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……

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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.

When Tragedy Strikes Close to Home

A woman woke this morning, laced up her running shoes and headed out the door. It is a routine that I myself do almost daily and it is the very thing that keeps my depression at bay and that helps me be the best person that I can be. I am a better mother, wife, and woman because of this routine.

Thousands of women do this same routine, rising before the family to get in the very activity that sets them free. For one Ahwatukee woman, when she stepped out the door this morning, she would never go home again.

I spent the day mourning the death of Martha Hilts of Ahwatukee. I have never met her, but I have shared the same streets, run the same roads. Several women in my running club set out for a run on in the exact same place only 30 minutes after the tragedy struck. How easily it could have been one of them. How easily it could have been me.

As I share my grief with my friends who are dealing with similar surreal feelings, I see us thinking of all the “what ifs?” This reaction leaves us afraid to leave home, afraid to run the same roads we are used to running, afraid that next time it will be our kids that will be left with broken hearts.

My depression, that little devil that whispers so smoothly into my ear, convincing me of its lies, wants me to give into that fear. But running has helped me grow stronger than my depression and each moment is worth living because each moment is all we have. There is no guarantee for the future and it is up to each of us to make each day count. I will not let fear or depression take control of my life.

So while I can’t control what happens around me, I can take steps to make my running experience safer.

Running Safety Tips

  1. Use Headphones Wisely – It is common to hear, “Don’t run with headphones” saying no headphones and expecting running to follow that advice is like teaching a teenager only about abstinence. Many choose to ignore that advice. So I say use headphones wisely – keep the volume low so you can hear sounds around you at all times, run with only one ear bud in, or choose a pair of bone conducting headphones like the Trekz Titanium so you can always hear your surroundings.
  2. Run Against Traffic – This will allow you to see what is coming, how the car is being driven, and so on. Is the car swerving or driving right on the line? That’s a good indication to get as far off the road as possible.
  3. Wear High Visibility Gear – Reflective vests, headlamps, blinking lights. If it is dark out, make sure that you can be seen.
  4. Stay Alert and Vigilant – Even with high visibility gear, always assume that you haven’t been seen. Even though the law gives the right of way to pedestrians, this doesn’t matter if you lose the battle with a car. Chances are very much in favor of the 1200 pound metal box.
  5. Make Eye Contact – If you are crossing the street or a drive, make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of the car. Drivers, especially ones who aren’t active themselves, don’t always think to look for pedestrians. Don’t assume they see you.
  6. Wear or Carry Identification – If something does happen, identification will allow responders to get in contact with your family, identify medical history, and know how to best take care of you. RoadID.com carries a lot of great wearables, but sticking your license in your pocket works just as well.
  7. Run with Friends or a Dog – While it may not keep you safe from a car, running with friends or a dog can keep you safe from other people or wildlife. Both are less likely to attack if you travel in pairs or multiples.
  8. Trust Your Spidey Senses – If you see someone out and you get a feeling of unease, go a different way, cross the street (carefully) or turn around. In most cases, the odds are that person or situation is probably not a big deal, but don’t take that chance if your gut is telling you otherwise.
  9. Make Your Plans Known to the Right People – Don’t broadcast your running route on social media, but let a family member or friend know where you are going and when you expect to be home. Someone needs to know where to look for you should the worst happen.
  10. Don’t Let Fear Stop You – It is easy to become paralyzed in the face of fear. Use your fear to arm you with wise safety tools, and then get out there anyway.

As our community recovers from this tragedy, a lot of us, though we did not know her, will be remembering Martha Hilts and her loved ones in the steps we run each and every day.

Call to Action: What do you do for safety? Comment below on other words of wisdom that you can share with others to keep us safe as we continue our running journeys.

Don’t Let Opportunities Pass You By

                  “Opportunities go right by you because you think you’re not ready.” David Goggins, Retired Navy Seal and Ultra-Endurance Athlete 

Over the summer, I was debating whether or not I should do Antelope Canyon as my first 50 mile ultra.  I wrote about how it seemed meant to be because of an old photo I found of Horseshoe Bend in my vision board, but also how I was terrified of heights and fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle the heights in the race.

After attending a ChiRunning Clinic and talking to the instructor, Lisa, about her experience, especially because she also fears heights, I felt a little more confident.   In attendance was also another runner, Tricia, who had signed up for the race as her first ever ultra distance.  Inspired by these two ladies, I went home that day and signed up as well.   Unfortunately, by this point, the race was full so I was put on a wait list with 114 people ahead of me.  For an ultra, that is a lot of people and the likelihood of me getting into this race was looking slim. Read more

Grand Canyon: Hike to Skeleton Point

Last weekend I went to the Grand Canyon for the first time.  You can read about the beginning of my adventure in this post.  After finishing the Grand Canyon Half Marathon Saturday morning, C and I decided to hike below the canyon rim.  After exploring our options on Bright Angel versus South Kaibab, C and I opted to hike to Skeleton Point.  Not only was this a prime destination, it also would allow us to join Adventure Race’s Skeleton Club.  Our destination was set.

