How to Choose What Helps YOU Grow

We live in a culture of do more with less time, less money, less resources.  Your Facebook feed is probably littered with articles such as “Do XYZ every day” and “5 Food to Eat Every Day” and “10 Habits of Successful People”.  The message is always the same….do this or that every day and you will be successful, whatever that means.

Runners further encounter this on a targeted level.  Do more strength training, run more miles slowly, do HIIT training, run hill repeats, do track workouts, eat more protein, eat 100% plant based and the list goes on.  It can get very overwhelming to sort through it all for new and old runners alike.  To make matters worse, the advice can frequently be conflicting.  What is a runner (or any person) supposed to do?

When I first started running, I tried to do it all and I burned out fast, quick, and in a hurry.  As a result, finding motivation was an intense struggle and my depression took advantage of this struggle.  I could not find consistency in my exercise or daily routines and became bogged down with guilt.

I wondered how “real” runners were able to do it all.  I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t be this super human being.  I wondered why I could be successful in other parts of my life, but not this one.  I wondered what I was doing wrong.

When I turned to others (either in person or via the internet or social media), I got lots of advice – all colored by that individuals experiences and needs.  It took me a long time to realize that I needed to focus on what worked for myself, not others.

Sorting through it all and finding what works for you is a process.  See, the meaning of life is all about our journey, not the destination.  Life it not meant to be easy and comfortable.  Life is meant to be raw and dirty and leave us bloody and bruised.  It is only with these battle scars and life lessons that we grow stronger and truly experience life.  We are born with a seed inside that contains the code to our best selves.  Within this imperceptible seed, all the answers exist.

In order to decode this seed, we must nurture and water and put effort into its growth.  It may turn into a mighty oak or a delicate cherry blossom or a powerful eagle.  It may grow into one thing one day and morph a year or 10 years down the road.

Or It can wither and die on the vine.  From the day we are born, we are in a continual process of growth or death….it is up to us to decide through our actions which direction we are headed.

How do we decide which actions are going to help and which are going to hinder?

  • COURAGE TO TRY SOMETHING NEW – Try new things, whether it be a new food, new workout, or new way of talking to your partner about an issue.  We can never discover what work best if we are unwilling to try.  It can be easy to get stuck in our ways, but unless we try something new, we will never know.  Failure will occur, but it is only in risking failure that we discover.
  • SELF REFLECTION – With all things, it is only in reflection and assessment that we can learn what works.  Trying something new is important, but it is equally important to ask – “Did that work for me?”  (Word of Caution: Don’t give up if it didn’t work the first time.  It can take several attempts for a new food, workout, attitude, etc. to produce results)
  • COURAGE TO SAY NO – If you determine something does NOT work for you, have the courage to say NO!  If a workout or food or way of living does not work for you, then stand strong and focus your energy in other places.  Social media can drive us to think that we should be just like our friends, but we are all unique and special individuals.
  • SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY – Find a supportive community, either in person or via social media.  A supportive community, no matter how big or small, will not tell you what to do, will not ask you to be other than you are, but will give you the right pushes and nudges and encouragement to grow while providing a softer landing for when you fail.   Do not be afraid to cut out those in your life that do not help you become your best self.
  • BELIEF IN YOURSELF – At the end of the day, only YOU can be an expert in you.  Believe in yourself because if you are unwilling to believe in yourself, no one else is going to do it for you.

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Becoming an Ultra Runner Started with the Courage to Face My Fears

I recently ran 50 miles for the time at the Antelope Canyon UltraMarathon. It was an amazing accomplishment and I am immensely proud of myself. As I reflect on this latest accomplish, I can’t help but turn back time to the first time I ran 4 miles where the dreams of being a long distance runner all began.

I was living in Clarksville, TN and I had been going out for 2-3 mile runs pretty regularly. The moment I decided I wanted to start going longer, the idea of going farther than 3 miles was daunting and terrifying. But I wouldn’t be deterred and I went out for one of my regular 3 mile routes. When I got back to the beginning, I shot down a different road to add another mile. I felt determined.

As I turned down the road, two old ladies walking their Pekingese were coming straight at me. I swerved and ducked around them and the yappy little dog. They called out, “Great job, how far are you running?”

I sang back, “I’m going on my fourth mile!! Can you believe it?”

These ladies didn’t know me from Eve. There was no reference for them to either believe or not believe that I was capable of this monumental feat. But I wasn’t speaking to them, was I? I was telling myself, proud and out loud, to make sure that I knew, beyond a doubt, that I was capable of such a feat. That fourth mile was a door that I busted open to greater possibilities.

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I was afraid I wasn’t going to fit…talk about a tight squeeze!

The significance of this moment rises to the ranks of my wedding day, the birth of my children, and completing a 50 mile race.

