When it comes to running, there are days when you simply don’t have it. Something isn’t working. You’re out of breath and your body isn’t responding. You don’t plan it. It just happens. And unfortunately, it happens when you least expect it.
It’s a strange phenomenon that really can’t be explained so it comes down to this. In running and in life…
Somedays you have it and somedays you don’t.
During a training run this week, I experienced one of those “You don’t have it.” days. I felt like an old washing machine that was missing a foot. The kind of washing machine that rattles and shimmies and makes all kinds of noises. I was the washing machine that wobbles around during the wash cycle and bangs against the back wall during the spin cycle. I was the washing machine that everyone hates.
A mile in and I was out of breath. My feet weren’t hitting the ground right and my legs where out of sync. I felt like my arms were flailing and flopping in the wind. My head was down and my rhythm was off. I was an old washing machine running down the trail. Clumsy, loud and off balance. I was the runner that I hate.
So what do you do when this catastrophe happens? How do you realign and get out of this funk?
Here are three simple things that will help:
* Find a beat – If you listen to music while you run, hone in on the beat. Feel the rhythm and focus on the drum beat or the bass line. Let your feet land in time with music.
* Find your inner metronome – If you don’t have music, imagine a metronome. Listen to the tick. Watch the needle move back and forth in your mind. In short, trick yourself and create your own beat.
* Disassociate – When your running is out of sync, think about anything else but running. Think about your favorite vacation spot. Think about your favorite person. Think about you favorite experience. Your body has an amazing ability to remember things. Your muscles have memories. Don’t think about running. Your body knows how. Let it do it.
Do you have off days? How do you get past them?
I often have deep thoughts while running. Here are a few that I had while running in March:
1. I should have wore sun screen.
2. The clouds are beautiful.
3. How fast do clouds move?
4. Where is that plane heading?
5. Could I leave a vapor trail on a humid day?
6. The skin on my head is burning.
7. My legs are burning.
8. How much do these shoes weigh?
10. This wind is ferocious.
11. I’m not very aerodynamic.
12. Hopefully the wind will be at my back soon.
13. Maybe it will be easier if I spread my arms out.
14. I might take flight.
15. Where was that plane heading?
What do you think about while running?
“How do I make this pain in my legs go away?”
Part one of my answer is that I am not a doctor and if the pain is serious and persistent, you should see a doctor.
Part two of my answer is that if your a runner, pain comes with the territory. When your legs hurt in the morning, when you are sore in at least one part of your body on a daily basis, when you accept the pain as part of the package… then you know you’re a runner.
Along with being sore a lot, there are other dead give aways that identify you as a runner.
You know you’re a runner when:
- You find yourself stretching subconsciously in random places like a grocery store, at work, during a face to face conversation or at church.
- You bring up tempo runs in two out of three conversations.
- You think sweat is a fragrance.
- You don’t feel silly saying “fartlek“.
- People gasp when you tell them you went for a short and easy 10 miler.
- You run in your dreams.
- You put in extensive research before buying shoes.
- 90% of your clothing includes sweat wicking technology.
- If you’re not gasping for air at the end of a workout, you think it’s a failure.
- You own three or more water belts.
- You love the taste of Gel’s. (blech!)
- You have one or more playlists on your ipod titled “RUNNING”.
- You put bandaids in strategic places.
- You’re chafed… somewhere.
- No one wants to run with you on long run days.
- You’re a human garbage disposal.
- You have killer calves.
- You feel like you can conquer the world after a good run.
- You wish they sold endorphins over the counter.
- You feel alive!
And the list goes on and on.
What are some other things that identify you as a runner?
I often have deep and random thoughts while I run. Here are a few things that I thought about while running last month:
1. I need to paint my walls.
2. Is there a name for the color that is currently on my wall?
4. Fruit. Yum!
5. I’m sweating profusely.
6. Is sweat slippery?
7. I should have turned the heat down.
8. I feel like a glazed donut.
10. This treadmill spins around like a donut.
12. This room needs more light.
13. I need to see the sun.
14. The sun is round like a donut.
What do you think about while running?
My treadmill sits right next to the dusty Bowflex machine in that unused space in my house. I named my treadmill Reed because it’s a Reebok treadmill and that name just seemed to fit. And if your name is Reed, I’d like to apologize up front because Reed and I are not friends.
I leave Reed in the corner of the little room because I really don’t want to see him. I really don’t like Reed. In fact, I have a love/hate relationship with Reed. Reed doesn’t like me either. He doesn’t want to start up some times and I have to unplug his power cord and smack his side to wake him up.
