26.2 Mile Training Run Retrospective

Last week was a really rough week resulting in a significant flair up of my depression.   Washing my face or my hair, making the bed, getting dressed….these simple tasks were all a challenge let alone going to work and taking care of my family.  Normally, the best medicine for my depression is a good run.  This often helps me pull out of the cycle of despair and get back on my feet enough that I can move forward.  Not so last week.  My runs were making me more depressed as I slogged through one slow, hot mile after another.

My Saturday long run was looming ahead over my head like a dark cloud all week.  It was to be my last long run before McKenzie River 50K in two weeks so I knew it was a critical run but had no idea how I was going to get through it.  I texted a friend with my woes and she responded with the enlightened comment, “Frustration is wasted energy.  Put that effort into your goals and positive thinking”.  A life preserver as I drowned in my sorrows.

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Arizona sunrises never get old

This same dear friend also agreed to meet me in the middle of my long run for a few miles giving me the gift of accountability.  I got up at 3:30 am, got dressed and grabbed Amira to head out the door.  Her and I ran a couple miles together then  I dropped her off at home and headed to my friend’s house.  These first seven miles I ran comfortably within my heart rate zone.  It wasn’t fast, but it wasn’t a slog either.  I felt good, better than I have in a while.  And five more miles in the company of a friend after many solo runs recently was quite the blessing.

After going our separate ways, I had another 14 miles on my own and lots of time to spend in my head.  As the sun rose higher on the horizon, the temperature began to rise quickly.  Listening to books is my favorite pastime while running and on this occasion I was listening to a wonderful book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy.  He writes of applying the insights learned from endurance sports to the endurance of life.  Being the second time I have listened to it, I took away different messages and indeed I was struck by a particular message.  He wrote that elite athletes don’t expect conditions to be ideal on race or game day.   I let this sink in.

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Pausing mid-run to stretch allowed me to also pause and remember why I love this sport

I started deliberating on my own life and asked myself how often do I go about my day expecting things to go my way? And the moment it doesn’t, do I crumble?  I reluctantly admitted to myself that I do in fact do this more often than I like at home and on my runs though ironically not at work which is the most stressful of the three.

When the boys don’t cooperate over dinner, I get frustrated and angry.  When bed time doesn’t go as planned and it looks like I might not get my full night’s rest, I get panicky and waste a lot of energy.  If a run doesn’t feel good, I beat myself up.  I discovered that these are areas I need to let go of wanting everything to be ideal.

So then I began asking myself if it would be better to expect things to wrong and be prepared?  I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t a wise approach either.  It would be equally unhealthy to be paranoid about life.  Forever walking around asking “what if?” would create paralysis when what I am seeking freedom.  Entirely counterproductive.

During these long miles I decided that balance comes from putting in the work to be ready and then trusting that I will be able to figure it out as I go.  Having faith in my parenting, my training, my mental strength.  Simply put, faith in myself.

As my run continued and I was having these deep thoughts and revelations, I got to put my new found resolution into practice.  The heat was really cranking up and shade was nowhere to be found on my selected route.  I found my excitement and love of running wane as the sun began to roast me and my brain.

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Found the one shade tree on my route and paused to cool down a bit

 

Conditions were definitely not ideal on this hot Phoenix morning.  Action was needed to keep me from sinking into the “Pit of Despair”.  I decided that a moving meditation was in order to help refocus.  I put on my Headspace App and did a ten minute meditation.  Andy Puddicombe’s voice described a visualization of allowing the body to fill up with liquid sunlight.  I was able to use it to turn my perspective on the sun from “I hate you sun, go away” to “Thank you Sun for filling me up with your energy and light”.  Perfect!

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Soaking up the Liquid Sun as it fills me with energy and light

The rest of my run went pretty seamlessly and while I was grateful to finish, it didn’t take me long to wish I was still out there.  I learned a lot from this long run and only need to remember to carry it through with me on all the many miles ahead.  I might need to relearn it a few times more, but the roots are there for it to grow.

What is something you have learned on a run or in life that resonates through you?  Post in comments below!

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Will I Be Ready or Will Heart Rate Training Fail Me?

In a little less than three weeks, I will be running the McKenzie River Trail Run, a 50K in Oregon along the McKenzie River.  The McKenzie River is one of the most pristine rivers in Oregon.  The upper reaches are designated as a Scenic and Wild River meaning there are no dams, no human manipulation and is a crystal clear, gorgeous salmon river.

