely negates the  highs we get from it. In other words…it has the opposite effect of exercise.

Here is what I’m finally getting: missing one run does not make one. little. difference in how complete of a person I am. It’s how I choose to react that makes the difference—and in that sense, I’m choosing to stop reacting so much.

Because as much as I adore running, and as huge of a part of me as it may be, it’s not everything. When we spend so much time building our identities as “runners” we lose touch with all the other elements that make us who we are. And when we drift too far away from those things—it becomes harder to regain a sense of self when, all of a sudden, we can’t run.

It’s why when we’re injured, we panic—without running we’re lost. Of course, I am the guiltiest of the guilty in this regard, which is why I’m choosing to practice a different form of discipline. And in that respect…by relaxing our running and by taking on some more rest, our susceptibility to be injured goes down and we’re left with not only healthier bodies, but more well-rounded senses of self.

I’m not currently injured. I have zero desire to become injured. But if and when it does happen again (and I’m going to go with “when” on that one given the nature the beast), I want to be more armed with experience and amo for getting through it. The experience, in this case, being the familiarity with not running sometimes. And the amo being the ability to let other wonderful things build me up while running might be down.

I am a runner, through and through. I would venture to say that there may never be a point where I am not a runner—because that’s quite unimaginable. I love it, and it seems like the more I do it—the more I love it. But one of the biggest parts of being a runner is respecting the fact that it’s a sport that requires a great deal of discipline—and with that discipline comes the need to rest.

Rest has been my most underrated part of my participation in this sport, and I’m finally realizing that I’m honoring my title as a “runner” more so when I accept rest instead of resisting it.

So sometimes, it’s better to not run. Not because of anything particular, but because when we pair running with the other great things in our lives, it makes the sport much more fulfilling and exciting.

champagne and cupcakes post Friday night gala FTW.

When I got home on Sunday, sleepy and happy from my quick CO trip…I couldn’t wait to slip into  my running shoes. And when I took off on a long, leisurely jaunt around West Seattle, my thought wasn’t “Dang I need to make up for the past two days,” it was, “I loved spending every minute I could this weekend with my family.”

So sweaty. Seattle decided to be humid and hot to kick off November. I forgot BodyGlide also. Mistake.

I’m a work in progress—as we all are. Some days are better than others, but overall I would say that I am finally getting the balance thing.

I encourage everyone who takes their exercise really seriously to continue to do so—but not at the cost of losing your health or all the other great things about you.

Sometimes the better decision as a runner is to not run, and you know what? It’s okay. Running will always be there, so don’t stress out if you take a time out every now and then. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The Running Blog Trap

If there were a job that required endlessly reading running blogs hour after hour, I can guarantee I would be one of the most qualified applicants. (And if such a job exists, tell me about it ASAP.)

I adore running blogs. In fact, I no longer go to Facebook or Twitter as my main procrastination resource, I go straight to different running blogs. If the IT department at my job could track my random non-work  internet perusing,  they would notice a very distinct trend. It’s all about running.

It was, in fact, my discovery of running blogs that inspired me to start my own. Of course I have my own personal reasons for having my blog, but a big factor was my desire to be a part of this community of women who were so much like me.

When I first started finding these blogs, it was like all of a sudden I found “my people.” People that didn’t make me feel like a huge running-obsessed weirdo. People who thought the same way I did, people who acted the same way I did, and (perhaps my favorite thing) people who had advice and ideas of all things related to running.

Runners! Runners who blog! In real life!

Having a blog myself has been a great way to be involved in this blogging community, and I truly love being able to follow others’ training along with my own. I am starting to realize, however, that despite how much I love this form of networking and interaction, there’s a definite trap that can happen. It’s a trap that I don’t think many people recognize because this is such a supportive, engaged, and happy community. I myself didn’t realize I had fallen victim to it until very recently, and ever since it’s become more and more obvious.

This trap I’m talking about is the one where you read blog after blog of super fast, never-injured, ultra-running, record-breaking, age group winning runners—and inevitably you wonder, why isn’t that me?

I’m recognizing that while running blogs are indeed inspiring and uplifting, they can sometimes have the opposite effect of provoking the comparison game. Runners of all different levels have blogs, and I read a little of everything, but I also know that I tend to check in quite frequently with runners that are much better than me. This is not to say that I don’t respect, love, or stalk the heck out of people who are more on my level, I don’t want it to sound like that at all. But there’s something fascinating and motivating for me to read about girls who are crazy fast.

I think there is a huge advantage to reading about people who are at a higher level than you. It’s why there are so many books written by professionals for amateurs on various topics; they inspire us to dream of a level above where we’re currently at.

