Friday, February 7, 2014

A Bittersweet Experience Retiring My First Pair of Running Shoes

Last week, I had to retire my first pair of serious running shoes since starting this running journey in February 2013.  Before I was able to purchase that first pair of shoes in June 2013, I cycled between two older pairs of shoes.  I ran in my Merrell Trail Gloves, which were about 3 years old at the time, and I ran in a pair of Nike running shoes.  I found my feet felt the best when I ran in the Trail Gloves because of the zero drop platform.  When running in the Nike shoes, my heels and arches hurt.  I can only assume it was because of the 12mm+ drop in the Nike shoes.

For those of you unfamiliar with shoe drop, it means the difference from the heel to the ground and the forefoot to the ground.  In a zero drop shoe, the heel and forefoot are the same distance from the ground, just as if you were standing barefoot, whereas in a shoe that has a 12mm drop, the forefoot will be 12mm closer to the ground than the heel.  Traditional running shoes, casual shoes, etc., typically have 12mm or more of drop.  The greater the drop, the shorter and less “stretchy” the Achilles tendon that wraps around the heel from the back of the arch up to the calf becomes, depending on the amount of time spent in a higher drop shoe.  That is why, when someone transitions into a low or zero drop shoe, (s)he must take time to adjust to the level platform of the shoe or risk injury.  The Achilles tendon needs time to regain its stretch-ability.

I noticed when I opted to wear the Nike shoes because I wanted thicker cushioning on my feet, both my feet and body paid the price differently than when I opted for the zero drop Merrell shoes with little cushioning that had, for the most part, completely broken down due to age and having used them for walking shoes previously.  I felt pain in my feet when I wore the Nike shoes and I began to have stabbing pain in my knees when I would run.  When I would wear the Merrell shoes for a few days, the pain in my feet and knees would dissipate and I felt only some fatigue and soreness in my feet.  Though the fatigue and soreness was uncomfortable at times, it in no way compared to the pain I experienced when wearing the Nike shoes.  I stuck with the Trail Glove shoes until it became apparent I would not be able to increase mileage in them without seriously fatiguing my feet.  I decided it was time to support my desire to increase mileage and time spent on the road and trail by investing in a new pair of shoes.

In June of 2013, I made that decision and began researching different shoes.  Because of my experience in the Trail Glove shoes, I knew I wanted to continue running in zero drop shoes or shoes with a very minimal drop and I wanted to continue in a shoe with light cushioning in the midsole for a more barefoot feel.  I decided to go with the Merrell Bare Access Arc 2 running shoes.

Here they are, well used.
They had more cushioning than other Merrell shoes, such as the Vapor Glove, but were still considered a minimalist shoe.  I bought my first pair and took them out for a trial run of around 5 miles.  They were light as a feather on my feet and it felt like I was running on air, especially after putting in the mileage I had over four months time in shoes that had no cushioning other than the tread left on the outsole.  I was in heaven.

Over the next 8 months, I put roughly 600 miles on that pair of shoes.  I had no issues with the shoes.  I did experience some foot/knee discomfort, though, as changes in my running style crept in as I would tire on longer runs.  Initially, in my running experience, the first 6 miles of my runs were great.  However, because of my tendency to allow my stride to break down as I fatigued on longer runs, I would begin to heel strike.  With no extra cushioning in the heel, my heels would become quite sore when I bypassed the 6-mile mark.  Over time, though, I have learned to run longer distances comfortably in the Merrell shoes by working on maintaining a good forefoot strike throughout the run, despite fatigue.  I now run distances of over 12 miles in the Merrell shoes comfortably and enjoyably and have done so for 5 or 6 months now.

