Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why We Run

Over spring break, I had the awesome opportunity to reconnect with some of my best friends from grad school. These ladies went through the learning-to-teach ringer with me, and we always have a good time catching up. One of these women started a weight-loss journey about a year ago, and not only took on Weight Watchers as her guide, but began running. On top of that, she completed a half marathon this winter. I was super excited to see her and discuss all things running!

The conversation got me wondering something. You see, KH is a real runner. She gets up at 4:45 to run 4 miles before work twice a week, and runs on weekends as well. (Anyone waking up before dawn in order to run is a "real runner" in my book!) But while I was gushing about my love of running, she had one of those half-smiles on her face. One of those smiles that says, "Eh."

You see, she likes running, but she's open to looking for other kinds of workouts as well. She's thinking of taking up biking, she said. In short, or what I gathered at least, was that running isn't her love.

So here I sit wondering: why do we run? There are surely dozens of answers. Some people run for the weight-loss, the health benefits, the joy of being outside, the freedom of movement, to prove they can, for over-all mental well-being...But if you're looking to lose weight, why choose running in the first place? It's strenuous and can be tedious and boring. It's not very expensive and doesn't require a gym, so there's that.

But...why run? Really?

I discovered something about myself through that conversation. I am not a runner because I seek competition or feel the need to force my body to look a certain way/function at a certain level. I originally made the resolution to learn to run because I wanted some form of exercise that would take me outdoors, but it has progressed beyond that. Now, I think I'd feel safe saying I'm the kooky lady whose eyes glaze and who salivates at the chance to extol the many virtues of my weekly runs. (Not necessarily how awesome I am, but how amazing the run was.)

Basically, I've fallen in love with running. Why do I run? Because I need it. I love it. I crave it. Even on the days when I wish I didn't "have" to, I go and feel blessedly, blissfully happy for doing so. Without running, my mood dips. I feel lethargic. I'm cranky and easily annoyed. The endorphins running releases are only part of it! The knowledge that I am taking time for myself and doing something wholly good for my body and mental health gives me a high I simply cannot relate to anything else. I'm addicted.

We runners have many different reasons for running, and no reason is more valid than any other. Running for weight-loss and physical health is a perfect reason to put on your sneakers. But I'm beginning to notice that there are different categories of runners, and we experience our relationship to running in different ways.

Perhaps running is a challenge, or something to be conquered, or something to improve upon. Perhaps it's a best friend, a quiet and reflective moment, or a stress reliever. Perhaps it is a tool.

For me, running is it. I don't see myself trading it in for biking or swimming. It's not just about exercise in general; for me, it's about the experience of running specifically.

So that's the bottom line, then. I've come to a place, finally, where I define myself as a runner and feel incomplete when I'm not running consistently. I enjoy it even when I hate it. It's not even really about the multitude of benefits beyond the simply stated: When I don't run, I don't feel good.

Tell me, readers...why do you run? Why did you first choose running as your sport, and why do you continue it? How do you define your relationship with your runs?


Monday, March 19, 2012

Some Q&A About Motivation

Last week I only fit in that one run, despite best intentions. I'm pleased, though, because even making an effort to get a run in shows huge strides.

Short run tonight with K. Easy breezy. Spring Break is over and today wiped my energy, but I knew if I didn't go I'd regret it. Less than a mile is better than none!

Here are a couple questions I've gotten regarding motivation (which maybe shows that my resolution to be a more consistent runner is working!):

Question from KS:
"what kind of music do you listen to on your runs?

ive been lacking serious motivation lately. :( i was sick & now i cant seem to get back into it!"

I have such a wide and crazy selection of music. When running alone, I really prefer "angry" music. My favorites are "Closer to the Edge" by 30 Seconds to Mars and "The Way I Am" by Eminem. (Hilarious, right?)

I also like certain Florence & The Machine songs for running, as well as The Bravery ("Hatef*ck" is my power song), Lit, 3Oh!3, Chevelle, some of the newer Matchbox Twenty ("How Far We've Come" is a good one), and Mary J. Blige (particularly "Work That").