At that time, 4 miles was epic, almost beyond comprehension. Today, 4 miles is as easy as walking to the mailbox. I have to push myself to new heights and new challenges to get that same sense of pride and accomplishment. But as I conquer new feats, I am grounded in the understanding that it all began with a single step and the courage to conquer a fear.

The courage to put on running shoes and step out for the time – I was terrified I couldn’t do it, but I did it anyway.

The courage to go to a running store to purchase running shoes – I was terrified they would laugh at the newbie, but I did it anyway.

The courage to register for a race – I was terrified I would be a laughingstock, but I did it anyway.

The courage to show up for a group run with strangers – I was terrified no one would talk to me or run with me and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but I did it anyway.

Each time I had the courage to overcome a fear has brought me one step closer to where I am today. And it gives me the foundation to know that each time I face a new fear I have within me the courage to do it anyway.

Gary “Laz” Cantrell, infamous Barkley Marathons race director said, “If you are going to face a real challenge, it has to be a real challenge. You can’t possibly accomplish anything without the possibility of failure”.

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Trail running used to be a big fear and now it is my sanctuary

Once upon a time, I took a risk to give running a try knowing that I could fail. Today it is longer and longer runs, running with stronger and stronger runners and most recently going to the gym to do strength training – but I seek out those things that scare me, the places I am vulnerable and try them anyways. Through these actions, I have proven to myself I am stronger than my fears, stronger than my depression, stronger that I realized. I surprise myself time and again and my goal is to keep surprising myself for a long time to come.

What are you afraid of doing for fear of failure? Whatever your answer…..put that at the top of your to-do list! The journey continues…..

2018 ~ Setting Focuses…Not Resolutions!

At the end of each year, I like to reflect on what the last year brought into my life.  Much like a daily gratitude journal, a yearly reflection allows me to assess how far I have (or have not) come.  Before I look forward to the next year, I take account of my lessons learned.

2017 brought much into my life.  I proved to myself that I am a capable endurance runner and much braver than I thought.  I tackled trails all alone that would have scared me in years gone by.  Kenny’s and my relationship grew to a whole new level of wonderfulness.  I was given the opportunity for a temporary promotion which I feel I tackled successfully.

On a rougher note, our boys had a difficult year in a few ways.   By association as parents, we did too.   And juggling Kenny’s return to school was a tough transition for the family.  But through these experiences, we grew to be an even closer family.

While in a few ways, 2017 was one of the most difficult years of my life, in others, it was a year of tremendous growth, love, learning, and adventure.

Learning from the past is critical to plan better for the future.

Looking ahead to 2018, I do not care for New Year’s Resolutions.  Like many, I do not see value in making a promise that is destined to be short-lived.  Resolutions like, “I will never eat another piece of candy again” are bound to fail!  Instead, I prefer to use any new beginning as a chance to determine how I would like to grow and commit to focusing on those actions next.  This happens at various times throughout the year, but after the winter holidays, and with the returning of the warming energizing power of the Sun, the New Year is a fitting time to re-examine my focuses and commit to them out loud.

As I step into 2018, I have established three areas of focus for my life:

Intimacy in My Most Important Relationship

I cuddle with my kids. I share meals and stories with friends.  At times, I spend more time with co-workers than I do my spouse.  But oh sweet intimacy, only my best friend/partner/spouse receives that.  I divulge thoughts and feelings I would not share with anyone else.  I give my physical being to my spouse.  I trust him with every bit of my vulnerability. Yet despite the importance of intimacy in setting this relationship apart from all the others in my life, it is easily lost in the daily chaos.  For 2018, I would like to focus on making intimacy in my marriage a higher priority.

Getting my Children Outdoors More Often

My boys are pretty active.  They jump on the trampoline every day, play on their swing set, love bike rides and swimming.  Inevitably however, they get overly excited about playing on their tablets or wanting to find “easy” entertainment.  Yet, whenever we venture into the great outdoors, they always find joy in it.  Getting dirty is good for the body, mind, and soul and while I do it regularly for myself, I don’t drag my kids along often enough.  For 2018, I would like to focus on getting my boys into the great outdoors more often.  Camping, hiking, swimming in lakes and rivers, kayaking, paddle-boarding, mountain biking….anything that leads to fresh air, dirty feet, and a joyful heart.

Running with Women Who Are Stronger and Faster than Me

I love the times when I have runners who join me to push themselves.  I find great joy in helping other women find their next level.  But when I am destined to be the slower runner, I get nervous, anxious, fearful.  What will they think of me?  Will they assume that I am a terrible person because I can’t run as fast as them?  What if they never want to run with me again or even be my friend?  HAHA….It is just ludicrous the ideas that go through my head when vulnerability knocks down the door.  Yet, the times I have overcome my fear, I have found great pride in myself at pushing to a next level.  For 2018, I would like to focus on allowing myself to be vulnerable and dare to chase that next level of accomplishment.