With that information, let me get back to my story of retiring that first pair of Bare Access 2’s.  Last week, I set out to run a short 5 miles after work on a beautiful evening.  I laced up my shoes and set out down the road at an easy pace.  Less than a block into the run, I felt sharp stabbing pain in my heels, even though I was not heel striking.  I shortened my stride to see if that might help, but the pain continued and worked its way across the entire underside of both feet.  I thought to myself that my feet just had to be tired from being on them at work all day.  I pushed on but nothing I did seemed to ease the jarring.  I made it a mile out and decided to head back home.  When I walked in the house, I told my husband what had happened, so we took a closer look at the shoes.  Sure enough, we could see diagonal grooves all around the outside of the shoe where the midsole is located.  In manipulating the shoe, by bending it and pressing into the midsole with my fist, and by comparing it to a relatively new pair of my husband’s Merrell Bare Access 2 shoes, I realized all cushioning was gone from shoes.  This was a first for me.  When I ran previously, I didn’t run long enough to wear through the shoes.  Time had deteriorated the midsole, not use.  This time, though, use had caused the deterioration.

There was something bittersweet about the experience.  I was saddened to have to retire such a great pair of shoes, especially with almost no visible wear present on the outsole or the upper.  Other than a worn spot on each shoe where the back of my ankle made contact with the shoe, they looked to be in near perfect shape.

Just a little wear around the back of the ankle.
Sure, there was tread loss on the bottom of the shoes, but even that was minimal.

Not too bad, really, for the mileage on these outsoles.
It was a sweet moment, though, to reflect on the previous 8 months and to realize that I had utilized them fully, that I had received so much out of one pair of shoes.  I never expected to get anywhere close to 400 miles, let alone 600, out of one pair of running shoes.  To say I got every penny out of my investment is an understatement.  Not only did I get every, last cent out of them, I gained so many things on which it is impossible to place a monetary value.  And, that, is where the bittersweet combination comes back into play.  I learned so much about myself out there on those runs while wearing those shoes.  As I put more and more miles on them, I continued to develop my foot strike pattern to keep my heels and knees protected.  To have to set them aside after so many months of training, well, it was just a bittersweet moment, looking back over those months, realizing just how far I had come and the potentials of where I am headed, as I continue this journey.

Since retiring my shoes, I selected a pair of the new Merrell Bare Access 3 shoes in bright yellow with pink accents.

My new Merrell Bare Access 3 shoes!
I received them this week and have had the opportunity to take them out for a spin on a 6-mile run.  They are every bit as comfortable as the Bare Access 2’s and they fit just as well.  They are extremely light and feel great on my feet.  I look forward to putting many more miles on this newest version in the Bare Access line of shoes and I hope that I am able to report that they are every bit as comfortable and long lasting as my last pair.  I hope to be sharing my experience around the 600-mile mark or beyond!

Do any of you remember your first pair of running shoes?  What made them special for you?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Focus, Focus, Focus. Where Do You Aim Your Focus?

Since I decided about three weeks ago to change up my training, my running has been going very well.  I am enjoying it and I have released the pressure I was feeling about not meeting certain objectives.  I still have said objectives, like mileage per week, mileage per month, pace, and time, but I am not letting those objectives control my outlook on running.  Last week I set a goal of 53 miles, but wasn’t able to meet that goal because of weather conditions one day and other needs arising another day.  I ended up short by about 15 miles.  I set the same goal for this week.  So far, I am right on track and plan on staying on track, but only time and life will tell if I am able to hit that goal.  If I do, fantastic!  If not, I refuse to stress about it and lose sleep over it.  As long as I am doing everything over which I have control to meet my goals, then I have no reason to not be satisfied with my effort.  If, however, I find myself making excuses that interfere with my forward progress, then that is an entirely different story.  Then it will be important to examine the motivation behind those excuses.  Until anything like that becomes apparent, I am quite satisfied with my progress and I will continue working towards my goals until I reach them.  At that point, I will implement more goals to hold myself accountable for forward progression.

I have, over the past week, started utilizing pace in my training, again.  Because I am more interested in time spent moving instead of distance moved, I have an average pace set up for different lengths of time.  The shorter the time moving, the faster I am keeping the pace so I am still pushing myself, though I am not rigidly holding to a set pace; more, an average pace.  My motivation at this point is to be outside, moving, as much as possible and to enjoy it while I am doing it.  If I’m not enjoying it, then there is no point.  It becomes a hindrance instead of a joy and that is not worth it to me.

