Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mental Focus...Just How Important is It?

I mentioned in a previous post that I experienced a horrid day of running just a few days after experiencing a fantastic day.  The horrid day had nothing to do with how my body felt.  It had everything to do with my surroundings, the area in which I was running, and the stupidity of others.  We decided to stay close to home and run a few laps in our neighborhood because of the possibility of thunderstorms.  We didn’t want to get caught too far out from home with no quick way back.

Our neighborhood is not the best.  It goes through cycles where good people come in and everything cleans up, but then we also have the cycles in which not so good people come in and our neighborhood changes to one in which burglaries increase and so do drugs.  Fortunately, the tendency has been to remain in the good cycle longer than the bad.  Still, when out there running, we take many precautions like mapping out our run and sticking to the course at a pre-determined pace so we know where each of us should be at any given time.  We also try to stick together as much as possible, at least in twos, though that doesn’t always work out.

On that particular day, I decided I wanted to run at least three laps, if not four, to get in at least 6 miles.  On the first lap, I felt pretty good as I eased into a good pace and stride.  It was as I entered the second mile that I experienced a break in my mental state when a dog came snarling and snapping after my daughter and me and would not back down.  It took three times of stomping towards it with a snarl on my face and yelling at it to get back for it to finally back down.  This all happened with the dog owners standing there, doing and saying nothing, until the third time I yelled at it.  I guess they decided they should say something, so they meekly called for the dog to come back.  It did not back down as they called it.  It backed down when it realized the ferocity it was going to have to deal with if it kept coming for me or my daughter.  The hair on the back of my neck was standing up and I felt like I was snarling and snapping back at it.  Oh, to have a picture of my face at that moment…

As we resumed running, it took some time, but I was able to fall back into a decent mental state, though I knew I would be coming back down that same road in another 20 minutes or so and I was not sure what I would face.  We continued on, making our way back to the starting point without another incident.  At that point, my daughter went back to the house and I went for my second lap, this time by myself.  Making my way down the first street, I felt this sense of being very alone.  Normally, this is not a bad thing for me.  I usually like running by myself because it is very cathartic.  I am alone with my thoughts and I have the opportunity to work through things.  It is also a time when I go into a meditative state, where I am aware of my surroundings but deeply in tune with my body.  The sense of aloneness I felt was not this same sense I describe as a meditative state.  I was very focused on my surroundings, especially as I rounded the corner on to the very street on which the dog had come out at us.  Thankfully, the dog was restrained this time, but then, another set of circumstances came into play.

Our city utilizes inmates from the state prisons to do clean-up work around the city.  They do various jobs on city property, such as cutting grass, painting, taking down overgrown foliage, etc., any where from 5-10 inmates under the supervision of one or two deputy sheriffs.  I think it is a good program, but that doesn’t mean I want to be out there running by myself in an area where they are working.  Am I paranoid?  No, I don’t think so.  But, I am cautious.  I believe it is better to be cautious than caught in a situation that could have been prevented.  All this is to say, as I turned onto the next street, I saw the van used to transport the inmates just down the road from where I was running, but I could not see any inmates.  I kept my eyes peeled for where they might be working because I was going to be taking a side road that has little traffic on it and I did not want to be running down that road to find that was where they were working.  I was able to see down the full stretch of road and saw they were not working there, nor were they working on the ball fields that line that side street.

I proceeded with my run, but just felt out of sorts.  I struggled with getting into any kind of rhythm, realizing later that the struggle came because I was not going “internal” at all.  I was so focused externally, I did not have the natural balance of focusing both internally and externally, that meditative state where I am aware, but highly attuned to my body.