Originating in the Cascade Mountain range, it is a tributary to  the Willamette River, which snakes through the Willamette Valley from Eugene to Portland, creating the lush and fruitful croplands that grace Oregon.  On the west side of the Cascades, the mountain is covered with Douglas Fir trees towering over those who travel beneath.  The trail winds through this forest and we are among the lucky few who will get to traverse down this trail.

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Piggyback rides are the best way to experience the McKenzie River Trail

This trail is one of my favorites and one the trails that gave me my start as a trail runner.  I feel honored to have the opportunity to do this race.  Even better, it is a celebration of Kenny’s and my 15th wedding anniversary.  Our 15 years of marriage have ups and downs, highs and lows, and only our vow to each other has kept us together through it all.

If you have read my earlier post you will know that I started training with a heart rate monitor earlier this summer in my training for this race.  It has been an interesting journey.  I have ridden this roller coaster with a lot of faith.

In fact, I have seen some benefits which I talked about in an earlier post.   These are valuable no doubt, but the main objective is certainly to gain speed while still running at a lower heart rate.  So the big question is…After two and a half months, have I seen any progress?

The honest truth is – not yet.

I have a route that I have been using as my reference route and tracking my times for this route.  I have been shooting for running this route at least once a month though I have run it more than that.  So far no real improvements in pace.

I was scheduled to do another reference run last week however I ended up getting sick.  Interestingly, when I look back on my runs, I did see a decline in my pace and an increase in my heart rate in the days leading up to being sick.   A good lesson.  Had I paid closer attention to this change, I may have been able to back off or take a rest day before getting sick.

So the improvements haven’t been impressive and but in endurance running, patience is a key aspect that I struggle to embrace completely.   Patience has never been my strongest attribute.  My mother would routinely recite, “Patience is a virtue” at me.  I think she may have even bought me a book with that title….though of course I never read it!

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This girl has been the best running companion a girl could have.  She has kept me company on many “slogs”.

I am also not feeling like much of a runner.  The miles have been slow and slower.  I know I am being a smart runner by building a solid foundation but everyone’s ego needs stroked once in a while.  A good tempo run or a fast track workout or a hard hilly trail run feels amazing and leaves a person feeling like Superwoman.

I have asked myself on many occasions whether I will be ready and I really don’t know.   While I do not feel prepared at all for this 50K, I have to trust that I have done something right and just go for it.

After the race, I want to continue with this form of training as I know it is a smart strategy.  I do however plan to incorporate more social runs and tough runs for my mental happiness.  I will strive to find a little more diversity in my running while still honoring my goal to build my aerobic base.

What do you do to find balance within your passions?  How do you incorporate diversity in your running?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Celebration of Love: Dear Kenny….

My dearest Kenny,

Fifteen years ago, I stood in front of friends and family and committed myself to you for all time.  I remember the day in technicolor.  I woke that morning before everyone else and went for a short run.  When I got home, I sat with Paddington for a while talking to him about our future.  He purred contentedly while my heart beat with eager anticipation.  

Between basic training and reporting to your duty station, our time together since we met had been intermittent at best and so much change was on the horizon.  Not only were we about to marry, I was leaving Ohio, leaving family and friends, joining you in the Army life in Tennessee.  Yet I didn’t feel any fear or anxiety, only happiness and delight.

As I got ready, the world around me seemed frazzled, but for me it was like being in the eye of the storm.  All was calm, cool, and collected in my sphere.  My dear Maid of Honor and beautiful bridesmaids helped me with makeup and dress.  We laughed about how difficult it would be to use the restroom with a giant wedding dress on.  I saw how radiant I looked.  I saw the joy in their faces. And I knew this would be one of the most wonderful days of my life.

Walking down the aisle and keeping my dad from crying, my view of you was obscured.  Then, it was if the sea parted and I saw you for the first time that day.  So handsome in your dress greens, I could not take my eyes off you.  The world around me disappeared and it was only you and I.  The ceremony seemed endless while I desired to take your hand and run away so we could bask in each others love.  Our kiss declaring us husband and wife was nothing short of magical.

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“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds. That’s what I hope to give you forever.” – The Notebook

We left the church to a flurry of love and laughter given freely by our friends and family and finally got to be alone together in the back of the Rolls Royce.  On our way to the reception we drank champagne and did our best to stay upright as our driver, who must have thought he was Mario Andretti, whipped around every corner.  Do you remember that?  He was a crazy man and gods how we laughed.

The rest of the day was just as beautiful and surreal.  Dancing, laughing, loving….endless amounts of each.  As the night drew to a close and we left as husband and wife, I felt a contentedness that I cannot put into words.