It’s refreshing to have the pleasure back and it is enlivening to not be holding myself to such rigid standards in my running.  Goals and objectives are great and they help keep people on track when going for something specific, but when I allowed my goals and objectives to take over the big picture, that picture became muddy.  It was filled with drudgery.  It held a centralized focus aimed solely at the end destination.  Now, the picture is bright and crisp, yet soft in focus as I explore and experience the journey.  I am in the process of researching and writing a post which analyzes how we use our physical sight and our mental vision, how each one has a soft and a hard focus (and how the soft and hard focus work together), how the focus of both can become oriented more towards the hard than the soft, and how the physical and mental vision work in tandem.  It goes into much more detail than I cover here and will be posted soon.  In the meantime, here are some questions for discussion.

Where is your focus in your training and in life?  Do you sometimes become so focused on one area that you lose sight of other areas?  What do you do to soften your focus and bring it back to the journey?  Do you ever struggle with softening your focus?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Experience, So Far, Since Shifting My Focus to the Journey

Two runs, so far, this week.  Both based solely on total time.  Both runs, I was pleasantly surprised at the distance and the pace.  Both runs felt great.  It was good to just get out there and run for the love of running, to enjoy my surroundings without any pressure to hit any other target than the amount of time I was out there.  Even that was no pressure because I set a range, rather than a specific time, and finished up when I was ready to finish.  Monday, I went for just under an hour.  Wednesday, I went for just over an hour and a half.  Today, well, we’ll see.  It’s supposed to be a miserably cold, windy, and rainy day out there.  It’s a good thing I have my Marmot rain jacket and plenty of layers in which to dress.

My thought is to go for anywhere from two to three hours to start rebuilding my endurance.  Pace is not a factor, right now.  Time spent running and walking is.  This is my focus.  This, and enjoying the movement, the feel of the road and the trail under my feet, the sweat running from the effort involved, the wind reddening my cheeks and nose, the air filling my lungs, then releasing back into the atmosphere.  I live for this, for these times.  I love this.  I am excited about today’s run.  I hope you are looking forward to what your day holds for you, as well.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Living My Journey, Not My Goals

Today, I turn 40 years old.  It is quite a sobering thought, really.  At the same time, though, I feel alive and wonderful.  When I look back over the years I have spent on this earth, I am sobered by how quick time has flown by.  I know that time won’t be slowing down any time soon, either.  However, I don’t feel any older than I did yesterday.  I feel healthy and vibrant.  In fact, I feel better than I did through my teens and 20s because of the lifestyle changes I have made over this past decade.  Becoming more active, eating a diet of whole foods, and growing my self has been life-changing and so beneficial.

As a New Year’s Eve baby, I have the unique opportunity to reflect over the past year’s experiences as I transition into a new year.  However, I choose not to make New Year’s resolutions because I know me and I know that when combining a list of resolutions (the bigger, the better, in my mind, though I know better than that) with my humanness, chances are I will most likely break those resolutions.  So, I work at making small changes the whole year through, changes that I can implement and make a part of my life.  Don’t get me wrong…those small changes can sometimes get derailed in a big way, if I don’t take the time necessary to fully implement them.

Take, for instance, my training for a 50k next year.  I started my training the beginning of December.  I was ready for it and felt a huge sense of drive and motivation to get out there and “do this!”  Then, life got in the way.  I’m sure you are all familiar with life and it’s ability to get in the way of accomplishing things we set out to do.  Life, in my case, was a sore hip flexor that didn’t want to cooperate with my training.  Life was also a virus that settled into my lungs over two weeks ago, that is still trying to keep a grasp on my lungs, though I think I have finally kicked the majority of the nastiness out.  All of you runners know how difficult it can be to push yourself to run when anything is going on in your lungs.  After all, if you can’t breathe, it makes it really difficult to do any sort of running.

So, I spent the first two weeks of December tending to my hip flexor, doing more walking than running.  And, I spent the last two weeks just doing anything I could to get outside and keep moving, so as not to lose all of the conditioning and gains I have made over the last 11 months, since I started running in February 2013.  The third week, in particular, was the hardest to swallow, because I didn’t make it out, even for a walk, that week.  Most of my time was spent in bed and then, when I made it back to work after two days missed, I focused my energy on getting through work, since work is spent on my feet the entire time I am there.

