5 Ways to Embrace Gratitude This Holiday Season

We have cycled around to another holiday season.  Thanksgiving is upon us and we are pausing to take stock in our blessings.  An “Attitude of Gratitude” is the motto of the day.

It is easy in the day to day to focus on negativity.  Sometimes in between rushing to soccer practice, and traveling for work, and paying bills, we lose sight all that we are grateful for in our lives.  Being grateful take practice.

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Getting my stretches in while chalking up the sidewalks

Today I was able to start my day by combining two of my biggest blessings…running with my Moms RUN This Town (MRTT) community and spending time with my family.  Our MRTT chapter organized a Turkey Trot 5K run.  It wasn’t formal – no race bibs, no registration, no timing.  Just show up and run, with love and laughter.

Prior to the race, a few of us got together and exercised our stealth “chalking” skills.  We  loaded up the neighborhood sidewalks with sayings of thanks and positivity.  Several people were out walking and asked what we were doing.  I was thrilled to tell them we were setting up for a community run.  It felt so good to be a part of something that would bring joy to others.

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Ahwatukee MRTT represents before we head out for our 5K family run

I did the “run” with Quinlan and my dad, who is visiting from Louisiana.  We mostly walked which gave us a perfect opportunity to have Quinlan read each of the sayings.   One of the sayings read, “What are you thankful for?”.  When I posed this question to Quinlan he said, “That’s a tough one, there are so many things!”  From the mouths of babes.  It warmed my heart.

Starting our day celebrating our blessings and being with our loved one set the stage for a day of gratitude.  It continued on with more love, thanksgiving, good food, and better company.  Gratitude is contagious and the more we are grateful, the more those around us see the blessings in their lives too.

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So how do we cultivate this same level of gratitude in our each and every day and not just limited to the Day of Thanks?  Here’s 5 ideas you can give a try to build gratitude into your daily life:

  • Gratitude Journal
    • Either begin or finish each day by writing in a journal, electronic or pen and paper, makes no difference.  Write down a minimum of three things you are grateful that day.  Big or small.  Gratitude for you were able to make your bed or gratitude that you survived a car accident – both build the habit of gratitude every day.
  • Set an Alarm
    • Use your smartphone to set 5 or more alarms throughout the day.  Each time the alarm goes off, pause for a minute to think of something you are grateful for in your life.  Again, big or small, gratitude is gratitude.
  • Post-It in Bathroom
    • On your bathroom mirror, steering wheel, or any common place, post a sticky note with the question, “What are you grateful for today?”  If you want to get fancy, you could stencil it or create some beautiful plaque, but be careful that it doesn’t become so decorative that it fades into the background.  You want this note to be noticeable so you look at it every day and answer the question.
  • Ritual
    • Create a ritual around a certain event in the day in which you give thanks.  For example, pausing before a meal to reflect on your blessings.  Our family regularly does a round-robin at the dinner table sharing our gratitude.
  • Gratitude Box
    • Buy a beautiful box or decorate a plain one.  Leave a stack of small pieces of paper and once a day write down a item of gratitude.  At a regular interval, weekly or monthly or so on, open the box and read what you have written down.

Incorporate one or more of these into each day and gratitude will begin to become habitual in your life.  And then that habit will influence those around you and bring more joy and blessing into your life.

Call to Action: Share in the comments what other ways you bring gratitude into your daily life?

 

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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.

Finding Progress Not Perfection…An Update on HR Monitor Training

As a recreational middle of the pack runner, I often question the validity of my running.  Am I a real runner if I am not super fast?  Lots struggle with this question and my answer to anyone else  – “Of course you are a runner no matter how fast or how slow!!”

To myself I am less kind.  I second guess my “runner” status all the time.  I compare myself to others who are stronger and faster.  If I miss a run then I must not be a “real runner” cause “real runners” never miss a workout.  Oh the things this brain will do to bring me down.

Irony is, while not fast, I am not slow either.  I have run times that I am proud of, especially given my lack of natural running talent.  My Personal Records (PRs) are all hard won after lots of dedicated work.

My 5K PR is a 24:22, run in 2009 at the Medved 5K to Cure ALS in Rochester, NY.  While I haven’t beaten that time since, my last 5K on April 22, 2017, just 2 shorts weeks after completing the Whiskey Basin 57K and in 100+degree weather, I ran a 25:39.  This isn’t too shabby considering ultra training involves little speed work and heat is notorious for slowing a person down.  With some focused speed work, I feel confident I could break my PR.