The best part about running bloggers is that most aren’t sponsored or professional athletes—they’re regular people, just like us. Regular people who happen to be great at the sport, meaning they make that higher level seem more accessible than, say, Kara Goucher can. Sorry K, I’m never going to run a 2:24 marathon, I can admit that.

Still love you though ❤

So while this kind of inspiration may help our dreams seem more feasible, I think it can be a slippery slope between feeling motivated and feeling inferior. Maybe it’s just me and my uber competitive self, who knows, but I think that generally when we pay too much attention to the successes of others, it can take away from our own.

It’s as if the fast bloggers/runners we follow become a standard of sorts, and instead of using our own abilities as a benchmark, we start to compare ourselves to all of “them.” I started noticing this about myself when I speak to people outside of the running community about various races I’ve done and my speed in those races. Truly, I know running and running races is something to be proud of, and I am, but I’ve realized that the reaction I get from other people is not a reflection of how I feel about myself.

In other words, while most people are blown away by the mere attempt at a half- or full marathon, I’m normally completely absorbed in how fast or slow or strong the race was, not simply finishing it.

I’m not blaming anyone but myself for this, but I think one of the biggest reasons my mindset has fallen victim to analyzing the specifics instead of looking at the picture is because I’m in the running blog trap. I’m constantly seeing times, distances, splits, etc. that are, at least to me, much more impressive than mine—and while I try to remember that it’s all relative, sometimes I can’t help feeling sub-par.

Again, it may be just me, but I’m bringing this up because if there’s one thing I know about the running blogging community—it’s that we love numbers, race reports, PRs, and finish times. My most viewed posts are always my race reports, and I love whenever another blogger puts up a report of whatever it is they’ve been training for.Some might call it voyeuristic (isn’t that what blogging is about though?), but I think it’s exciting and inspiring to read about the grand finale of our training: race day.

It’s through this kind of attention to someone else’s running experiences, though, that demonstrates how easy it is to start comparing our own stats.

Upon realizing that I’d become a bit too entrenched in this running blog trap, I’ve made an effort to—as the oh-so-wise Nicole puts it—keep my eyes on my own paper. The fact that some random blogger who a) I’ve never met and b)probably never will meet can run a 3:00 marathon does not take anything away from my own current marathon PR. Using the times of runners who are more experienced than me as my own personal standard for what’s “good” is completely setting myself for disappointment. And not only that—it’s taking away from my own experiences that I should, in fact, be very proud of.

This is so true in much of life—but I think it’s easy to forget: the accomplishments of others do not take anything away from our own accomplishments. By learning this through running, and by being in the running community, I’ve been able to find (admittedly) many areas of my life where this comparison trap occurs. By keeping our eyes on our own paper, we are not only able to maintain a good sense of relativity, but we can begin to centralize our focus on our own goals, achievements, and areas for improvement as opposed to dwelling on those of others.

I encourage running bloggers, and everyone else, to continue to use the successes of others as inspiration. Educating ourselves with success stories of feats that otherwise seem impossible are a powerful way to jump start our own journeys. But remember that those accomplishments belong to someone else, and while they should be celebrated—they in no way take away from our own.

When you look at your own paper, whether it be a list of PRs, a resume, or an essay—take ownership for all the work and effort that was put into it. Because it is all worthy of admiration—no matter what “level” you think you’re at.

And let’s face it…in a country with an obesity epidemic on the rise and people who prefer segways to walking tours—the ability to run at all is something to be damn proud of.

What do you think about ‘the running blog trap?’ Have you fallen victim to it? Why do you think we’re so susceptible to playing the comparison game? Is it a simply an athlete thing, or is it in our nature? 

My Brain on Marathon

These past few days there have been two things going through my head:

Holy shit, I’m running a marathon this weekend.

And

Holy shit, I need to blog about all my feelings.

Okay…there have been 5,000 other thoughts going on as well, but stick with me.

Somehow, I couldn’t seem to get these two very complimentary thoughts to mesh together in beautiful, therapeutic symmetry.

I mean come on—don’t all running bloggers blog 2x per day, every day, during the last two weeks of taper before a marathon?

We have so many nerves, ideas, and circumstances floating through our heads…and all we want to do is talk to other runners about them all.

So why haven’t I been spilling my guts out incessantly and instead just been flitting over the surface in regard to my upcoming 26.2 attempt?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I am thinking about the race nonstop. I already have pre-race butterflies in my stomach. I am in a constant back-and-forth battle between being excited and optimistic and being so nervous I want to hide under my desk.

