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?