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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rewarding Interactions with Strangers while Running

Running on the roads can be a dangerous venture, with drivers who are more interested in paying attention to their phones than actually driving and individuals who stubbornly refuse to yield an inch to a runner who has no recourse other than to run on the shoulder of the road because of a lack of sidewalk.  We have had people deliberately drive straddling the white line, forcing us off the shoulder of the road.  We have had drivers come flying up to a stop sign, tap their brakes and fly through the stop, all so they don’t have to wait on us to cross the road.  We have come close to being hit because we have been crossing an intersection and someone who stopped after we were already in the crosswalk blew through the stop as quickly as possible, nearly colliding with us.  Many times, it is deliberate.  Other times, it is out of inattention.  Regardless of the intentions behind the actions, it makes it very difficult to run with comfort.  Alertness and awareness are hugely important, every time we step out the front door to go running.

Despite this danger, there exist those people who are the exact opposite: those drivers who communicate with us, even if it is just with a hand signal, so we know what they are doing and they know what we are doing.  They are aware of us out there, giving us room to safely run on the shoulder when we have no other recourse.  They pay attention to the road and driving instead of everything but.  We appreciate this type of driver very much.  We also appreciate the positive, uplifting people with whom we come in contact when we are running.

In the beginning, many people were rude and negative, making nasty comments as we would run.  Now, however, we come across many more people willing to communicate words of encouragement while we run.  This past week, a fellow runner commented to my husband that he was out there running because of the motivation my husband demonstrated by getting out there nearly every day and running.  A lady drove past me the other day and asked if the man she sees running all the time is my husband.  She then asked me how much weight he has dropped since he started running, to which I answered 57 lbs.  (On a side note, my husband was a powerlifter for several years with a LOT of muscle mass.  He still carries a lot of muscle, but he has gradually been dropping the excess mass and weight with all of the running we do.)  Before driving off, the woman shared that people have been taking notice of what we are doing and to keep up the great work.  I thanked her as she drove off.  Earlier that same run, a couple of young men stopped at a four-way stop to let my daughter and me cross the road safely.  As they drove off, they waved and said, “Have a safe run out there!”

I can’t tell you all enough how much of a difference this type of interaction makes.  While we must maintain heightened awareness due to others who are not nearly so considerate with their driving or positive with their words, each interaction we experience that is similar to the above experiences provides a glimpse into the goodness of humanity and exemplifies positive interaction between total strangers.  Thank you to all of you who take that moment to slow down and give space for safe running.  Thank you for the positive comments and the thumbs up you give, the friendly hellos and waves of the hand.  They are appreciated more than you might know and more than we are able to convey.  Keep it up!  Our days are so much brighter because of you!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Highs and Lows of Running: Appreciating Both

One of the things I am finding as I continue progressing in my running is the frequency with which I vacillate between the highs and lows of running.  One run, I will feel light as air and another run on the very next day, I feel as though my legs are made of concrete.  Who am I kidding, though?  This vacillation occurs within runs, not just from run to run.  I know it is just a part of the experience of running.  It has been part of the journey from the beginning.  I guess what is so amazing is the increasing frequency with which I experience the highs of running and the joy that comes with it.  These highs make the lows more bearable for me.  Yesterday’s six-miler was difficult at best.  The first four miles, I felt as though my legs were along only for the ride they were getting from my upper body dragging them behind, they felt that heavy.  I almost started walking at mile three.

When the thoughts about walking began creeping in, I was able to quash them quickly by remembering my long run from the previous week, in which I felt like my feet had wings.  I told myself to push through the deadness and I would get to the other side of it mid-run and feel better, or I would have the satisfaction of having completed my run regardless of how bad my legs felt.  I pushed on and I am glad I did.  Around mile four, everything loosened up and I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit and bring it home strong.  If I would have listened to that nagging, negative voice inside my head and walked, I wouldn’t have experienced being able to push through the tiredness, an experience important to developing into an endurance runner, because of the amount of time one must spend running and the distance required.  Since running ultra-distances is my ultimate desire in running, yesterday was a huge accomplishment.  I know what it feels like to push through.  I know that mentally I am capable.  I know my body does not have to rule my choices and my current mental state does not have to be the end-all decision.  I know I can dig deep and keep pushing on.