Essentially, there are so many thoughts going through my little taper-brain that I’ve had a hard time coming up with anything coherent or sensible to write about. I know, I know…a lot of my blog posts are of the word-vomit variety already. However, when it’s been coming time to put my fingers to the keyboard to describe how I’m feeling about this race, my brain spirals into chaos—and I can barely sit still—let alone write a post.

With that said, I’m not here to offer up any constructive or solid “feelings” or “plans” or whatever it is you’re supposed to have the week before a marathon. I am here, however, to attempt to let loose some steam—and to hopefully give a little insight into how you truly never know what to expect in so very much of life.

It’s hard for me to differentiate my nerves between regular, expected pre-marathon jitters, and legitimate concerns about my current condition. Sometimes, I’m imagining it as just any other marathon—other times, I’m thinking of it as a death march on out-of-shape legs and a floppy, swollen ankle. I’m trying to land somewhere in the middle of these two outlooks—balancing the ordinary nervousness with the warranted exceptional circumstance I’ll be running the race in.

Of course, marathon brain is far from balanced and sensible, so despite my best efforts so just chill and play with the cards I’ve been dealt…it’s been a process to actually internalize that mindset.

Recently, it’s been going more like this:

“I’m going to have the best time! I might have some pain later on, but as long as I go easy, soak in the sights, and let the race adrenaline work its magic..I’ll be fine! I love running! I love marathons! This will be great!”

…two minutes later:

“I’m going to die. I’m going to be exhausted after one mile, my legs are going to cramp, and even if I make it pretty far, I’m going to have to bail and get off the course. Then I’m going to cry. Even if I make it, I’m going to be walking, puking, and/or crying until the finish line.”

Once again, I’m trying to rationalize that I’ll probably land somewhere in the middle.

I’m also trying to remind myself about just how mental running is. Because in my opinion, and in the opinions of many, many great runners out there who are far more qualified to make claims than me, running is primarily mental. Certainly, it takes endurance and strength to run a marathon—no doubt about it. But ultimately, the thing that keeps our feet moving and our will to finish alive is our attitude.

Now, I learned back in T-town that I definitely have a good deal of mental strength. This time around, I’m going to try and channel that mental strength into being present in the moment and savouring the fact that I am able to run a marathon. Let me also just clarify that while what happened in Tacoma is high on my fear list, I no longer want to rehash that race—and I now know that there is a difference between pushing it and pushing it too far.

With that said, I will not be trying to BQ, PR, or anything of that sort during this race. While those types of goals are often high on my list and they encourage me to keep moving, they are also the kind of goals that could disable me from finishing. Due to my current circumstance with my ankle and my training glitches, the only goals I have for this race are to a) finish and b) negative split. I don’t want to negative split to ensure a particular time; I just know that I am going to need reserved energy for the second half. My pacing intentions will be solely for the purpose of staying consistent and staying safe.

I am planning to run by feel, which is a good theme for how I’ve handled these past few weeks of “training.” All of my decisions about when to run, when to rest, and if I was going to do the race haven’t been based on a pre-determined schedule, but solely on how I feel. That’s how I’m planning to run this race. I have paces in mind that I know I will be able to hold for a long time, and although they are many, many seconds slower than I originally planned on running this race—they are what will help get me to the finish line.

So for right now, I trying to channel my energy into focusing on a few things.

The first is positive self talk. I am always such a huge proponent of mantras and self confidence when it comes to encouraging other people along, but I’m not so good at practicing what I preach. I do believe that positive thinking and visualization can make a world of difference in performance—and so excuse me while I act super cocky and conceited for the next 72 hours.

The second thing I’m trying to focus on is what my intention was behind doing this race in the first place. When I first registered, I knew I wanted to take this race less seriously than I had for many before. Marathon training had become less fun and too stressful, and this time around I wanted to enjoy the running for what it was instead of focus solely on numbers. Admittedly, I slipped away from this a bit when I started seeing my times get faster, but now that I’m kind of forced to run the race easier than planned—my original intention has come back into focus.

In addition to my goal of having fun with training for this race, I also wanted to focus on doing something more than just my own, petty “look at me and how much I run” approach. I chose to fund-raise and run on behalf of Girls on the Run because they are an organization that I believe advocates all the best things about running. Girls on the Run gets down to the grass roots of the pure joy, confidence, and enthusiasm that running can instill, and this was a message I wanted to both advocate to others and internalize for myself.

No matter what happens—I’ve raised a lot of money and promoted a group whose cause resonates with so many of the reasons I love to run. And for that, I’m proud and humbled to run on behalf of them.