Life got in the way.  It got in the way, to the extent, that I missed every goal I had in place for the month of December.  Not hitting those goals has been hard medicine to swallow.  I have questioned my ability, my motivation, my desire, my willingness, or lack thereof in all four areas, many times over the last month.  It has been a hard month.  It has also been an enlightening month.  I realized that life’s circumstances do not dictate my ability, motivation, desire, and willingness, unless I let those circumstances dictate those things to me.  I have the choice to perceive life as getting in the way or as what it is…life!

I have made the choice to view my circumstances as positive ones.  I put in quite a bit of mileage the first two weeks of December despite my tender hip flexor, and while it may not have been all running, it included walking and I didn’t have to completely stop doing either.  I was able to continue running and walking while my hip flexor mended.  Though I wasn’t able to put in near the mileage I wanted over the last two weeks, I am no worse off than I was before and I feel ready to get back out there and get back to what I love…running.  Also, that time off allowed complete mending of my hip flexor and it is stronger than ever now.

Yesterday, I went to the track and I ran for an hour.  I turned off everything that had to do with distance and pace on my watch and I ran solely based on total time and heart rate.  It was one of the best things I could have done, thanks to my husband recommending I do it.  It cleared my head of all the nonsensical junk and I ran for the love of running instead of running to train.  It was mind-clearing and much needed, both physically and mentally.  My plan is to do the same thing today.  I will go for total time instead of distance and pace.  Eventually, I will train, again, using pace and distance, but for now, I am keeping it simple, bringing my focus back to the pleasure I get from running and away from an end goal almost a year away.

I am excited about what the future holds, but more importantly, I am excited about now, about living in the moment and enjoying the journey.  I hope you all are, too.  Best wishes for the coming year, but better-than-best wishes as you live your journey.  May you live life fully and may it be filled with joy.  Happy New Year!

What do you do when life gets in your way?  How do you overcome perceived setbacks?  What do you do to stay in the moment of your journey and enjoy it?  I look forward to reading your comments and hearing about your journeys.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Otherworldly Experiences in the Great Outdoors

Have you ever been outdoors and felt as though you entered another world because of a change in the sunlight or your surroundings?  I was out for a trail run the other day and I experienced this very thing.  I was on the second loop of a three loop run on a local trail and, as I came around a corner of the trail, it was as if I stepped out of this world and into a completely different dimension.  It is almost indescribable with words, but I will do my best.

As I rounded that particular corner of the trail, the colors of the leaves on the trees became vibrantly bright, the trail a deep earthy brown.  The fallen leaves covering the trail in patches were deep, luxurious hues of red, brown, yellow, and gold.  A light haze had seemingly descended over the woods, though I realized within a split second that it was not a haze.  The clouds were filtering the sunlight in such a way that there was almost an eerie glow to the woods.  It was as if I were to have reached out with my hand, I could have closed my hand around the light and the air and actually grasped it.  Everything was magnified from the appearance of the forest to the sounds of the squirrels scurrying through the leaves and the birds twittering and chirping overhead.  The forest gave off a strong, earthy scent.  It was as if I had stepped through an invisible wall into the land of Narnia.  I did not recognize that part of the trail at all, even though I have run it a number of times; it was that changed by the light.  It was beautiful and mindboggling all rolled into one.  And, it didn’t last nearly long enough.  I was so enthralled, I nearly missed my next turn on the trail.  Once I followed the turn, the moment slipped through my fingers and I was back in this world.

I hoped that when I came around on the third lap that I might experience the same thing, but this was to be a one-time, one-of-a-kind experience.  It was a resplendent, stunning experience, one I will not soon forget.

What have been some of your “otherworldly” experiences in the great outdoors, whether when hiking, running, walking, or lounging?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Treasuring My First Experience of Runner's High

Welcome to the runner’s high.  Welcome to the exhilaration of running.  Welcome to the feeling of running with wings on my feet.  Welcome to easy breathing, effortless running.  Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Three weeks or so ago, I joined the ranks of runners who have experienced runner’s high.  It was my long distance, easy-paced run of the week, the run in which I keep my heart rate around an average of 70% for the duration of the run.  My distance was 14.5 miles; my longest run up to that date.  When I reached the seven-mile mark, my heart rate adjusted down to about 50% and my breathing became incredibly easy.  My legs and body felt light as a feather and my stride length was good.  Even on the hills, my breathing remained open and easy and my heart rate continued hovering around the 50% mark.