But sometimes Reed and I must coexist. He comes in handy on really cold days and rainy days and days that I get behind and need a quick workout. And although Reed is loud and ornery and smelly, he’s not completely useless.
I’ve learned that there are things that the treadmill can do that will make me a better runner and even though we don’t see eye to eye… Reed is often my ally.
Here are some positive benefits of a treadmill workout:
Focus on form – Even though the treadmill doesn’t allow you to propel yourself forward, the motion is all the same. The key to efficient running is good form, the way your body moves, the mechanics. The treadmill is a great place to focus on where your feet are landing, how your arms are swaying and what your posture looks like.
Speed – Quick leg turnover means faster speeds. And to have quick leg turnover we have to perform intervals. Performing intervals requires that we speed up and slow down within a certain time period. And there is no easier way to change our speed than with the touch of a button. Fortunately, the treadmill has easy access to a wide range of speeds.
Maintaining heart rate – The treadmill keeps you moving and simply moving keeps the heart rate up. And when the heart rate is up, we gain and maintain fitness and burn calories.
The treadmill is not my favorite thing and Reed and I don’t always get along but we make it work and make the most of it.
What do you think of the treadmill? Love it or hate it?
I often have random thoughts while I run. Here are a few I had while running this winter:
1. I love this treadmill.
2. I hate this treadmill.
3. Are these cold weather running pants made for men.
4. These cold weather running pants are hard to get on.
5. My lungs burn.
6. My legs burn.
7. New years resolution: Run more.
8. New years resolution: Run farther.
9. Maybe I could run an ultra marathon.
10. No chance (ultra)
11. Maybe (ultra)
12. No way (ultra)
13. I’ll think about it (ultra)
14. I’m eating cake after this run.
15. I’m still hungry.
What do you think about while running?
I believe runners are gifted athletes. We may not be able to throw a ball 100 mph, tackle a 200 lb. running back or perform a double windmill slam dunk but runners are gifted. As gifted or more so than a professional athlete. Why? Because we are consistent.
As runners, our season never ends. There is always another race. Ours is a year round sport. There is a 5k every weekend and a half marathon every month. We are constantly running and this is what makes us pro’s. We’re consistent. We always show up. But should we have an offseason?
In my mind, there is an unofficial running season. It ranges from mid march to late November, occasionally stretching into December. Just like seasons in a professional sport, there has to be a time to slow down and to take our foot off of the proverbial pedal.
Here are three benefits of a running offseason:
Healing - Running is grueling and the pavement and trails show no mercy. Our joints take a beating when we are in training mode. And just like the pro’s, we sacrifice and play hurt. The offseason gives us a chance to lower the mileage and dial down the intensity. It gives our bodies a chance to heal and strengthen.
Longevity - Though we love our sport, it’s easy to burn out. Running year round can get old fast and the enthusiasm that we usually have can be hard to conjure up at times. As much as running is a physical sport, it’s also a mental and emotional sport. The offseason is our chance to get our hearts and minds right and to make the joy of running last longer.
It’s flexible - I hate running in the cold so my offseason is during the winter months. But your offseason can be anytime. Every other month? Every two months? The beauty of a running off season is that it doesn’t come with rules or timeframes. You can take it when you want.
You are a runner. A gifted and committed athlete. You love your sport and you pour everything into it. But it’s a good idea to ease off the accelerator from time to time. Enjoy your offseason.
The last time I checked, my right shoe was a mirror image of my left shoe. It’s made of the same amount of fabric and rubber as the left. It has the same red, orange and black color scheme as the left shoe and it has the same length and width.
My right shoe is just as roomy and comfortable as the left. It has a little more wear on the sole than the left but that’s just because I’m right footed. If there is such a thing as being right footed.
To any other person my right shoe would seem insignificant compared to my left shoe. But my right shoe has special meaning to me. It’s more than a ride. It represents something bigger. Because my right shoe is where I begin.
Running is rewarding and fun but it can also be hard and intimidating. Starting is the most difficult part and that degree of difficulty varies from person to person. Where do we begin?
We begin by getting off the couch.
We begin by getting out of bed.
We begin by stepping out the door.
We begin by lacing up.
I begin with my right shoe.
Putting my right shoe on first is less of a ritual or quirk. It’s more of a battle cry.
It’s a warning to the asphalt that lies ahead of me. It’s an ultimatum to the clock that I’m determined to beat. It’s an angry glare into the eyes of doubt and fear.
But most importantly, my right shoe is simply where I begin. It’s that start of something good.
We all begin somewhere. How will you begin today?