Here are some links to good playlists, too:

Fitness Magazine

Question from KT:
"i have been so unmotivated this past week... ran 3 miles last tuesday and just under 1 mile on saturday... been trying to run 3-4 days a week but have been in a massive rut these past 6 days... any tips on motivation?"

When I'm in a rut, I try to change my route. If you're running the same path, you can get really bored and it makes it hard to get motivated. Set yourself a low goal, like 3 miles, and map out a nice 1.5 mile loop to run twice this week. You should have a couple different paths to run of all different lengths so you can mix it up. Adding new or well-loved music to your running playlist helps. Also, finding a race to sign up for can be a great motivator.

What motivates us is very personal. Some people are motivated by the numbers of a scale, the fit of their favorite jeans, or the extra burst of energy running provides. So, readers, let's hear it! What motivates you? Share in the comments! Or, if you have a question, feel free to ask. I'm not an expert, but I'm full of opinions, and maybe something I say will click for you!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Benefit of Short Runs

Spring break is an awesome time of year for us teachers. Quarter 3 grades are finished and we're looking into the final set of weeks until summer break. I can taste the freedom! We're on our penultimate unit in LA, beginning our final novel in reading, and all the fun 8th grade festivities are just around the corner!

The problem with spring break, like most breaks, is scheduling. There's usually some travel involved in vacation, and traveling can lead to a broken running schedule. I've been very good about going every-other-day, but the Komen 5k was on Saturday, and then we left for camping Sunday. Now, camping only went until Tuesday, so while I packed running clothes, we only had one full day at the campsite and therefore no real time for running. (Late-night runs through the woods are not recommended, of course.)

So we get home Tuesday, exhausted, spent, and not looking to run. Wednesday could have been a running day, but unpacking, doing laundry, and little errands got in the way.

Today is Thursday, and tomorrow I have a wedding to attend, which will mean I'm gone from this afternoon until Saturday...and break ends Monday. So where did my running schedule go? When you're spending hours on end in the car, you crave a run, but actually fitting one in can be tough.

This morning I woke up, knowing that I had to run, even if it was short, because the next time I'd run would be Saturday, and that would make an entire week of non-running. But I had to fit the run in before the temperature hit 80. So the run was short.

The benefit of a short run is this: it turns the running switch back on, and sometimes that's all you need. After a race, even a short race, I tend to feel a sense of accomplishment. "Okay, self, we did it. Now it's okay to take a break from training." Sure. Why not? But if I had let a week sneak in between the 5k and my next run, I'd have backslid into a place where running was a chore, not a pleasure.

A short run is enough to motivate me back into a place where schedules are kept. The run this morning was hot, short, a little painful, and slow. But I went. I'm glad I went. I spent less than 15 minutes out there, but I got a little exercise in. When I go out for my run Saturday, I won't feel as sluggish and defeated as I would had I not gone today.

Not every run needs to be a push-it-to-the-limit, 3-mile, 4-mile, 5-mile run. Not every run needs to break a personal record. Not every run needs to leave you feeling sore and happy. Feeling moderately pleased with yourself is sometimes enough.

I only did 1.25 today, but I got out there, and by catching myself before I could get to the point where running was an annoyance, I did myself a favor. And it's also something that, this time last year, I never would have had the ambition to do. In this way, I'm making progress and keeping up with my 2012 NY resolution.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Komen 5k

Today was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure! K and I donned our matching running gear, pinned on our bright blue bibs, and waited anxiously for the race to begin.

K and I finishing the race!
M and R, along with Little R, came to cheer us on. The first quarter mile was the toughest because of the sheer number of people. It's hard to set a good, solid pace when you're constantly dodging around people. And while I understand that not everyone is a seasoned runner, I have to wonder why so many walkers decided to sign up for the competitive race instead of the non-competitive run and walk.

A happy finisher!
Anyway, our goal was to come in at 33 minutes. The race route was set around an outdoor mall in our area, and the day was beautiful and perfect for such a run! There wasn't much shade, but the temperatures stayed in the 70s.