As I started another lap through our neighborhood, I was, whether intentionally or not, followed down the street by a man and no one else was outside for the entire length of the street.  I decided if I was going to keep running, I was going to carry my protection in my hand instead of in my pack, so I would have it at the ready if needed.  Once I turned down the next street, I never saw the man again and, as I made my way back around the area in which the inmates were working, I figured out they were working at a building a ways down from my route; however, I never reached a good mental running state.  I realized after I was home for a bit that my disgust with my run had nothing to do with the run itself; rather, it had everything to do with my hyper-awareness of my environment and my inability to meditate along the way.  It was a very tiring run and I do not wish to repeat it any time soon.  Still, I will not let that stop me from getting back out there and participating in an activity I love dearly.  I will just be sure to be as prepared as possible while I’m out there, for dogs, people, and the like.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sale Pricing on Outdoor Gear You Would Be Hard-Pressed to Find Anywhere Else

Yesterday, I was introduced to a website that sells all sorts of outdoor clothing, shoes, and gear at deeply discounted prices.  The name is The Clymb.  For the rest of today and tomorrow, you can order Merrell footwear at a significant savings.  For those of you familiar with Merrell shoes, they run anywhere from $90-$120.  I just bought my daughter a pair for nearly 50% off.  This is the first time I have found sale prices of this magnitude on Merrell shoes.

The Clymb offers significantly discounted "everyday" pricing on all of their inventory.  They also have what are called "flash sales," lasting for a maximum of few days, that offer an even deeper discount (they provide a countdown clock on the flash sale page so you know how long you have to order at those prices, which I found very convenient).  When you go to the site, you register to become a member, at no cost, and then you have access to their website where you can browse the different categories and view their pricing on each item.

I don't often promote retail sites, but this one is too good to not pass along.  Check them out!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reaping the Rewards of Hard Work

I had an interesting experience the other day while out on my run.  I was headed out for a four miler, one of our more typical runs at this point in training.  As I was running, I realized everything felt easy and good.  I wasn’t sure what was going on right away, and then, I realized…my breathing, my heart rate, and my pace were completely in sync.  This is the first time on any run I have felt that rhythm.  My body felt so light and my breathing was easy.  Even though it was rapid from the effort, it was effortless, not something I am used to.  I usually feel as though my breathing is labored and difficult.  Not so that day nor in the days since.  Oh sure, I still experience being out of sync, more often than not, yet, but since I have started experiencing when everything comes together, that seems to be holding my focus.  I guess because it is such a pleasant experience and I really enjoy my runs during my runs, instead of just the pleasure felt upon completion of my runs.

Experiencing my body movement, breathing, and internal body environment in sync has been truly wonderful if for no other reason than I am starting to reap the fruits of my labor.  The hard work I have put in over the past few months is starting to manifest itself in ways I had not anticipated.  If anyone had said the running would get easier, I would have laughed in their face, because I just knew that couldn’t be possible.  Not with my previous and current experiences.  I couldn’t have been more wrong, though.  It’s not that it is easy.  It is easier.  And it is more fun.  More enjoyable.  I still have thoughts about wanting to stop sometimes.  But, for the most part, I don’t have the thoughts anymore about not being able to make it.  I am not having to work so hard to let go of the negative thoughts because they are not present like they used to be.  This has been a gradual transition, one that only I could experience in the way that I did, because everyone is different.  All I can say to others who are just beginning is, keep at it and see where your training takes you.  Allow yourself time to adjust to the demands you are making on your body.  Schedule rest days into your training so you have time to recuperate from your training.  Remind yourself why you started doing what you are doing and keep doing it if it is still worth it to you.  For me, I had to stick with it, through some okay days, some bad days, some good days, some downright stinky days to get to the point of having a really great day with some great days afterwards.  I know I will still have bad days…I did just 3 days after such a good day.  But, I have tasted the good and I want to taste it again and again.  The only way I know how to do that is to keep at it.  So, I will and I am.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gearing Up for Success

As you may have noticed, I have been a bit lax in posting on my blog the last couple of weeks.  I offer no excuses, but I would like to share what we have been doing over the last two weeks that has contributed to less time spent on writing.   I must backtrack before I bring you up to current happenings, so here goes.