My pace went from sub-14:00 and sub-13:00 min/miles to sub-11:00 min/miles.  My typical long-distance run times hover around a 12:30 min/mile average, sometimes a little slower, sometimes a little faster depending upon the outside temperatures, my level of nutrition and hydration that day and how much rest I was able to get the night before.  Of course, other factors can be involved, as well, but they are too numerous to list.  Suffice it to say, this was not an average day for me.  As I ran, I began to wonder if/when I was going to bonk and how long I could possibly keep up a pace of sub-11:00 min/mile.  Thankfully, I remembered I was supposed to be enjoying the experience instead of questioning it, so I let those thoughts go and put all of myself into the moment, allowing the exhilaration to overcome my entire being.

I know some of the drivers I passed while in miles 8 and 9 must have thought I was completely crazy because I was grinning like a banshee the entire time.  It felt so good, I even laughed out loud a few times!  I could hardly contain my excitement.  As I settled into that sub-11:00 pace, my stride felt perfect, my footfalls excellent.  Nothing hurt.  Nothing felt tired or worn.  My body felt alive.  My mental state was heightened.  My spirit soared.  Emotionally, I was so happy and excited, I could have cried.  I don’t know that someone who doesn’t run or who runs only recreationally would or could understand that emotional state in terms of running.  I couldn’t have before I experienced it myself.  Those of you who run religiously and who have experienced the runner’s high can possibly identify with my experience.  I would love to read about some of your experiences in the comment section of this post!

I completed my run feeling as though I could have continued running.  I don’t know how far or how fast, but I was still in the runner’s high when I finished.  Because I was already almost a mile and a half over my previous longest run, I thought it best to finish my run as I had planned so I could run the next day and the day after that.  I was able to do just that, continuing my training as planned since then.  Sadly, I have yet to experience runner’s high again.  I know I will as I continue running and increasing my distances, but I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment when I went out for my next long-distance run of 15.8 miles and didn’t experience anything close to it.  In fact, I went through the exact opposite.  By mile 10, everything hurt from my feet to my shoulders.  At mile 12, were it not for my 17-year-old son joining me for the final 5.5 miles, I would have quit.  I even called home to see if my husband had returned from his run, yet, so he could come pick me up.  Fortunately, he wasn’t home and I had to persevere.  By mile 13, I was walking.  My left foot ached.  My legs felt like lead.  My lungs hurt.  Somewhere between 13 and 13.25 miles, something switched inside me and I started running again.  It still hurt.  My legs still felt beyond heavy.  My lungs still burned.  But, I ran.  I ran the rest of the way home.  My son stayed with me the entire time and I am so grateful he did.  He helped keep me motivated and moving.  I also kept reminding myself that it was about putting one foot in front of the other.  One foot in front of the other until you reach the finish.  And, reach the finish, I did.  I was exhausted.  I ached.  My entire being was fatigued.  However, my spirit soared much as it did the previous week when everything felt wonderful.  I learned a valuable lesson that day.  I learned I can.  With determination and a strong will, I can.

I also learned that runner’s high cannot be willed or wished into play.  It will happen when it does.  And, I learned, again, that the difficult runs help me appreciate the good runs.  Even though, when in the midst of a hard run, it can feel like an eternity, when it is over, I recover and I appreciate the difficulty of it because I did it, in spite of how hard it felt.  I conquered it and became stronger for it.  Isn’t that what so much of running is about?  Learning more about who we are, how strong we really are, how much potential is really inside of us, and the growth that comes in that.

I won’t lie to you…I can’t wait to experience runner’s high again.  There is nothing quite like it.  I will also tell you I don’t necessarily look forward to the next time I have a difficult run.  But, both experiences are part of the process and I appreciate the value of both.