I suppose there are actually a lot of advantages to running a marathon that isn’t a goal race. And despite my uber-competitive mind trying with all its might to both “be a hero” and finish with an impressive time—for now, she’s going to need to shut up. This is a really good opportunity for me to tune into the part of running that isn’t competitive—the part that isn’t tangible, or “qualifying,” or up to some standard.

I’m going to run because I love it, and no matter what happens—Sunday is just one more day I get to run. In the second biggest marathon in the world— no less. If nothing else, I want to finish how ever many miles I run knowing that I ran smart and I ran happy. Anything else (finishing, a decent time, etc.) will just be gravy.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening to me spill my very-full brain. These are the times I’m so happy I have a blog, both as a way for me to get out my thoughts and a way to communicate with runners who’ve experienced all the same things. Writing everything down has always helped relax me—and I’m already feeling more excited for Sunday.

I’ll have a post tomorrow with a few more specifics as to strategy, logistics, etc. I’ll also post a link to how you can follow me during the race! We’re getting closer and closer…and my window of complex carb consumption/hydrating/foam rolling is here.

Bring it on, baby.

Not An Afternoon Person

You always hear people say, “I’m not a morning person,” or “I AM a morning person!” It’s normally one or the other, few in-betweens.

Rarely do you hear people discuss their preferences/aversions for other times of the day.

Well, I am here to officially state my most recent self-realization:

I am NOT an afternoon person.

In fact, I’d venture to say that I rather dislike the afternoon, and I’d be fine if we just skipped over it.

Pretty positive that you all have guessed by now that I am 100% a morning person. Not only do I preference the morning for running, but I just generally enjoy the energy and promise that comes in the earlier hours. I realize that this is certainly in my nature, and for many people—no matter how hard they try—will never be morning people. Such as my own sister, or this girl. This is no fault to them—and in fact, their productivity at the hours including a “PM” in the title really impresses me.

So let’s talk about why, to me, the morning is spectacular and afternoons suck.

I now pronounce you oatmeal and PB. You may now be consumed by Robyn,

An obvious starting point…breakfast. Breakfast is THE BEST and while I enjoy every time I get to feed, breakfast is always my favorite. Several of my favorite foods are of the breakfast variety, and I’m pretty sure there is no one on Earth who dislikes going out to breakfast. And BRUNCH? Don’t even get me started.

Second, the running. With ever present variables involved with running—namely weather, traffic, and time—the morning consistently proves to be a superior time to get some miles in.

There is very little traffic (aka: stoplights are just pretty lights to look at rather than obey), the temperature is typically cooler and calmer (rain in the PNW tends to hold off in the AM hours), and once you’re done—YOU’RE DONE. No waiting and waiting and waiting throughout the day to run after work, when you’re already ready to crawl into bed.

Or at least—that’s when I’m ready to crawl in bed. Or watch Gossip Girl. Or better yet—a combination of the two with a jar of PB.

Generally, I’m just more productive in the morning. I answer more emails, I stay on task, and I’m generally in a better mood. Yes, this could be a direct result of the fact that I run in the morning—but I think it’s more in my hardwiring than anything else.

Self-photography at 5:30 am—obviously productive things are happening.

So between the hours of 4:45 am (peachy wakeup time, eh?) and, oh, let’s say 1:00 PM—I’m a machine. It’s amazing the amount of things I can accomplish in this time frame, particularly before 8 am. I am typically worked out, showered, dressed, breakfasted, commuted, and at my desk by 8. And on days when I consider putting a bra on an accomplishment (see: all Sundays in the winter), this seems somewhat impressive.

So why, then, after 1 PM does my day start to suck? Honestly, I don’t really know—but slowly but surely, between 1 and 5, my productivity, energy, and attention span start to spiral in a bottomless pit of death. Around 3:15 I start imagining pajamas, horizontal positioning, and a bag of trail mix. That fantasy gets more elaborate as the minutes tick by, and when I think it’s finally time to peace out to Lazyland, it’s only 3:31.

Now, there is a very obvious explanation for this phenomenon: I wake up in the deep buttcrack of dawn, so obviously my energy teeters as the day progresses. Kind of true, but not entirely the reasoning.

You see, around 6, I start to perk up again—as if by some afternoon-turned-evening miracle, the pit of despair has spat me back out into the real world. Once the afternoon is over, I turn back into a milder version of my morning self and can generally maintain some semblance of a functioning person until bedtime.

Also, dessert comes during this time of day, an obvious incentive for some mood-boosting.