The next 15 years would be an unparalleled adventure.  So many ups and some really deep downs, we have been at each others side through it all.  Before we got married, I remember us saying all the time that if we could survive being apart as much as we were then we could survive anything.  We have proven this to be truer than true time and again.

You got deployed and came back.  I graduated school.  You left the Army so we wouldn’t move our family all over the place.  Then we moved across the country countless times anyways pursuing my career.  We lived in Tennessee and Oregon, New York and Wyoming, landing as we are now in Arizona.  We lost one baby.  We gained two beautiful boys.  Such sorrow and such joy.  

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National Historic Trails Center Christmas celebration during our 9 months living in Casper, WY (December 2013)

 

Our passion for running has grown together.  We have run races in so many places, some successful and some failures, some together and some apart.  All of them priceless in their way.  Our running in many ways echoes our life with its ups and downs and relentless call to keep us coming back for more.

Life has stressed us and blessed us but together we never stop flourishing.

Through it all you have been my rock, my light, my love.  I have accomplished so much in the last 15 years and none of it could have been possible without your support and encouragement.  How could I be so lucky to have you as my life long partner?  You and I have grown so much together as individuals and as a couple.  The husband and father you are is the best role model our little men could have.  I am better mother, wife and woman because of you.

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Family getting amped up to run a Foam Glow 5K (May 2017)

Our future holds some known:

The upcoming goal you have set to earn a second degree is admirable and I deeply believe in your ability to be successful.  Our boys continue to grow and mature.  We both have epic running goals – you running your second 100 miler later this year and me planning to run my first 50 miler next spring.  This in addition to a couple of 50Ks and other smaller races in between.  Our family will continue to love and cherish each other.

And so much unknown:

Where we will be in the future, how long we will be in Arizona, where will our careers take us, who our boys will become, and who we will become. 

Much of this scares me but it also excites me.  What I do know, with the utmost confidence, is we will be together no matter what comes our way.

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Getting ready to run Ragnar del Sol….It is impossible not to have fun with this man. (March 2017)

Once again before family and friends, I declare my love for you with my whole heart, body, mind, and soul.  You are the light of my life and I am excited to see what our next 15 years hold.  The journey is the adventure and the adventure continues.

Happy Anniversary my Darling.  I love you and am forever and always:

Your Emm

9 Ways to Get up at the Crack of Dawn

Starting your day with a run or other physical activity is one of the best ways to build positivity & self-confidence, reduce stress, and bring overall well-being into your life.  When you begin your day with movement, it sparks creativity and inspires patience.  Seriously, it is like a miracle drug paving the way for fulfillment.

Unfortunately, our psyche has a nasty habit of trying to interfere and the best laid plans get waylaid.  Excuses build and getting up early becomes a challenge for many of us.  Have you ever told yourself, “I really just need sleep because sleep is so important”.  Sounds plausible right?  And sleep is indeed important?  But is it really a good excuse to skip a planned morning movement session?  Better to rework your schedule to skip that late night Netflix binge and go to bed a little earlier and make waking up your priority.

Determining your priorities and honoring them is part of the trick.  Over the years I have tried and failed many times to implement an early morning routine.  After many failed attempts and a stubborn persistence to keep trying, I can finally say I have figured out the magic combination for myself that has had me successfully rising early on a regular basis.  In fact a little over a week ago, I got up at 2:30 am in order to get my long run in before my boys woke up for the day because running was important and so was spending time with the kiddos!

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This was my alarm.  I don’t recommend this often….but on occasion it was actually pretty cool!

 

While I don’t recommend a 2:30 am wake-up call every day, here are 9 strategies I use to help me get going each day before the sun rises:

1. Go to bed early – Maybe it goes without saying, but sacrificing a good night’s sleep in order to rise early is not a good long term strategy.  Like a diet of all watermelon, it might work the first day or two through sheer strength of will, but I promise you it won’t last.  Determine what time you want to wake up and then count back 7-8 hours.  That’s your bed time.  I rise at 4:30 or 4:45 most mornings.  This means a 9pm bedtime for me and I honor it.  Don’t let sleep be your excuse.

2. Make a date with friends – Convince some of your other crazy friends to get up early with you.  It’s much easier to roll out of a warm bed and get moving when you know you have a friend who will be left alone waiting (and super pissed I might add) if you don’t show up.  Additionally, you get wonderful social time, which is often otherwise difficult as life gets so busy.  This is the best sort of multi-tasking.

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Crazy friends will get you through a lot!