Setting focuses for the year remind me of the intention I like to set before a run or yoga class.  There are always areas I want to improve in my life and if I try to do them all at once, I will fail at everything.  Breaking down my goals into smaller focuses will give me a chance to make some real progress towards the woman I want to become while not losing the beautiful parts of who I already am.

The journey continues……

Every Run Needs a Purpose

Running is a powerful tool in coping with depression and really just life in general.  The physical activity relieves stress while releasing endorphins that elevate the mood.  Many of the runs I do have the sole purpose of giving me release from the chains of depression.  

Runs all need a purpose.  Some days it is a cure-all for emotional distress.  Other days it is pushing for a new personal record.  And at other times it is also a chance to seek out new adventures.  

What happens when a run lacks purpose?  Most runs that lack purpose feel flat and unfulfilling.  You naturally fall back into habits and the full benefit of that run gets lost.  On the other hand, giving a run purpose provides a foundation for the movement in that run and helps you focus expectations.

How do you set purpose for a run?

  1. Begin by planning ahead.  Having a training plan that identifies each run and its purpose ahead of time helps set the stage long before you lace up your shoes.
  2. For each run decide what conditions you need to fulfill that purpose.  For example, if I am doing a tempo run, I like to get some faster friends along for the ride to help me push the pace.  Make arrangements to have those conditions met.
  3. The night before set the stage for execution.  Is the intention of your run to socialize with friends after work?  Then be sure to pack clothes so you don’t have to come home after work, but rather can go straight to your meet-up.
  4. At the beginning of each run, silently or out loud, set an intention.  Tell yourself, “On Today’s run I want to……”  Use this intention to set the expectation for the run and let all other expectations go. If your intention is to use the run as a recovery run, that is the intention.  Do not expect to set a new personal record on Strava that day and be okay with that because running fast is not the intention for that days run.  
  5. Don’t be afraid to adjust your purpose if you need to for that day.  You may have an endurance run planned, but just need to get anger and frustration out so you can be present for your family.  Do it.  Maybe you are tired from a long week and just need an easy run or have missed a friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Change your purpose to get what you need in your life.  

What are some examples of purposes for a run?  We often think of the purely physical purposes….tempo run, fartlek run, long run, and so on.  But for the majority of us, there are far greater and more important reasons to run than just getting faster or running longer.  

Here are some of the intentions I choose to set before a run:

  1. Social interaction – spending time with friends and deepening relationships
  2. Good for the soul – spending time in nature and reconnecting with my inner self
  3. Adventure – seeing and exploring new places
  4. Stress Relief – pounding out anger from a hard and frustrating day
  5. Recovery – moving my muscles in an easy way to stimulate recovery from hard efforts
  6. Building Speed – shorter bursts of faster speed to build speed for longer runs
  7. Building Endurance – long miles in an aerobic zone to build the bodies endurance

Picking the purpose of your run helps you be ever mindful of what you are seeking to get out of your running.  If you give running the chance, it will deliver far more than physical fitness.  It will deliver some of the strongest friendships, the best mental health medicine, ability to deal with conflict and challenging events in life, and so much more.  

What are some other intentions you have set for a run?  How do you give your run purpose?

Build longevity, embrace the delicate within and let the journey continue…..

3 Ways ChiRunning Helps Battle Depression

This post has taken me several months to write mostly because there is so much information to digest and I am having a hard time determining how to form my thoughts.  I wrote a draft about what ChiRunning is and how it helps prevent injury, but it just didn’t feel right.  So I shelved it and thought about it some more. 

Then it occurred to me.  What matters the most in my world is how ChiRunning has helped my depression.   

It started in April when I attended my first ChiRunning clinic with Lisa Pozzoni of The Running University.  Then picked up momentum when I took Kenny to a ChiRunning clinic for our anniversary.  Pause…what is ChiRunning you say?  

ChiRunning is a form of running that integrates principles of TaiChi.  This unique approach results in running naturally and injury free. The mission of ChiRunning is to help people “Love Running Forever”.  You can learn more about how to practice ChiRunning by checking out the various books and videos here, or better yet take a workshop from a local certified instructor.

As you learn about ChiRunning and practice, you will find that there are common issues that most runners have to some degree.

Heel Striking – Leading with the legs rather than upper body results in landing on the heels, essentially putting on the breaks with every running step.  Not only does this slow a runner down, it also sends a jarring impact up the leg.  Shortening the stride and landing with the feet underneath the body prevents this jarring impact.  