I was feeling a little apprehension since I am deathly afraid of heights.  Or more appropriately, I am deathly afraid of the long agonizing fall and subsequent splat that results from an untimely departure from a high place.  Since this was my first trip to the Grand Canyon, I was uncertain how I would handle the trails.  Nevertheless, I refused to let my fear hold me back though. Read more

No Longer A Grand Canyon Virgin

Friday afternoon I arrived in Tusayan, AZ to spend a weekend camping, running, and hiking with friends in the Grand Canyon – my very first trip.   I have been struggling a lot for the last several months and in the days leading up to this adventure, I was dreading going.  I had talked myself into thinking it was not going to be worth my time, that it was more stress than it was worth, and that being away from my family for two days was a bad idea.

In addition to all of this, I had convinced myself that my visit to the Grand Canyon would result in me falling to a spectacular and horrible death.  Some days I can be a smidgen dramatic.

Luckily I have a lot of practice following through on the very things that my brain is so diligently telling me “Do Not Do”.  In addition to that, I recently embraced ChiRunning which adds a whole new perspective to my running – one that brings more than just the physical benefits (I’ll tell you more about that soon).  So Friday morning, I packed up my vehicle, picked up my friend, “C”, and we were on our way.

By the time we reached Tusayan, I was already feeling a thousand times better.  Laughter and good conversation will do that for a girl.   We pitched our tent and went to the race expo to pick up our packets for the Grand Canyon Half Marathon.   We were going to run the race the next morning and the expo was charged with great energy and excitement for the next day.

C and I talked about heading to the visitors center to check out the canyon that night.  We had plans to hike the next day after the race but didn’t want to waste an opportunity to see such a wonder.  I was feeling nervous because the heights at the Grand Canyon have worried me for a while.  I think C was getting nervous on my behalf, but she did a great job easing my fears by teasing me that any moment we were going to drive right off the cliff.  Making light of a fear can be a powerful tactic.

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I can’t pull off a trucker hat, but I am rockin these cute sunglasses and the sleeve from a men’s running shirt on my head!

We also spent lots of time laughing at the odd shape of my head that prevents me from looking cute in a trucker hat.  If you are a trail runner, you will know how cute so many women look in trucker hats.  Crazy I know, but very true.  And I am desperate to find one that I like, but alas to no avail.  We decided that my head was too much like a shrunken apple for me to ever look cute in a trucker hat!

The trip to the visitor’s center was well worth it as I got to enjoy the splendor of the Grand Canyon for the first time.  No longer a Grand Canyon virgin, I can say that it is well worth the obstacles to get there.  No wonder people travel from all over the world to take in its beauty.  I am still awestruck almost a week later.

We headed back to our campsite where we hunkered down for the night.  Temps were going to drop into the 20s and we were getting prepared.  C wrapped herself in her mummy bag and I prayed I wouldn’t need too many middle of the night potty trips into the frigid woods.    We survived, though I did learn that a Tempurpedic pillow turns to a solid rock in freezing temperatures.  Lesson learned.

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Her nose got cold in the night but the rest of her stayed pretty toasty.

The next morning we awoke to find another friend, “K”,  had just arrived after traveling 24 hours home from a relief mission in Puerto Rico.  This chick is amazing and we were so excited that she was able to join us.  I had planned to run the half with her and had been disappointed when it appeared she might not make it, so having her with us was quite the treat.

The half course did not go into the National Park grounds, but it did snake through the Kaibab National Forest.  After so many months running in the desert, being surrounded by trees was a nice change.  I love the wonder of tall pines towering over my head and the company was nothing short of phenomenal.  K was a rock star completing the race after so many hours of traveling.  At one point she even asked me to run ahead and see if we could catch the 3 hour pace group.  What an ambitious inspirational woman!

Unfortunately I discovered the 3 hour pace group was about 3/4 of a mile ahead and that was too much space for K to make up in the last 3 miles.  But it was funny to see the faces of the runners who saw me running in the wrong direction when I headed back to find K and let her know.  Bonus, I got in an extra mile which is always welcome!

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K totally rocked the Smurf Blue pants!

I will write more in my next post about the hike to Skeleton point that followed but I need to pause and reflect for a minute on how I felt at the end of this race compared to the morning before.  The morning before, I was almost in tears trying to convince myself to go on this trip.  I was overwhelmed by the very thought of doing something for myself. We finished the race with smiles on our faces and laughter on our lips.

When I am feeling down, the best medicine is a run, getting into nature, being with friends and family.  These activities are often the hardest for me to motivate myself to do when my depression is at its strongest.   With practice, I have learned to let those destructive thoughts flow away.  I may not control when my depression flares up, but I control my own choices.  My depression does not control me.

It has been a long hard road to be able to persevere when the going gets tough and it is not at all easy.  With relentless forward progress, it is only possible where once it was impossible.

The journey continues…..

HR Monitor Training Requires Focus

Running according to my heart rate requires an intense amount of focus. Throughout the summer, I did every single run within an aerobic heart rate zone. This means that at the beginning of each run, I had to focus on starting slowly and building up my heart rate to the max level over about 10-15 minutes. Then, I had to focus on keeping my pace slow enough that I was able to keep my heart rate under the max limit but also fast enough that I didn’t drop more than 10 beats below my max.

Read more