3. Smile – When you walk in the bathroom to brush your teeth and get dressed, give yourself a big smile in the mirror, even if you don’t want to or feel silly.  No one is watching but you and smiling has been shown to release endorphins, which act as a natural pain killer and mood lifter.  Smiles are also contagious, like a yawn.  It is hard to be around someone smiling without feeling some joy.  That smiling someone can easily be you.  I can’t say enough about the power of a smile!

4. Drive to a favorite running spot – Driving to a favorite running spot seems counterintuitive, but if it means meeting friends or running in a place that brings you joy, you will look forward to your run rather then dreading another circle around your neighborhood.  Unless you are lucky enough to have a favorite running spot out your front door, treat yourself at least once a week to a run in your favorite place.

5.  Give yourself enough time – When deciding what time to wake up, be sure to give yourself enough time to get everything done that you need to before heading to work or getting kids to school or whatever your day holds.  If your morning becomes a frenzied rush from one action to another, it will create more stress.  You run to feel good and if your morning becomes toxic because it is so hurried, you won’t enjoy it anymore.  If you just can’t bring yourself to wake up 15 minutes earlier, try getting stuff ready for work or school the night before.  Cut out unnecessary beauty routines (like washing your hair every day – totally unnecessary folks and dry shampoo is incredible) or readjust your work schedule slightly.

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Look at that smile as I start my 3 am run-  POWERFUL!

6. Practice, Practice, Practice – We have all heard about building muscle memory for our physical body.  Think riding a bike.  Once you learn, your body will always remember.  The cool thing is the same is true for our brains.  The more you do it, the better you get at it because it becomes routine.  We all are designed to be creatures of habit at least to some degree so make it a habit to get up early even if you aren’t going to exercise that day.  A chance to sip a cup of coffee and read a good book is enjoyable too.

7. Implement the Old Standby – If nothing else,  go for at least 10 minutes, or change a run to a walk.  Once you’re out there, 9 times out of 10, you will decide that 10 minutes isn’t enough or you really do feel like a run.  Before you know it, you whole planned workout is complete.  For those times that you do end your movement after 10 minutes, you practiced getting out of bed which is valuable in itself (see #6).

8.  Plan Your Attack – Plan the night before where you will run, what time, with whom, what you will wear, etc.  Our brains don’t make wise choices when we are tired so don’t leave any choices for the morning when your brain is still waking up.  I promise you – your brain will try to tell you that staying in bed is the wiser choice.  Don’t let it.  Must…Be…Robot.

9. Build the Pavlovian Response – Think of getting up early in the same way as training a dog.  I know it sounds funny, but bear with me.  When you teach a dog to sit, you give them a treat every time they sit – right?  It’s the Pavlovian Response. Eventually they sit every time you say “sit” because they believe they will receive a treat, even when it isn’t always there.  What’s a special treat for you?  A fresh roasted cup of coffee, a yummy breakfast sandwich, a hot bath, climbing back in bed for extra snuggle time (or sex…running is an aphrodisiac after all!)….Reward yourself for your accomplishments, especially in the beginning as you build that muscle memory of the brain.  (Caution:  Don’t over indulge…a brownie bite might be okay, but probably not the whole pan.)

By implementing these tips, I have been able to revolutionize my way of looking at my world, myself, and my physical fitness.  When you start the day in such a positive way, you feel like you can take on anything big or small.  You feel like a Bad Ass!!!  Try it and you will see for yourself.

And one final BONUS TIP : Move to Phoenix (at least for a summer) – lots of these tricks were hard for me to implement until living in Phoenix through the summer months when running any other time than o’dark thirty is not an option because it is so darn hot.  Helps when you don’t have any other choices.  You either go or you don’t run at all.  While maybe Phoenix isn’t the place for you, you can recreate this in other ways by making plans for the evening or building your schedule in such a way that the choice is no longer there.  It’s amazing what we can all do when we have no other option.

What tricks do you use to get yourself up and going each day?  Please share in the comments below!

What to do When Good Runs Go South

Two Fridays ago, hubby and I went north to Prescott, AZ.  Our plan was to camp and then run on the Prescott Circle Trail Saturday morning.  After my Whiskey Basin 57K on the same trail, I was eager to share it with Kenny.  Beating the heat, enjoying good company, and getting into the woods were our main goals for the trip.

Unfortunately, my day got off to a rocky start.  Fight with a friend, difficult staff problems, and last minute stressful packing all conspired to ruin our trip.  But Kenny was supportive and great about getting the car packed, leaving me to fume.  Then he listened to my woes as I unleashed all my frustration.  What a man!!  After letting off some steam, I was able to settle down and focus on the excitement of our adventure.