Low Cadence – Ideal cadence is 170-180 steps per minutes yet most people run closer to 160 or 165 steps per minute.  This causes a runner’s feet to stay on the ground too long.  The longer the feet are on the ground the more energy goes into getting it back off the ground rather than forward motion.  

Arm Swing – Arms should act as a pendulum and swing forward and backward with a 90 degree angle at the elbow.   Many runners however twist back and forth from the shoulders, wasting energy in the side to side motion.  Not only does this take energy away from forward momentum, it can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders.

ChiRunning provides solutions to these common issues which helps eliminate and prevent injuries.  It also teaches a runner how to listen to the body and connect with the energy within.  As I have deepened my ChiRunning practice I have addressed these issues in myself.  And as it begins to feel more and more natural, I have started to feel a flow to my running that is quite beautiful.   It is within this flow that ChiRunning has become a powerful tool in my arsenal when battling my depression.  

THREE MAJOR WAYS CHIRUNNING HELPS MY DEPRESSION:

Deeper Connection With My Body – Chi Running teaches Body Sensing as a technique to check-in with the body and assess form.  As I have been practicing Body Sensing, I have become more in tune with how my body is feeling.  At first, I was worried that body sensing would cause me to get so wrapped up in my discomfort that my running would no longer be enjoyable.  What I have found instead is that when I identify discomfort, I can adjust my form to alleviate it.  More often than not, I am finding that I am identifying strengths I didn’t always realize I had.  Rather than thoughts of, “My legs are so tired” or “my breathing is so labored”, I catch myself thinking, “I feel strong and powerful” and “I feel like I am floating over the ground”.  The more frequently I talk positively to myself the easier it is to allow depressive thoughts to flow past and pull myself back to a positive place.

Flowing Energy – Much of ChiRunning is about body alignment and smooth flowing movement.  Visualize a needle stuck through cotton.  The core of the body is the needle, strong and firm and tall.  Rather than getting stuck within inefficient motions, the body flows around this needle, gently along for the ride.  On an energetic level, blockages to free flowing energy can cause ailments of the body and mind, while free flowing energy can alleviate them.  My depression is easier to manage when energy is moving freely throughout my body.

Consistency – One of the main objectives of ChiRunning is to run injury free.  One of the greatest medicines for my depression is running.  Running injury free allows me to be able to run consistently, allowing for that daily dose of medicine that I so desperately need.  I have learned that 5 days a week is necessary for my mental well-being.   Injuries lead to missed runs which leads to withdraw which leads to long hours in bed on the verge of tears.  ChiRunning is like an insurance policy against missed days.

Running has saved me from despair on many occasions.  ChiRunning has strengthened my running and by association, strengthened my ability to battle depression.  With running, and specifically ChiRunning, the journey continues……

The ABCs of Happiness

Dealing with depression on a daily basis is a challenge. Even for those that don’t struggle with depression, days can become full of frustration and the struggles of work and groceries, homework and meals. Often it feels like happiness is elusive.

But happiness is a choice and one that is YOURS and MINE to make. It is helpful to have a strategy to aid in making this choice. I sat down and gave some thought to the various words of wisdom that I try to incorporate into my daily life. Practicing The ABCs of Happiness aids in keeping my depression at bay and supports healthy living.

A – Always be willing to say you are sorry first when you are wrong and sometimes even when you are not.

B – Believe in the good in yourself and in those around you.

C – Chase after dreams and goals that are your own not someone else’s.

D – Dream big, live large, but in the way that you define is right for you.

E – Embrace that which makes you delicate; it is the delicate that teaches us to be strong.

F – Find gratitude each and every day in both big and small ways.

G – Give love and affection to others and accept the love and affection others give to you.

H – Have courage to buck societal norms and pave a path that is true to your heart.

I – Intentionality….start your day with setting an intention and remember it throughout the day.

J – Jump and play like a kid often.

K – Know your limitations then bust through them anyway!

L – Love large, put your heart out there, you will never receive love if you don’t give it first.

M – Make time for self love and self care.

N – Never be afraid to take a risk.

O – Open your eyes and heart to the perspective of others. You may not agree but you will learn something.

P – Pursue your dreams relentlessly.

Q – Query others on they do to find joy and try out some of their ideas.

R – Respect everyone even if you don’t like them.

S – Show compassion always.

T – Try new things, places, etc. regularly

U – Use your time wisely.

V – Value relationships and experiences over material possessions.

W – Wait until your emotions subside before dealing with difficult issues so you can approach the situation with a clear head.

X – X-ray yourself regularly to find out where you can work on being a better person.

Y – Yearn for the future, cherish the past, LIVE in the present

Z – Zero grudges, zero regrets.

Call to action: What do you live by that helps you choose happiness in your life? Comment below.