Do you have areas in your life in which you appreciate both the difficult and the easy aspects?  How do you balance the two?  Do you ever struggle with appreciating the difficult aspects, especially when in the midst of a difficult situation?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dreaming Big and Going After Those Dreams

Decision time has come.  The past eight months, I have been working on increasing my fitness level and decreasing my body fat percentage.  The next four months, I will continue on this same path, building a solid foundation and leaning down.  As of February 2014, after spending this year building my endurance, developing my musculature for running, developing my heart/lung efficiency, increasing my physical strength and, possibly more importantly, increasing my mental strength and fortitude, I will begin training for my first marathon.  This will be my first step towards fulfilling my dream of running ultra distances, which is, for those of you unfamiliar with what constitutes an ultra, any distance over the distance of a marathon or 26.2 miles.

It’s scary taking first steps.  It’s exciting, too!  I can’t wait to begin training with a specific race and distance in mind.  When I think about it, I feel as if I might bubble over with excitement.  I feel even more excitement when I think about pushing my body and mind beyond my comprehension.  If you were to ask me why I want to push my body to the brink, push my mind beyond perceived limitations, I don’t know that I could tell you in words.  I just have this deep-seated desire to do so.  Because everyone experiences pushing themselves differently, it is just something one must experience for him or herself to understand such a desire.

I will find out, over time, whether or not my body will handle an ultramarathon.  I know, right now, it wouldn’t, because I don’t have the necessary foundation.  I have been much too sedentary and overweight most of my life.  That is why I am taking a full year to lay that foundation.  Only after that year will I begin training towards something as specific as a marathon.  My body and my mind need that time to strengthen and develop.  What is interesting to me is how much I have developed over the last eight months.  My body is transforming into a runner’s body, slimming down and becoming increasingly fit.  My mental stamina and focus has increased exponentially.  When I think back over my training, I remember the days when it was all I could do to push myself out the door and go for a run.  Seldom did I give in to the voices in my head about being tired and not wanting to go, which I know has contributed to the increase in mental strength.  I remember the runs that just felt like they hurt so bad (not injury-wise, but rather just my body adjusting to the activity), I didn’t think I could go on.  I went on anyways.

Then, the perseverance, the doing it anyways, paid off.  I experienced my first run where cardiovascular and respiratory systems collided and began working together instead of separate.  What a joyous day that was!  I don’t think I had ever experienced anything so freeing.  Slowly, gradually, I began experiencing that feeling more often.  Now, I experience it regularly for longer stretches of my runs.  For several months, I have felt exhausted after my runs.  I’ve been tired at work and have felt like I haven’t been able to get enough sleep.  I’ve kept running anyways.  I have pushed through the fatigue, knowing I would eventually get to the point I wouldn’t be as tired as I was.  I was correct.  Yesterday was the first day I realized I wasn’t fighting to stay awake following my run.  I also realized I didn’t have to fight through any exhaustion at work.  I am beginning to feel alive.  Not just living, but alive!  I feel good!  All this, after I just completed the most miles I have run in one week when I finished last week with over 40 miles.

I can’t reiterate to you enough how persevering through and ignoring the negative voices in my head has contributed to where I am today with my running.  It is so rewarding to look back at where I was and where I am now.  I get excited considering where this journey is taking me, especially when I consider then and now.  I can see how far I have come in just eight months and it is nothing short of incredible to me.  The growth and development increases my belief in myself and fuels my dedication to my journey.

I know running a marathon will not be easy.  I know running an ultra will be even more difficult than a marathon.  Will I ever complete an ultra?  I don’t have an answer for that question right now.  My preferred answer is yes; I will complete an ultra.  I will complete many ultras, ideally.  But, right now, it is just that, an idea, a desire, a dream.  Only with time, dedication, and perseverance will this dream have the potential of becoming reality.  In the meantime, I will continue sharing my progress and my journey.  When I begin, training, I will blog about my training.  As I continue to progress mentally, I will share that journey as well.  Who knows…maybe someday I will see my name among the list of runners who have finished the Badwater 135 or Spartathalon Ultra Race (153 miles) like so many ultra-distance runners before me.  What I do know is I am going after this dream with every fiber of my being.