So why so much happiness and glitter in the morning, muddy sloth-like behavior in the afternoon, and normalcy in the evening?

My justification: I am not an afternoon person.

Tell Kristin Bell we can be friends.

Just like so many people aren’t morning people, I’m declaring myself not an afternoon person.

I know that a lot of people experience that 2 pm slump that 5 Hour Energy loves to capitalize on, but this is a whole new level of lethargy. It’s really a general hatred for these hours of the day—and while I know it’s important to appreciate the time we’re given because it’s fleeting and blah blah blah…I just really would rather fast-forward through these hours of the day. And not just work days—no, this is a general statement about every day.

The only thing these hours are good for is optimal sun exposure in the summer, and otherwise—they do nothing for me.

What spawned all this afternoon-hating, you may be wondering? Well, in an out-of-character move I decided to move my run from yesterday morning to the PM hours. Normally, if I bail on a morning workout—I take it as a rest day. But no, I went the fateful route of deciding to postpone my run in favor of more sleep. The extra sleep was nice—but when I was grumbling and cursing my way through my PM run yesterday, I gladly would have taken less sleep over that misery.

Seriously it BLEW, and I don’t know how in the world so many of you workout in the afternoon. I mean, hat’s off for sure, because to me that takes about 6,000x more energy than rolling out of bed and sweating in the AM. It took me oh probably 6.5 miles to finally be like, ok—I guess this isn’t too bad, but believe me it took a lot of angry thoughts before I made it to that point.

So, I’ll stick to my morning rituals, and accept the fact that I’m useless human from 1-5 pm.

Or I’ll get 5 Hour Energy to sponsor me.

WHAT ARE YOU? Afternoon or morning? Night owl only? High on life 24 hours a day?

Central Governor Theory

I’ve officially indoctrinated myself into the ranks of serious runnerd.

I bought a running textbook. Not a novel, not a book of motivational quotes, not “Runner’s World.”

A mother effing textbook. The Lore of Running, to be specific. And the worst part? I’m stupid excited about it. I’ve already planned early bedtimes of sitting with a highlighter and going through each chapter like I’m studying for a test.

Who am I?! Either this is a sign that I might need to go back to school sooner than I thought, or I’ve really got it bad for running. And because I’m really digging the whole not-ever-having-homework-or-taking-tests lifestyle right now, I’m gonna go with the latter.

It all started with another running book, Eat and Runthe one we’ve already talked about. Scott Jurek was merrily telling me all about his adventures in 100 mile races and whatnot, when he said something that hit me straight between the eyes. Or, more so, it hit me straight in the part of my brain that is haunted by the Tacoma Marathon.

{Yes, still talking about that one—sorry. I thought I was done, but this discovery was just too enlightening to ignore. I promise I’ll stop talking about that race someday}

Truth be told, in many ways I have left that race behind me as I’ve moved onto other endeavors. I certainly learned a lot from it, but it was a fairly traumatic event and I don’t want the bad parts of it to overwhelm my ambitions and love for this sport.

However, to this day I haven’t been able to answer exactly why what happened, well, happened. I was completely depleted and fatigued, and I’d reached my own physical threshold. However, I still hadn’t been able to come up with why, after 26 miles of running, my body decided to quit when the finish line was in view.

Enter, Scott Jurek. He was telling a story about the Western States 100—a notable race in California that courses up and down mountains for a hundred miles. Scott was pacing a friend, who was about to win the race, and right when they got to the local high school track (the location of the race’s finish line) and the finish came into view, his friend collapsed—unable to move.

The circumstances sounded very similar to mine—and as Scott continued to tell the story, my interest heightened and it all started to sound frighteningly parallel. Scott stated that in his opinion, when his friend’s brain processed the finish line in sight, it told his body, “Hey dude, you’re done. You can quit now.” Subsequently, his body gave out, just stopped, because his mind had resolved that it could stop working so hard.

It’s all very hippy dippy stuff, but hear me out. This guy was able to run, up and down mountains no less, for ONE HUNDRED MILES without faltering. Of course he was tired, battling, and exhausted, but there was something that was able to keep him going. But then, right as the finish line comes into view, that same body that’d been working toward this finale just decided to stop? The timing seems all too peculiar, just as my own seemed in the Tacoma Marathon.

Scott goes onto describe some actual scientific rationale behind this occurrence—termed the Central Governor Theory by  Dr. Timothy Noakes. In essence, the theory advocates for the power of the mind over the body in endurance sports.

“The central governor is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxia damage to the heart.”