(photo by: woodleywonderworks, creative commons)
The big, black dog barked at me from the other side of the fence. It wasn’t one of those deep, howling barks that says “Hey. Here I am. Look at me.” It was a snarling bark. That shrieking bark that says “I will rip you to shreds dude!”
I was running on a lonely stretch of road. A road where few people travel by foot. It was a narrow and hilly road that was lined with horse farms and vast private estates. I’m sure this dog wasn’t used to seeing anyone run by his place. I was an alien in his land. Un-welcomed.
It was as if he owned this plot of land and that I wasn’t allowed to run by it. He kept his head low and his hackles were up. I could clearly see his yellow teeth. His buddy, a smaller dog but just as loud, joined in when he heard the other one barking. I was outnumbered. Thankfully the fence separated me from them.
I didn’t slow down. They ran with me from the other side of the fence and when I was passed their property, they disappeared into the woods and the barking stopped. Out of the corner of my eye I could see them shuffling around were the fence turned away from the street. There was a spot where the rain had created a dog sized hole around a fence pole.
Without looking back I knew what was about to happen. And then I heard the tapping of claws on asphalt. They were tapping in rapid succession. The dogs were free. I was being chased. Release the hounds!
I knew I wouldn’t be able to outrun them. I was running up a steep hill and there was nowhere to hide. I looked around for anything I could use to defend myself. A rock. A stick. Anything. But there was nothing but leaves and rotten apples that fell from an overhanging tree. My only hope was that they were hungry for fruit.
With no weapons and no plan, I instinctually stopped and turned to face them. The big dog was running toward me and barking. His buddy trailed behind. I thought briefly about how good my round house kick would be. Would I be able to make contact? Should I go for the eyes? Maybe a judo chop to the throat.
I knew if I tried to run away that they would see me as prey – so I stood my ground. I raised my arms and made myself as big as possible. I remembered something from a television show about dogs.
No talk. No touch. No eye contact. So I stood there quietly with my gaze just over their heads.
At that moment I realized what I was really afraid of. The clock on my running app was still ticking as the dogs and I were facing off. I had a goal in mind for this run. A pace to keep. And this altercation was helping none to much. These dogs were holding me up and at that moment my fear of being mauled was trumped by my fear of being slow.
In that instant I was motivated by fear. The fear that I wouldn’t meet my goal. The fear that my average minutes per mile would grow higher. I couldn’t let that happen so I walked away from the stand off and continued up the hill, unconcerned about teeth sinking into my heels.
When I reached the top I looked back over my shoulder and the dogs were still there. The big one stared at me from afar. He stood there proud and tall – “Don’t come around here no more!” The smaller dog stood behind him with his tongue hanging out to the side – “Yeah, you better run!”
So I used that fear of not finishing strong to my advantage. It turned it into fuel. I fed off of it. The fear of chasing dogs slowed me down but the fear of being slow kept me going.
Are you motivated by fear?
Running is meant to be a pleasurable experience. For most of us, the act of running leaves us feeling refreshed and energized. It helps us focus and relieves stress. And along with the mental and emotional perks of running, we are getting physically stronger as well.
And during or after our run, the body releases chemicals into our brains. We get a euphoric feeling; a sense of excitement and inspiration. We call it the runners high.
But don’t let the title of this post fool you. Running is not always a fairy tale. We don’t run with pixies and unicorns. It’s not always rainbows and happy endings. There’s rarely a giggly leprechaun with a pot of gold waiting for us at the finish line.
Because running is a grind. It’s painful but in a good way. It takes sacrifice and sweat. We set a goal and we push hard. And if we have the will to continue, all of our efforts and determination lead to better things.
So I equate running to the life of those little butterflies that join me along the running trail. Their wings are canary yellow and the sun makes their colors shine. They look happy to be alive.
As they flutter along side of me, I like to think that they follow me because they are curious and that if I looked close enough I would see a little smile on their face. And if they had thumbs, I like to think they’d be giving me the thumbs up.
Just like a butterfly, the journey of a runner starts out slow. Like a caterpillar crossing a busy road. We trudge along trying to avoid the pitfalls. Caterpillars try not to get smushed. Runners try not to give up.
And when the caterpillar gets zoned in, things start to change. A transformation occurs. The same thing happens to runners. We develop new habits and learn new things. We find our rhythm and our efforts become more effortless.
Eventually, because of its determination, the caterpillar sprouts wings and it becomes a new being. And this is what running does.
It changes you. Runners are different. We are not a part of the status quo.
And this is what I think of when I run with the yellow butterflies. That running makes us happy and that the journey to become better is not an easy one but it’s a rewarding one.