On the flipside of yesterday’s run was my long distance run last week, which I alluded to earlier.  I had not experienced what I went through during that run on any previous run, ever.  When I set out, it took just a short time to get into a good rhythm with my pace, my breathing, and my heart rate.  Everything just seemed to be working in tandem.  Before I knew it, I was at mile six of 9.6 miles.  I thought to myself, “Wow.  How did I get here so quick?”  The next thing I knew, I was crossing an intersection I couldn’t believe I had already approached.  It felt like I should have been only halfway through my run, and yet, I was nearly three-quarters of the way home.

My body and legs felt as though they were light as a feather, gliding through the air, just barely skimming the surface of the pavement as I ran.  I passed landmarks I felt I shouldn’t have been passing yet.  The miles just kept falling away, until I was in the final mile headed towards home, my least favorite section of all my runs because of the slow, steady climb that seems to drive my heart rate through the roof, regardless of how my heart rate has been through the rest of the run.  Ah, but not so on that day.  That mile fell by the wayside in the same manner the rest of the run had.  It was a wonderful, fantastic experience.  I can’t wait to experience it again, no matter how long it takes.  I know as I get to my running weight, I will experience it more than I do now.  I also know it will not be part of my experience every time I run, or even every other time I run.  What I am finding is that because of the experience of the low points, I treasure the high moments.  I relished that run and I keep that experience tucked away where I can revisit it at any time I wish to do so.  As I sit here writing about it, I can feel the emotional experience I had and I feel the mental uplift.  I can feel the sensations I experienced physically as I ran, even though I am not physically running.  This, this is yet another reason why I run, why I am pursuing this journey with a level of passion previously unknown to me.

What are you passionate about and how do you pursue those passions?  Do you experience highs and lows as you chase your dreams?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Nature of Trail Running

Monday, my family and I went for a run on some of the local state park trails near our home.  We run the trails there quite regularly because of the beauty, the relief our joints and feet feel running on dirt instead of hard road surfaces, and because the hills of the trails offer great interval training.  Instead of having to do sprint work on a flat surface, we head out and push ourselves hard on the hills, working our hamstrings and glutes, building our cardiovascular system, and developing the efficiency with which our respiratory and cardiovascular systems work together.

We receive the added benefits of being surrounded by all the natural beauty…trees, foliage, underbrush, felled logs, rocks, the lake, and a variety of species of animals.  On this particular run, my daughter and I had the pleasure of seeing two lizards and a chipmunk, several squirrels, a black snake, and three whitetail deer.  The lizards are tiny, brightly colored critters that glisten in the sunlight as it streams through the trees.  We often see them scurry across the trail in front of us or up trees as we run past.  Chipmunks seem to thrive out in the wooded areas and they are so much fun to watch.  They are incredibly fast and they are quite animated.  When one actually stops to look at us as we are running, I imagine a high-pitched, fast-speaking voice chastising us for interrupting his peace and quiet.

The squirrels don’t receive as much of my attention because I see them on such a regular basis off the trails, but they are as much a part of enjoying nature as the rest of the animals we see.  They just belong out there.  They are part of the forest.  Conversely, we see snakes very seldom and, while I wouldn’t necessarily want to come across a poisonous snake, I like to stop and look at the black snakes when we see them.  You have no idea the significance of that statement.  The fact that I like to look at any snake is tremendous because it comes from someone who used to be deathly afraid of snakes.  This fear was to the point that, when I was a child, I was adamant with my mother that she had to take a puzzle piece out of one of my favorite puzzles and throw it away because it had a snake on it.  Mind you, this snake was not an actual picture of a snake.  The puzzle was a forest scene that had been drawn and was more of a cartoon than an actual replica.  I was also adamant the box needed to be thrown away because the snake was on the box top, as well!  Anyways, I no longer hate snakes and I rather enjoy seeing them.  We stopped when my daughter spotted the black snake.  It was probably a foot long, maybe a little longer at full length, but it was moving when we saw it and so it was in its S-form as it moved.  It stopped to look at us as we looked at it, definitely very aware we were there and watching it.  We moved back a little bit so it could continue on it’s way and we watched it as it re-crossed the trail in front of us and then continued along in the direction we were headed.  It watched intently as we ran past and then it was gone.

About a mile down the trail, we heard some crashing in the brush and looked over in time to see a whitetail deer take off, taking two other deer with it as it ran.  Their tails were straight up at attention as they ran.  A beautiful sight, for sure.  We watched them as they disappeared between the trees and over the mountainside and then continued on our run.  One of the greatest rewards I receive from running some of the local trails is a sense of being more connected with nature.  It is rejuvenating.  I almost feel like a kid again with all the wonderment that comes at that age when witnessing things in nature.  It was a great run, indeed.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Starting back in January, I began working towards becoming a runner. On March 27th, I started using a Garmin device to track my workouts through Garmin Connect. Tonight, I pulled together all my data for this year, since March 27th and this is what it looks like...