In lamens terms, our endurance is not only an effect of our training or our VO2 max, but of a part of our brain that strategically plans out our exertion levels based on the required mileage, time frame, etc. It’s essentially a case for mind over matter, and it advocates that our Central Governor has means of protecting us from overexertion.

It’s a debatable idea, have no doubt. But, it is one that has been cited and used in many sports studies and theories for years.

The thing that struck me about it is that it spoke so closely to the feelings I experienced during the Tacoma Marathon. I had passed my own limits for a good deal of that race: I was hurting, I was done, but for some reason I was able to keep going. And it wasn’t pride at that point—because no matter how much I wanted that BQ and I wanted to keep going, my fatigue had overtaken my pride.

But I was able to keep going, and my legs seemingly had a life of their own. Until, that is, I saw the finish line. I was grateful to see it, have no doubt, but it felt like my desire to be done had overtaken the strength that had kept me going. When I fell, it was because my body had given up, and although I had been able to continue to push it along for all those miles of pain, for some reason—so close to the end, they’d won the battle.

If you attribute the Central Governor Theory to my experience in that race, it makes a whole lot of sense—particularly the part where I fell right before the finish line. In a direct comparison to Scott’s story about his Western States 100 friend, my brain resolved that it could be done upon seeing the end, and my body responded with absolute abdication.

Now, I fully realize that there are a number of factors that could have come into play in the end of that race. I was entirely depleted, have no doubt; a 105 degree fever, cramping legs, and complete fatigue undoubtedly contributed to the time I spent in the medical tent afterward.

However, those factors would have existed whether or not I collapsed so close to the end. I’ve thought all along that it was my mind more than anything else that was the ultimate reason for the disconnect that occurred at mile 26. It felt like a cord between my body and my mind was snapped, and I couldn’t get the two to work in sync any longer.

So yes, my physical exertion was beyond a manageable level. But there was something more that occurred on that day—and the Central Governor Theory, at least to me, explains better than anything else the final factor that came into play.

Again, I promise that I have and will stop analyzing that race. I have gotten over it, and I know one day it’s going to be an ancient memory. But once this idea of the power of the mind was presented to me, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to that day. Because that day was the first time, and perhaps the only time, where I can say that I relied solely on my mind to carry on when my body was done. My mind was the only thing I had left for a long time in that race—and this theory presented an explanation for just how that dependence actually worked.

I think what I love so much about the Central Governor Theory is the theme that running is so much more than just our physical abilities. We hear time and time again that “Running is a mental sport,” and yet it’s so much easier to measure the physical side of it. We concentrate on times, VO2 max, lactate threshold, maximum heart rate, and mileage so often as the means in which we measure our physical abilities.These things have a lot of merit, of course, but there is something more to running than just the physiology. It’s the reason we can get out of bed in the morning when our bodies are so much happier staying under the covers. It’s the reason why we can sprint to a finish line even though we’ve been dead for miles. Our brains have a lot more power over our abilities that we even realize—and while that’s not to say that we shouldn’t concentrate on the tangible numbers, I truly believe that to be a good runner, we must remember that one of the most valuable tools we have is the one inside our head.

So, in going back to the textbook—The Lore of Running was written by the Central Governor Theorist himself, Timothy Noakes. The book discusses his theory, but also any and all things related to running. It’s definitely somewhat biased and opinion based, as essentially all running books are, however I’m excited to read what more this South African bloke has to say in favor of the power of our minds in relation to the power of our running.

The only problem? Everything is in kilometers, meaning he’s forcing me to exercise my brain while siphoning through chapters. Tricky man that Noakes.

Happy Friday! Happy running 🙂

Get Comfortable

I can’t even begin to describe how nice it feels to write a bit about running right now. For the past few days I’ve been grinding on documents nonstop at work, and I’ve barely had time to use the bathroom let alone do any blogging updates.

Alas, a break in the day has presented itself.

Hello!

On Tuesday, I completely contradicted my current training M.O. and decided to spice up my normal “Ten-Mile Tuesday” run.

{I love Ten-Mile Tuesday, and it’s been one of my favorite workouts for almost a year—even when I’m not marathon training. It’s always in the morning, it’s always moderately paced, just lovely}

When I set off for this jaunt, I had it in my head that I would go slow-ish. I had 8:30s or so in mind, and I knew I wanted to be comfortable. It took about 3 miles or so to really get a steady pace (doesn’t it always?) but once I was cooking I realized that I was hovering below the 8 minute/mile mark, and it wasn’t too awful. However, I knew that I’d be feeling it toward the end of the run—and since this wasn’t about speed I knew it was smarter to stay at a comfortable pace.