Once I learned to ride a bike, I felt a growing urge to take my workouts outside.  My initial focus was solely on bicycling, and then, one day sometime in February, I felt the pull to go out for a run.  I’m not sure where it came from, because I hadn’t run since 2008.  Oh, sure, I’d get on the treadmill here and there and go for a “run” (something like more of a jog/walk), but I never went far and I was always bored stiff.  So, this thought about running had me a bit perplexed.  I allowed the thought to percolate around in my head, but didn’t do anything with it right away.

As I kept considering running, I looked at my husband one day and told him about my desire.  I really wanted to go for a run that day.  Really wanted to.  So, I did.  It hurt.  I hurt.  I felt heavy and slow.  But, I also felt good about completing my first run.  I felt like I had accomplished something.  And, I had pushed through the doubts that I could go a couple of miles and did it.  I don’t recall what my pace was that first day.  It doesn’t matter to me because I know my pace has gotten much better since then.  My distance has increased, too.  A lot.  I now go for at least 3 miles every run and typically go 4 to 6 miles with a long slow distance run thrown in for the endurance aspect.  But, I digress.

As we began running, we started putting in a lot of time dedicated to researching.  My husband did most of the research, but then we would talk about that research, as we sought to clarify and make good decisions from the information he gleaned through that research.  So, you ask, just what were we researching and what does that have to do with the past couple of weeks?  We looked into gear; running and cycling shoes, hydration packs, running vests, running and cycling clothes, GPS watches, sunglasses.  We researched bicycles; mountain, road, and cyclocross.  We analyzed form and technique for running and cycling, both road and trail.  We researched the how-to’s of nutrition on hours long runs and bicycle rides.  And on, and on, and on.  Sometimes we drove ourselves crazy with the research.  At the time, we had a lot of time to research because we were waiting on some funds to come in that would be put to outfitting our family to run and cycle successfully.  While we were waiting, we used the shoes we had, the clothes we had, and the gear we had, which was almost nothing.  Our shoes were over two years old and were pretty worn out, though they did serve their purpose for those few months they needed to.  Our clothing was not running or cycling specific, but it got us out there and also served it’s purpose.  One pair of my shorts was so old, the seams along the inner thigh were threadbare to the point I wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t have a blow-out on one of my runs.  That would not have been a pretty sight, let me tell you.

In our research, we found two websites that helped us immensely when it came time to make our final decisions.  DCRainmaker reviews all sorts of running gear, including GPS and non-GPS training watches.  His reviews are incredibly in-depth and he provides pictures so you know what is included with each watch and screenshots of the different watch settings so you can see the features included on each watch.  It was his reviews that directed us towards our eventual purchases this past week and were most influential in our decision.  Runblogger provides in-depth reviews of shoes, in addition to other gear reviews and discussions about training and foot strike.  His reviews helped us greatly in ultimately deciding which shoes we would purchase.

By no means are these two the only websites out there offering such reviews, and they were not the only websites we used in our research.  They happen to be the two that we found ourselves going back to time and again as we would find something else we wanted more information about.  We listened to Runblogger's Peter Larson because of his background in anatomy and his research into many different shoes, as well as his willingness to acknowledge that his preferences in shoes are not necessarily the preferences of others.  Just go to his website through the Runblogger link in the previous paragraph and you can see for yourself what I mean.  DCRainmaker was our go-to guy for the training watches because of his propensity for sharing every aspect and feature of the watch he could.  You can click on the DCRainmaker link in the previous paragraph and it will take you directly to his website.  I came away from some of his articles feeling as though my head was spinning, but in a good way.  We knew that if we had a question about some aspect or feature of a watch we were looking into, we could look it up on his website and find the information we wanted.

As far as clothing went, we went in and tried on different types of clothing, keeping in mind our goals for over the next year or so.  I know I want to spend a lot of time and miles running.  This means, for me, comfort and practicality.  If I’m not comfortable, chances are I won’t keep going with something.  I changed my style of shorts from compression to lined running shorts.  Talk about comfort.  I have freedom of movement, no chafing, no riding up my legs, and they are by far cooler than tight fitting compression shorts.  I also invested in some sports bras and some shirts that wick away sweat, another great comfort feature for me.  One of the things I was finding as we were running is that the tissue in the breast area hurt because I did not have a good sports bra that would hold me in place.  I ended up deciding on a style that holds well without flattening me into a “uni-boob.”  They can be a bit difficult to get on and off when I am sweaty, but no more so than any other type of sports bra.  The wicking shirts are great because they wick the sweat away and they are cooler than a cotton t-shirt.