Count: 108 Activities

Distance: 449.23 mi

Time: 110:53:02 h:m:s

Avg Speed: 4.4 mph

Avg HR: 141 bpm

Calories: 54,113 C

Avg Distance: 4.73 mi

Max Distance: 10.05 mi

Avg Time: 1:01:36 h:m:s

Max Time: 2:22:03 h:m:s

Max Avg HR: 167 bpm

Looking back, it's pretty amazing to see where I was and how far I've come. My speed has increased, my lung capacity has gotten stronger, as has my heart, my endurance continues to grow, and I am down nearly 20 lbs. of fat. I took some measurements today and found that I have rid my body of 6 inches of fat, just around my hips alone. I am really pleased with my accomplishments so far and can't wait to continue pushing myself. Next up, 10+ miles tomorrow. Furthest distance and longest time spent out there to date.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let Go and Just Be

My “day” job consists of continuous walking and standing, resulting in tired feet when my shift is over, so thinking in terms of running to and/or from work seems just a little bit insane.  Yet, I decided to do just that…run home from work after a long shift on my feet.  While possibly insane, it was one of the most rejuvenating runs I have taken to date.  Actually, I have run two of these and enjoyed both of them immensely.  Why, you might ask?  Well, for a few reasons, at least.

I found that once I walked out the door of my workplace, it all fell away.  It was as if I had never been at work that day.  All cares, all worries, all work-related thoughts were gone.  When I drive home, I often rehash the shift’s events or how things went.  Not so on my run.  I was out there communing with nature as I ran.  It was all about the running, the feeling of total freedom, letting go of the day.  I was active in the moment in a highly tangible way I had not experienced before.

Even though my feet and body were tired, I felt a sense of rejuvenation and awakening as my heart rate increased and the blood began pumping harder through my arteries and veins.  Instead of feeling sleepy and exhausted, I felt awake and alert.  It was as though I had wings on my feet.  While I did not set a personal best the first time I ran home, which, by the way, is almost exactly 3.1 miles or the equivalent of a 5k run, I came close and only missed a PB by less than a minute.  I analyzed that first run and realized if I could cut off just one minute from the first mile, I would have a new PB.  I set about to mentally prepare myself for that second run home, well before I went to work that day.

As I set out, I again felt everything just fall away until the moment reflected only the run, the goal, the sheer enjoyment, the drive, the motivation, and the pain.  Yes, I said “the pain,” too.  Not pain in the sense of injury; rather, pain in the sense of pushing my body hard, harder than I typically push it.  Inside that pain was the fulfilling sense of purpose, of accomplishment on the near horizon.  And, I pushed through the pain, knowing it would be worth it when I crossed that imaginary finish line at 3.1 miles.  I was not disappointed.  I beat my former PB by 53 seconds, which was not too shabby, especially in the heat of the day.  I hurt the last mile.  I didn’t think I could finish it out, as my legs felt like dead weight.  But, I pushed on anyways, knowing deep down in my heart I, indeed, could make it and could keep up the pace.  It was an incredibly rewarding run and, while I was tired from the effort, I felt alive and alert, once again, and felt as though I hadn’t worked at all that day.

I will not attempt a PB every time I run home.  Sometimes, I will just run a pace that reflects a desire to just get out there and spend some time running and communing with nature.  Other times, I will push harder, driving my body beyond it’s comfort zone, putting forth increased effort to increase my physical and mental fitness even more.  You can be sure, though, that I will continue running home from work when I can, if for no other reasons than the love of running and the positive feelings that coincide with letting go of the day and just being.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cultivation of One's Self

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” ~ Confucius

As much as I hate to admit it, life can sometimes get in the way of doing the things I love to do.  When life throws me a curve ball, or two, or three, I know my tendency is to place everything on hold while I attempt to work through said curve balls.  This is exactly why I have not posted anything on my blog in the last few weeks.  I let circumstances get the better of me and I have neglected my writing.  To an extent, I have neglected my running.  Oh, for sure, I have been out there putting in the miles, whether on the trail or the road, but my heart hasn’t been in it.  Running has felt laborious.  It has felt draining.  My legs have felt like dead weight.  It just has not felt enjoyable like it had been before I started dodging curve balls.  And, I want that enjoyment back.  I want to feel great out there.  I want to feel the pleasure of running.  But, how do I get back there?  That is an answer I don’t have at this point.