We got to Prescott later than we hoped and were left finding a dispersed camping site in the dark.  Never having camped in this location, we were at a bit of a loss as we bumped down the dirt road, keeping our eyes peeled for a sites.  Once we found one, we set up camp in no time.

We were packing light since we only needed to sleep and then rise for a run the next morning.  No fancy camping.  We pitched the tent, unrolled sleeping bags and ate our dinner by the light of our headlamps before settling down for the evening.  The evening was peaceful and relaxing, setting us up for a good run the next morning.  At 11:30 pm a car parked in a nearby site and start blasting the worst music ever.  Worried this was a bad omen for the next day, I desperately covered my ears.

But at last, quiet settled in and we drifted off.

Dawn broke and we rose, the Prescott Circle Trail calling our name.  We got off to a great start, beginning at the Thumb Butte Recreation Area.  The trail was beautiful.  Pine forest providing blessed shade, a cool breeze in the air.  I was setting out for a 5 hour round trip – 2.5 out and then back.  Hubby was planning to start with me and then continue on ahead for the same amount of time, but at a faster pace.  Yet as we started running together, it was so enjoyable that we ended up staying together for the whole time.

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Beginning of the Run…Happy and Excited

The first 2.5 hours were wonderful.  I felt great.  Ran within my heart rate for the most part, fast-packing as necessary to keep it down.  We hit our turnaround time at 10 miles and I was happy with the pace.  I felt strong, happy and overall really pleased.  We kept marveling at the beauty around us.  It brought back memories of Oregon and got us excited for our upcoming trip to run the McKenzie River Trail Run in Sept.

As we turned around we faced a 2 mile climb back up hill.  It wasn’t horribly steep, only about 750 feet over the 2 miles, but it was completely exposed as we were out of the pine cover.  The heat started to get to me.

Once we hit the top, with a little less than 8 miles to go, we started picking up the pace.  I ignored my heart rate and opened up.  As I cruised down the hill, I felt amazing….until I didn’t.

At a higher heart rate, the body has a harder time absorbing nutrients and fluids.  Dehydration set in, my stomach getting nauseous and a light throbbing behind my temples.   My run took a steep down for the south pole.  So what to do when a good run (or race for that matter) heads south?  How do you pull it back together?

Here are some strategies that work for me and helped me pull this run out of the gutter allowing me to end happy:

  • Change the Pace – Slowing down is a good strategy if you are nauseous, lightheaded, struggling to keep down food or absorb nutrients.  Allowing the heart rate to drop puts you into a zone where your biologic functions can kick back into gear.  Speeding up the pace is a good strategy when your legs feel heavy, your body is getting stiff, the pace seems hard to maintain.  If you pick up the pace for even a little bit, it shifts the work to different muscles, giving others a break.  If and inevitably when you slow back down, you likely will not need to slow as much to get into an easy pace.
  • Initiate a Conversation – If you are running with a partner or pacer, ask them to talk to you about something, anything.  The most mundane topic can be so amusing in moments of discomfort.  Want to talk about cars?  Sure – go for it!  Want to talk about that coworker you just can’t stand? Bring it on!  Topics that require thought and focus can be helpful, but often that extra focus may be more than your overwhelmed brain can handle at the moment.  Simple topics or even stupid jokes seem to work best.  By yourself?  Well, no one will mess with you if you are taking to yourself!
  • Focus on Form – Taking your mind off what you are doing can be helpful but on the flip side, ultra focus on form can also be helpful.  Rather than thinking about how tired you are, how much your stomach hurts, and so on, let those thoughts roll past and instead turn your attention to your form.  Are you lifting from the head? Legs opening behind you, body leaning forward from the ankles?  Focusing on form gives your brain a task.  More importantly when we get tired and aching, form starts to go making aches and pains worse and bringing fatigue faster.  Focus on form will keep you as efficient as possible.
  • Accept What You Cannot Change – When running long distance, you are going to find times that you are uncomfortable, in pain, mentally taxed.  This is normal and you have likely experienced it before and survived.  While this may seem counter intuitive, there are no good or bad thoughts.  They are all just thoughts.  When we start into a negative spiral, it becomes difficult to move past because we assign a judgment to it.  But when you let go of placing judgement on the thoughts you are having, you will find that it is easier to let go and accept that in that moment, you cannot change that you are running long, you cannot change that you are in pain.  Letting go mentally of the discomfort and pain often corresponds to a physical letting go of discomfort and pain.  You might be surprised to find that the knee that ached so badly 15 minutes ago no longer hurts at all.

Next time you find a run heading south, try some of these tricks to find what works for you.

Do you have any other tricks that you have find useful?  Please leave in the comments below for us all to try!!