But then I kinda starting talking back to myself. I was realizing that recently, this pacing is my comfortable pace. I’ve been feeling lighter and more efficient during my quicker runs, and the only thing that makes me shy away from committing to increasing my  average speed overall is my fear of getting uncomfortable. The only discomfort, however, comes when I see watch, and I freak out and slow down—only to feel a little less natural and wary.

So yesterday, instead of constantly telling myself to reel it in, I started a new mantra—which I repeated over and over again.

Get comfortable.”

You see, I definitely have a running comfort zone, as I’m sure many of us do. For a long time, it was 9 minute miles. It was a pace I knew that I could hold for a long time, and it was the pace that I used constantly throughout my first marathon training cycle. Once I got to race day, I was so confident in my 9 min/mile abilities, I knew that I’d be fine at 8:50s.

Since that time, I’ve gotten a bit faster and my comfort zone is now around an 8:30/mile pace. There was a point in time it was lower (before my horrid bursitis kicked in earlier this year), and I’m starting to feel like it might be time to hold myself to a higher standard. If my watch is the only thing that’s scaring me away from a faster average pace, what’s the harm in trying one on for size?

Which is why on Tuesday, I decided to forego my current relaxed training plan and focus on maintaining a certain, faster speed over those miles. I settled on 8:05, and instead of trying to go faster and slower, I was preaching to myself to simply “get comfortable” right there. I know my comfort zone well enough to know when I’m either behind or ahead of it, but in this case—I was simply trying to trick myself to get into that comfort zone.

And how did I bode? I felt great, and I felt that aside from the placebo exhaustion effect of seeing speedier times on my Garmin, I was—in fact—comfortable with that speed.

Which makes me wonder— where is the line between our physical capabilities and our perceived capabilities? When I talked about that 9:00/mile comfort zone that I’d settled in for so long, was that really my running happy place, or was I simply settling for what I knew I could do?

Although there’s a definite mental prowess to runners that many lack, I’m realizing that it’s just as easy to fall into a running rut as it is anything else. We get in a safe zone. Which is fine, truly, because goodness knows it’s better to be running safely than not running at all.

But, there’s also something to be said for removing our self-created limits. Of course, we don’t want to be reckless and haphazard about it (hello, injuries and burnout), but sometimes it’s good to question if there’s a little bit more we’re not allowing ourselves to take on.

For me, this was decreasing the average length of my weekly runs, and increasing speed over shorter distances. I knew that I could knock out a long run at a moderate pace, which is why I settled in a routine of a 10 mile, 12 mile, and one long(er) run on the weekends. This was my routine for as long as I can remember—all the runs were at the same speed, and I’m realizing now they were all a bit mediocre. But after my knee blew up, I flailed in Tacoma, and I was sidelined with IT band woes, I knew that something needed to change.

I still wanted to run, and I still wanted to race, but I needed to reclaim control over my running and get back to the magic of the sport.

By introducing myself to the things I had so often shied away from—speed work, shorter mileage but faster times, and additional hills—I have a newfound confidence in not only my running but in the sport itself. It’s wonderful to see that something so simple as running can be approached so many different ways. And the best part? There isn’t only one right way.

I think what I’m most pleased with is that I feel that I’m slowly but surely finding a way to run that works for me. Through this Chicago training “program” I’ve been following, I’ve been getting faster, I’m recovering quicker, and my IT band injury has evaporated. I credit this to a few things, but primarily to the big alterations I’ve made to my running. The shoes, the speed, the rest—they’ve all been things I’ve changed in order to better my running, and at least for now…they seem to be working.

So I’m going to continue my less-strict approach to training. But I’m also going to continue to allow myself to “get comfortable” with the times, distances, and workouts that I almost always deem uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, or even suck, sometimes—but it means that I’m not going to be afraid of pushing away from “security blanket” workouts and try getting a little creative.

What’s your running comfortable space? A certain distance? A certain speed? A certain workout? How do you think you can try and test yourself?

 

Dear Internet, I suck today.

Optimistic title, no?

Confession: This is not the first draft of this post.

Weird, I know, because normally I operate on the “word vomit with some typos” single draft method when writing my blog posts. But not today. I was trying desperately to feign some version of my normal Friday cheerfulness and obnoxious rambling about how everything is perfect and running is super and puppies are cute and sequins should be everywhere.

Running is super, puppies are cute, and sequins should in fact cover more things than it already does.

But, I couldn’t even fake it today. I’m in a funk, and I didnt’ want to admit it.