My knees felt excellent, and by the time I started to feel I was lagging, I only had 1k to go, which was all I needed to know in order to get my second wind. We sprinted the end of the run and crossed the finish line just under 32 minutes, beating our goal.

We're already looking for our next 5k...having a race to look forward to is a great motivator, and finishing strong is a feeling that just can't be beat!


PS: Official time was 31:41:60, with K finishing at 31:41:57!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Finding Your Soul Shoes

Edited to add: My opinions here are pretty strong, but as we went on our run today, K reminded me of two important details I left out. 1) Your running buddies may not be experts, but if they've been running for a long time and have tried multiple brands, their suggestions or opinions may give you a good starting point. 2) Experts at running stores are salespeople, and some of them are aiming to sell certain brands for the kickback. Remember that if you try on a shoe and think it's the wrong fit, go with your gut and try something else. Their say-so isn't the bottom line; your comfort is.

Before I get into the real meat of this post, I need to give a little background on what is finally getting this topic going. This week, K and I upped our distance from 2 miles to 3. We're running the Komen race this Saturday, and it was time to begin training. The run was solid, but the day after my right knee was absolutely killing me.

So much so, in fact, that I wore my knee brace to work on Thursday. I've never done that before. I then took the rest of the week off to rest it.

Of course, K and I got to talking, and so here is where this post comes in. Most new runners ask their running aficionado friends for shoe recommendations when they're starting out. As this conversation usually takes place on facebook, I usually have the opportunity to see the replies.

Is it just me, or are runners positively rabid when it comes to defending their shoe choice? Perhaps mildly defensive is a better way to put it. No matter if it's Nike or New Balance, Asics or Saucony, you're going to find people tearing apart one brand and screaming the praises of another. We're all guilty of this. I think. It can't just be me and everyone I'm friends with on facebook.

So what is the best shoe? How do you really find it? Here's what I think: stop asking runners. We all have different strides, hip widths, foot sizes, issues with our pronation, etc. My favorite shoes are probably not going to be your favorite shoes.

Take my personal story as an example. My first pair of running shoes were New Balances that I used for volleyball and hardly ran a mile in. I decided, when I actually started running, that NB were lame and for fake runners (because...hello!...I had been fake-running in them for years!) My first running running shoes were a pair of Sauconys fitted to me for over-pronating, and I used them for two months before switching to Nikes, because my Nike+ chip fit into their special sole. Plus, I loved how light the Nikes felt! After my half and the knee injury, I switched back to the Sauconys, which felt heavy and awkward but helped my knee. And now I'm dealing with knee pain again, and am probably going to go back to a neutral shoe (my original Nikes) before buying a new pair.

Let's face it: running shoes are expensive, and you have to replace them pretty frequently. There are a million opinions out there on what shoes to try, and opinions are only going to get you so far. I cannot stress enough how important it is to go to a knowledgeable running store where you can actually 1) run around a track, or at least on a treadmill, 2) have an expert watch your stride (and even record it for slow-motion play-back), and 3) find a huge selection of shoes.

Your friends are probably great for dating advice, hair advice, fashion advice...but running shoes aren't just a pair of hot red heels you'd be willing to wear and wince through the pain for five hours to look cute. Running shoes are expensive and designed to support, correct, and sometimes even change your running style.

I have narrow feet. A narrow toe-box and lighter shoes are great for me. But anyone with bigger toes won't really love the shoes I love. It's that simple.

Being able to hear someone say, "See how you land on your foot - right there? That's over-pronating. Let's get you in X shoe," makes you feel confident in your running. That's a huge plus. On top of that, you're actually wearing a shoe that's good for you, not just a latest trend.

Where I stand now, I know that I got my first pair of running shoes when I was a brand spanking new runner. I needed some correction. Now, my strides are totally different, and so is my pace. It's probably time to get back into a store that can check my stride and see if a neutral shoe is right for me.

So please remember that while facebook and running friends are wonderful cheerleaders - and heck, they may give great stretching, icing, and injury advice! - they're not going to be able to recommend the right shoe for YOU...only the right shoe for THEM.