Because I am still within the first six months of my training as a runner, I don’t know how this will turn out.  I don’t know how long it will take to regain my love of running; my looking forward to putting in long distances.  It’s as though I just have too much time to think.  Too much time to ponder.  Too much time to wonder.  I reach points out there where I feel okay.  I feel lighter and gain a better understanding of myself.  But, I still don’t find any pleasure or resolution.  Too much exists outside of my control.  And, that is the real issue for me.  I feel vulnerable when my perception is that I do not have control over the situation.  In reality, we never really have control over our environment, only ourselves.  We cannot possibly know what others are going to do or say at any given moment.  We can’t know their thoughts or motivations.  We can’t control the weather.  We can’t control how others see us or what they think about us.  We can only take stock of the situation and control how we will view it and respond to it; how we will perceive and respond to others.  In the words of Sir Roger L'estrange, “It is not the place, nor the condition, but the mind alone that can make anyone happy or miserable.”

I have been working diligently for the past week to do just this.  When I feel myself spiraling into negative thought patterns and questions of “Why me?” or “What if this or that?,” I then ask myself, “So what?  Is there anything I can do to change the situation?’’  If there is, I do it.  If there isn’t, I stop ruminating over it and focus my energy in the present moment.  Is this easy?  No.  Absolutely not.  I am changing lifelong patterns of relating and it is hard.  It is uncomfortable.  But, it is worth it.  Instead of feeling anxious and fearful, I feel more calm and relaxed, more often.  I feel more confident in my own abilities.  I am learning to believe in myself and trust myself.

So, maybe my discomfort with writing and running is not so bad after all.  I am learning a lot about myself.  I am growing and developing into a stronger, more confident woman, which is what my journey has been all about and will continue to be all about.  With comfort comes complacency.  Moving outside that comfort zone cultivates growth and development.  As frightening as it may be at times, I think I’ll keep pushing those boundaries and limits.  I will keep running.  I will keep writing.  I will keep growing.  I will keep developing.  I will keep on keeping on.  And, I will remind myself of the words of Huanchu Daoren…“Happiness in comfort is not real happiness. Happiness in the midst of hardship, one sees the true potential of the mind.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homemade Energy Bars: A Preservative-Free Alternative

I have had several requests now for my energy bar recipe, so it is time to share it.  I have several variations I make and I change it up almost as often as I make it.  This is one of those recipes you can have a lot of fun with and make your own by adding ingredients you might like while taking out others you may not.  To keep these healthy, do not add sugar in place of the honey and molasses.  You will get enough natural sugars from the dates and dried fruits; the honey and molasses both have health benefits that table sugar does not.  Also, do not use already chopped dates in place of whole dates because chopped dates have added preservatives to keep the fruit “fresh.”  If you change up the recipe, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about the changes you made and how you liked the bars.  The recipe I am including is the most recent version I made.

Nixon Energy Bars

20 Medjool dates
¾-1 c. almonds
¾-1 c. pecans
¼ c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 Tbsp. 100% cocoa powder
1½ Tbsp. ground or whole bean coffee
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil
2 Tbsp. pure blackstrap molasses
2 Tbsp. local honey
1½ oz. dried cherries
1½ oz. dried blueberries

Any aspect of the recipe requiring the use of your hands to mix the ingredients is best done by putting some oil or butter on your hands so the mixture does not stick to you.  You may need to put the oil on your hands a few times throughout the process.

Remove the pits from the dates and place the dates in a large bowl.  Either process the dates in a food processor (if you have a high-end food processor-otherwise you risk ruining it) or mash them with your hands until the fruit is well blended.  Grind the almonds and pecans, as fine or as course as you like, and place in a separate bowl.  Grind the coffee to a very fine texture (even if it is already ground) and add to the almond/pecan meal.  Add the coconut, cocoa, sea salt, and cinnamon to the almond/pecan meal and mix well.

Combine the dates and the almond mixture until mixed well.  It will be a coarse consistency until the rest of the ingredients are added.  Add the coconut oil, molasses, and honey to the mixture and combine until all dry ingredients are incorporated and the texture is very thick.  Using your hands, work in the dried cherries and blueberries.