Never before have I been able to break the 2 hour mark for the half.  I came close with a 2:00:29 half in 2011.  At last broke 2 hours at the San Diego Half Marathon on June 4, 2017.  I felt on top of the world with my running identify after this accomplishment.

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Capturing the moment after setting a PR for the half marathon (June 2017)

Two weeks later, I began my HR journey.  Running within my HR zone these last several months messed with me mentally because I had to slow down so very much.  Choosing to run slower left me once again struggling with my identify as a runner.  I had to put aside ego and focus on the goal I was trying to achieve.  Definitely not easy, though anything worth obtaining should not be easy.

Being able to focus on my goal, my end game, the truth of the science behind running slowly, was a key part of sticking with the training plan I had laid out.  Accounts from others who have tried this method seemed to see results anywhere from a month to six months.  I desperately wanted to see results to validate this decision.

My hope was to be able to see those results in how I ran the McKenzie River Trail Run (50K).  Alas this hope was dashed when raging fires in Oregon threatened the race course and the race directors had to make the difficult choice to cancel the race.  What a grand disappointment to me and to my training.   This sent me into a bit of a tailspin with my running.

After coming home from our waylaid trip to Oregon, I had a whirlwind of activity at work keeping me occupied and focused on everything but the status my running.  Eventually I was able to pull out of the tornado that had become my life and check in again with how my progress was coming along.

Not seeing immediate progress was definitely a challenge through the many months.  But I knew that this was a long game.  So I did a “test run” in which I ran my baseline 5 mile loop and compared to another baseline run that I did at the beginning of this adventure.

Much to my surprise, my pace had increased substantionally!

My first baseline run in the middle of June was done early in the morning.  During this run, I did a simple loop near my house.  I warmed up for a mile, then began my tracking for the next three miles, leaving the final mile for cool-down.  I did an average of an 11:48 per mile with an average heart rate of 151 bpm.  After just averaging 8:53 per mile for 13.4 miles, the idea of slowing to an almost 12 minute mile for a short 3 miles run  was difficult to swallow.  And this slow down only grew greater as the temperatures rose, the miles compiled, and the hours added onto each other.

Upon doing my check-in run after the disappointment of my cancelled 50K, I mimicked the same route at the same time of day.  The only thing I couldn’t keep consistent was the temperature, but by running at 5:30 am, I was able to keep the temperature for both runs to a minimal factor in the results.  I went on the run expecting to see little improvement while simultaneously hoping to see low 10 minute miles.  Wanting it all, expecting nothing.  Neither proved to be reality.

My new baseline was a 11:03 per mile, though this was run at the much lower average heart rate of 144 bpm.  If I had aimed to maintain my heart rate closer to the top of my aerobic zone (151 bpm), I would not be surprised if I wouldn’t have been 15 seconds per mile faster.  This is a theory I will put to the test soon.

So I have not gained perfection.  Ideally I would be running that half marathon pace of 8:53 per mile at an aerobic heart rate.  Maybe one day I will, but for now I will gladly take the progress.

As the months continue, I plan to adjust my running some.  Closer to 80% of my runs in the aerobic zone, rather than 100%.  If nothing else, this gives me a chance to just go out and enjoy the run without a care in the world.  This will be a welcome change.  But after seeing these results, I plan to continue to incorporate aerobic training into my regime.

The journey continues……..

PS – Check out my Upcoming Races….I recently made some changes to my plans you can check out here!

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.

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The Beginning of My Running Story

In college, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep the freshman 15 off.  It worked for the most part.

Leading up to my wedding, I ran a mile here and a mile there to fit into my dress.  It definitely worked that time.

After getting married, I ran a mile here and a mile there in order to complete my first 5K.  I remember how it hurt and thought it would never end.

When Kenny got deployed 5 short months after we got married, I ran a mile here and a mile there to keep away the loneliness and the demons of my depression.  It didn’t really work but was better than nothing.

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9 month old Keegan helping me celebrate my third marathon finish! (May 2009)

After he got home, I tried to run a mile here and a mile there to keep up the routine.  Usually, I was less than successful.  My depression got worse.

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What is “Delicate” and Why You Should Embrace it

A friend posted a brainstorming question on Facebook: “What do you think of when you hear the word “delicate”?  Answers came in along these lines:

  • Handle with care
  • Do not touch
  • Lace and doilies
  • Be gentle or you might break it

The general theme was one of avoidance, fragility, and protection.  This outcome gave me pause and got me thinking.  While nothing posted is untrue, I believe it leaves out an important nuance of the word “delicate”.   Maybe this nuance however isn’t so much about the word “delicate” itself, but rather how we choose to interact with those items we have labeled as “delicate”.

Let me tell you a story.

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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!