We spent a lot of time deciding which shoes we would go with, also.  We were running in 2 year old Merrell barefoot running style shoes, as minimal as you can get other than running in huarache sandals or barefoot.  We were wearing through the tread quickly and we found it near impossible to go more than four miles at a time in our Merrell’s without some sort of foot discomfort.  The cushioning just wasn’t there after so much use already on them.  We talked about getting new Merrell’s, but we also looked at Altra shoes, a zero-drop shoe with cushioning.  For those of you unfamiliar with zero-drop shoes, they are shoes that are the same height in the heel as in the forefoot.  Most other traditional running shoes have at least a 13 mm drop from heel to forefoot.  This can lead to many issues, and potentially injury, which I will not cover here, but you can check out Runblogger’s website for articles about the benefits of running in zero-drop shoes.  Zero-drop shoes mimic a barefoot running style, but provide cushioning for your feet at the same time.  Merrell shoes offer protection with some cushioning, but not much.  They are a true barefoot running shoe.

We also checked out Salomon shoes for trail running, as this is something we would also like to eventually do.  The Salomon Sense Mantra shoes are door-to-trail shoes with a 6 mm drop, considered a minimalist shoe, though not a barefoot shoe.  I am very much a believer in minimalist running.  I am not a staunch, have-to barefoot runner, but I think it is important to work with my body as much as possible.  I ultimately chose to go with a pair of Altra Intuition 1.5 and a pair of Salomon Sense Mantra for my longer runs.  I have not yet decided if I am going to stick with the Altra shoes.  For some reason, it feels as though my stride has changed.  I am still working on this and will continue running in the Altra shoes unless I find they just don’t work for me.  The Sense Mantra shoes will be my long distance shoe.  They feel like a glove and are incredibly lightweight.  I forget I am wearing them when I am out there running.  The 6 mm drop is so small, it is unnoticeable, but the heel is cushioned so well, I am able to run the downhill portions more quickly and with no heel pain.  They are definitely my new favorite shoe.  I think I may decide to go back to a pair of Merrell shoes the next time I purchase a pair of running shoes, because I think the issue I was having in them was related only to wear and tear, not to the lack of cushioning.  I would use the Merrell shoes for shorter runs and the Salomon shoes for longer runs.  We’ll see when that time comes around.  In the meantime, I will keep running in the Altra shoes and I may find they work better for me as I run in them more.

Since we have made our purchases over the last couple of weeks, I am finding it more comfortable to get out there and run.  Is it easier?  Frankly, no.  But, I feel like  a runner now.  I look like a runner, too.  For me, this did something with my mindset.  It’s as if it’s been an uplifting experience and I feel more prepared to get out there and put in longer distances.

I guess my overall point to you is this: when you decide you want to do something, do it, however you can.  But, and this is a big but…do your research, talk to people who are doing what you want to do, find out what it takes to be successful.  Then, do what you need to do to be successful.  Would I have kept running if I hadn’t made the decision to invest what I did?  Maybe.  Probably.  But maybe not, too.  It would have become easier to come up with excuses to not do it.  There were days I made the choice to not run because my feet were tired and my body was tired.  Some days I needed the rest; other days I did not, I just didn’t feel like going.  Now, I find myself looking forward to the next run, how far I will go, whether short or long, where I will set my pace or if I will base my pace on heart rate, where I will run, etc.  I look for ways to get out there and do, not excuses to stay in and lounge.  I take my rest days, when necessary, but I look forward to getting back out there after those rest days.  Find what works for you and DO IT.  I can’t stress this enough.  DO IT!  You can, you know deep down you can.  How bad do you want it?