After some flailing attempts to write out my feelings about “FRIDAY AND WEEKENDS ARE AWESOME!” and all that, I realized it was bullshit, because I actually don’t feel too pumped about much today, and it was all a lie to write a post acting like I was.

One big “select all” and “delete.” That’s what happened not too long ago, which leaves me here—admitting to both you, and myself, that I’ve been pissy today and didn’t want to admit it.

Why? No reason…which is always worse. When I’m in bad mood, 99% of the time I am either hungry or tired.

I’m like an infant, if you didn’t know that.

However, neither of those are the case. I’m caffeinated, I’m exercised, and generally things are pretty dang good. No reason bad moods suck, especially when I start getting down on myself for being pissy when things could (always) be much worse.

I’ll get over it, and I am sure you don’t want to hear me investigate the cause of my bitchiness any more. And I don’t either, which is why I’m here. Writing is theraputic, but only if you tell the truth. You see, earlier when I was trying to write about my favorite things, it felt tedious and annoying and I couldn’t muster any energy whatsoever to make my fingers type. That’s because my usual zest wasn’t there, and now that I’m actually writing about the way I’m really feeling—well, the word vomit is coming no problem.

Funny how that works, huh? Thinking back to all that writer’s block I experienced in college when writing about something I hated—it was always so difficult to force a paper out.

{But don’t worry expensive liberal arts institutions, that probably never, ever happens to anyone else.}

The truth is, good writing necessitates honesty. When I say “good” I’m not boasting about my blogging abilities—because goodness knows there is no Shakespeare over here. “Good” is more of a subjective term, and I always think that my “good” writing is the kind that has my real, honest-to-goodness voice behind it. That can only be done with brutal and sometimes harsh honesty—even when it means admitting to yourself that writing about random Favorite Things sounds like the worst thing in the world.

Why have I taken this long to tell you about why I suck today and didn’t write a post that probably no one cares much about? I don’t really know. But getting down the way I’m really feeling is always helpful, and I knew that instead of ignoring my blog and letting another day go by without posting—I might as well get some words out there.

One of the biggest reasons I started my blog was to have an outlet. Sure, I wanted to keep myself accountable in terms of training, and I wanted to connect with the online running community. But perhaps more than anything, I wanted and needed a place where I could let out some of the thoughts that go on in my head.

Since I was young, writing things down has always been a big help. I’m lucky I figured this out so young, but it’s something that has definitely taken practice and discipline. To this very day, I have to be very intentional when writing down the things I’m thinking—good or bad. It’s really easy to hide behind things that will distract us from our bad moods. My resort comes in the form of Gossip Girl episodes and bottomless bowls of trail mix, which is about 50% chocolate chips.

In my last post, I advocated for this type of relaxation. But, there’s a difference between relaxation and distraction, and that’s unfortunately what our unwinding habits can turn into. Which, once again, leads me back to why I’m here.

I want to be merry and peppy and favorite-y today, but I’m not.

And it’s okay, because I’d rather be honest than put on an act.

I’ll get over my funk, and I’m glad that I was able to realize that the trials and tribulations of Blair and Serena and all those other beautiful people wasn’t actually relaxing as it was distracting me from the fact that I’m funked out.

*If you’re wondering what the majority of yesterday afternoon and this morning looked like, I think you can guess*

That all might not make sense, and I’m sorry if you’ve wasted your time waiting for some a-ha! lesson. I suppose the “lesson” is that sometimes it’s better to admit your problems than to pretend they aren’t there.

And believe me, I know a bad mood hardly qualifies as a problem. But, it’s a small scale example of something I think a lot of us do frequently. Finding an outlet for whatever it is that’s getting us down is the most important route to take, in my opinion, and for me—that’s here…and running.

Oh, this is a running blog? Have I been whining about nothing for this whole post while you wanted to talk about running?

Yea, I wished the same…and I’m sure soon enough I’ll be back in action, complete with sequins and exclamation points. And I need to get my act together, particularly because on Monday I have some pretty sweet news to share, and I won’t have a choice but to be pumped about it.

So, weekend, I’m going to squeeze every “stop being a bitch” activity out of you as I can…and if all else fails, I’ll rely on the Red Robin meal tonight that I’ve been crafting in my head since 9 am. Coping mechanisms people…I have many.

If you’re still there and feel like helping me find some joy in the world…what are YOU doing this weekend? Are you excited and glittery today, or are you hanging out in Oscar the grouch land with me? What are your bad mood coping mechanisms? What’s your outlet? Should I get the bacon cheeseburger tonight or the bacon cheeseburger? Oh, a spiked Freckled Lemonade you say? Done.