Line a large pan with wax paper and begin forming the bars.  Thickness should be about 1 inch.  You have several options in this: one large bar that you can then cut into pieces, separate bars sized to your liking (no bigger than 1 inch x 3 inches, though, unless you want a lot of unnecessary calories-these bars are very satisfying after just a few bites), or shape into small, bite-sized pieces.  Cover the bars with another sheet of wax paper and fold over the edges so the bars are not exposed to the air.  Place in the refrigerator or freezer (frozen bars on hot days are a nice treat) until cold.  Once cold, if you chose to make one large bar, cut the bar into smaller pieces.  Transfer the bars in the wax paper to a Ziploc bag and keep refrigerated or frozen.  Eat when you need a quick burst of energy or before and/or after a workout.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lessons and Choices

The past couple of weeks, my husband and I have taken to the trails, shifting our focus slightly from road running to trail running.  Don’t get me wrong…we still run the roads, but we are really enjoying getting off the pavement and onto packed earth.  It feels great on our joints and our feet.  Let me tell you, though, it is much more difficult running on natural trails.  Climbs are steeper and longer, and the terrain is rolling with very little reprieve.  Even the downhill portions can start to feel somewhat difficult, depending on the severity of the decline, because of the natural braking action that occurs as you run downhill.

Despite the difficulty, though, one of my favorite aspects of trail running is the downhill running.  There is something incredibly rewarding about cresting a climb and entering a descent, where I can extend my stride and let gravity take over just a little.  A subtle line exists between controlling your descent and losing utter control of that descent.  I have come scarily close to crossing that line.  In that closeness, though, I have experienced a sense of freedom like no other.  It is my choice to either rein in my body and slow it down or allow myself to continue running, right there on the edge.  I decide how far to keep pushing it, developing and increasing the skills necessary to become a good descending runner.  I choose the level of control I am willing to sacrifice to build my endurance and my skill set.  I make the decision when enough is enough.

Like all things in life, I know there is a good chance at some point I will misjudge the level of control I actually have in the situation and make a less than stellar decision.  I know the opposite is true as well.  I know as I become more confident in my abilities, I will make more informed decisions based on my true capabilities.  I know much of my learning will come from mistakes and from pushing the limits a little too far.  One such lesson came yesterday.

The direction we took on the trails yesterday included some seriously long, difficult climbs, at least for our level of fitness up to this point.  The climbs kicked my heart rate up and I could feel the burn coursing through my muscles, searing to the bone long before reaching the crest.  I pushed through, though, knowing I had some good descents coming up and that the descents would offer some relief.  Topping out on the crests, I stretched it out into the descents, feeling the wind in my hair and on my face as I gathered speed.  Focus was extremely important, as the trail has many rocks and tree roots jutting up out of the ground, ready to reach up and grab a foot.  With each descent, my bravery (or maybe it was bravado) increased and I pushed just a little more, upping my pace slightly, allowing gravity just a little more control.

And, then, it happened.  One of those rocks or tree roots reached up and hooked a toe, sending my body flying in multiple directions.  I don’t know how I managed to keep myself upright because I was as close as I had ever been to losing complete control.  I did maintain control, however, despite how close I was to losing to it.  It took a few steps to regain composure and I had a flash of what could have been had I gone down.  I know it would have hurt, worse than any spills I have taken off a bicycle or when running on the road.  I don’t know how great the extent of injury could have been, but I know it could have been severe.  And, the fear set in.  All I could think about was how close I had come.  How much it could have hurt.  The damage I could have done.  And I slowed down.  I began picking my way down the descents, jogging instead of running.  I shortened my stride and carefully chose my path.  I knew, after two more descents, I had a decision to make.  I could continue running based on my fear of the “what ifs,” or I could trust myself and run the way I have been learning to run, knowing the risks, taking steps to minimize those risks, and then running openly and freely.  I chose the latter, making the decision to rein it in just a wee bit, while still pushing that line of control, instead of running fearfully and staying within a prescribed “safety” zone.  Instead of choosing the comfort of the known, the comfort of staying within borders, I chose the discomfort of the unknown, of pushing the boundaries and my perceived limitations.

It was worth it.  I proved to myself once again that limitations are, indeed, perceived and they are movable.  Boundaries can be widened, borders moved.  And such is life, right?  The lessons of yesterday are not limited to running.  They are applicable in everyday life, in the decisions we make on a daily basis.  In everything we do, we have a choice.  In fact, we have choices.  We can stay in our comfort zone and make decisions based on what keeps us comfortable, what feels safe.  Or, we can make decisions based on what helps us grow and develop; what pushes us beyond our perceived boundaries and limitations.  What will you choose to base your decisions on today?