Ask a runner “why do you run?” and you’ll get a myriad of responses ranging from staying in shape, improving physical and mental health, developing friendships, achieving what once were impossibilities, and many more. One of my favorites that I always respond back with is simply, “it just makes me feel good.” But really delving into it - why does running make me feel good?
Your mind is a constant wanderer. You analyze (and overanalyze) everything! “Why couldn’t I keep the pace on that tempo run a few days ago?” “Why don’t we have any decent Presidential candidates?” “How am I going to perform on race day that’s coming up in a few short weeks (Eugene Marathon - May 1st - eek!)?” “How do we stop ISIS?” “Why did I spend so much money on that Kate Spade purse (yes, I still have shopper’s remorse)?” “Why am I running 2 marathons in one month?” “How am I going to get this project done before its deadline?” “What are the kids’ schedules this evening?” “Why won’t this muffin top go away?” I mean, it’s ridiculous!
We incessantly think about where we’re going, what we’ll be doing, and how we’ll do it or we beat ourselves up about something that’s already happened in the past. Our minds are in constant analytical chaos, a stubborn beast that’s hard to quell, delivering stressor upon stressor upon stressor. It’s enough to make your head want to explode. STOP!
Take a deep breath.
Isn’t is funny how that’s the first thing anyone ever says to you when you’re about to lose it (or if you’ve already lost it)? “Take a deep breath.” In the heat of the moment, sometimes you just imagine slapping the crap out of him/her, but you heed the advice and do just that - take a deep breath - inhaling deeply through the nose (using the diaphragm) and exhaling all the air out the mouth. Surprisingly, you find that this little exercise does indeed make you feel better. Why? Because in that moment, you’re practicing mindfulness. Your mind is no longer in a state of wanderlust. It’s focusing on the present - in the action of taking those deep breaths. It’s mindfulness meditation - letting go. This breathing exercise relaxes you. Each inhalation and exhalation is alerting your body that it’s in distress and taking those deep breaths provides a calming effect. It’s taming the beast that is your chaotic mind.
In relation to running, the art of practicing mindfulness meditation has really piqued my interest lately. Every time I turn around, I’m reading another article on mindfulness meditation from my latest running magazines and even to my recent Cooking Light issue. Currently, I have Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s “Running With the Mind of Meditation” in my Amazon cart. I’m inspired. There are even running meditation retreats. I wanna go!
Read this article where Rinpoche talks more about combining the efforts of running and meditation - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sakyong-mipham-rinpoche/running-with-the-mind-of-meditation_b_1418102.html
In practicing mindfulness meditation, you’re focused on the “here and now” through your breathing. Just recently, I downloaded this meditation app on my iPhone called Headspace (https://www.headspace.com/) and just completed my 10-day/10-minute introductory guided meditation. Every morning, I clear off 10 minutes out of my schedule to meditate and hone in on my breathing and focus on my “now”.
Look mom! I’m meditating!
I wish it was that easy. It’s actually pretty challenging. I catch my mind wandering and have to gently bring it back to the present, focusing on my breath. You should totally try it (the 10-day Headspace introductory is free).
In Karen Asp’s article, “Meditate Your Way to Better Health” (featured in Cooking Light), she states:
Physiological changes takes place in your body when you meditate. Studies show that just 8 weeks of meditation can increase density in the area of your brain responsible for executive function, which helps regulate emotions, holds information, and allows you to perform at your highest level. And meanwhile, the amygdala, the part of your brain that acts like a stress button, shrinks. It’s like going to the gym for your brain.
If meditation is like going to the gym for your brain and running is like going to the gym for your body, why not incorporate the two? And do some of us already naturally do that? I just completed Day 10 so I’m going to continue on this meditation journey and see how it improves my wellbeing.
This takes me back to my standard answer to the question, “Why do you run?” I run because it makes me feel good. Yes, I run for my health and for my sanity, as well as for conversations with friends - which all make me feel good. But I run because it ultimately clears my mind. It allows me to be aware of what’s going on in the moment. It’s listening to my body. Running provides the right distraction. Instead of focusing on the past or what obstacles I may have ahead of me, I make a conscious effort to hone in on what’s happening right now - my breathing, my stride, putting one foot in front of the other, relaxing my shoulders, focusing on how I carry my arms. I listen to the sounds around me - birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind, or even just the stillness of the morning. It’s about awareness. As soon as I start wandering into doubts and/or negativity about my performance, I gently bring my mind back to my breathing. I am practicing mindfulness meditation.
In the Runner’s World article, “Four Ways to Build Mental Toughness”, Coach Jenny Hadfield (who I had to pleasure of meeting at this year’s inaugural Runner’s World Getaway) reached out to Mark Divine, a retired Navy Seal Commander and NY Times best-selling author of “Unbeatable Mind”, to share his thoughts on training practices that help make a better athlete. To help remain calm and focused, Divine suggests to “slow your breathing and sync it to your steps while you run - breathe in through your nose for 3-4 steps, then out your mouth for 3.” I’ve made a conscious effort to practice this exercise for the last couple of training runs, especially in times where I’m trying to push my pace to keep up with others or even trekking up the top of the Talmadge Bridge. When I start falling behind, I notice how easily negative thoughts start seeping in. In efforts to tame my mind through mindfulness meditation, I simply go back to focusing on my breath - inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling out the mouth - and focusing on my feet hitting the pavement. Having that heightened awareness and then focusing in through mindfulness meditation can help instantly calm and relax you. It can change the negative thoughts of “I can’t” into a positive mantra of “let’s do this”.
In fact, Gretchen Reynolds in her NY Times article, “Meditation Plus Running as a Treatment for Depression” recommends we practice mindfulness in all that we do and to focus on the “now”. It’s a tool that can be integrated into running to enhance your experience and even performance. She states, “You accept what has taken place in the past, without judging it and do not fret about the future, the next race, or workout, for example. Rather it is a focus on the ‘power of now’.” Doing this will help you maintain a positive mindset.
This, my friends, is why running makes me feel good. It’s therapeutic and good for the mind and sole/soul (I can’t help a good pun). It’s my “me time”. It’s where I can escape my mind’s wandering ways and really just focus on how I’m feeling right then and there - by gently shifting my mind’s focus back to the breath, to the body, and to the present, or as Reynolds calls it - “the power of now.”
Next time you go out for a run and find yourself sucked into negative thoughts like being worried about how your next race will turn out, how you can’t keep up with the person in front of you, how last week’s speed workout sucked, or how you don’t have enough hours in the day to get all your work done - STOP!
Take a deep breath.
...and go kick some ass!
Can you believe the Publix Savannah Women’s Half & 5K has already come and gone? We spend all these months training and planning for race day and build up all this anticipation and excitement for race weekend and - in the blink of an eye - the weekend is over as quickly as it started.
The race, held on April 2nd, fell on a very wet and balmy weekend. The weather wasn’t quite as ideal as last year’s. In fact, the Doppler radar showed Savannah completely entrenched in various shades of deep dark green. Ugh, Mother Nature can be so iffy. You never know what you’re gonna get (channeling my inner Gump) and since you can’t control the weather, you can at least take charge of the situation given. I knew I was going to run this thing - rain or shine - so I went ahead and prepared myself mentally to run in the rain (which meant just throwing a visor on top of my stack of clothes).
Well whaddya know? Someone must’ve put on his/her boogie shoes and rocked out a mean rain jig, because although cloudy, the rain thankfully held out for the race. I’m glad because with 70% of runners coming from out of town, I would hate for the race to be canceled and their missed opportunity to run this beautiful course - which by far, is my favorite locally! You are truly running through the prettiest parts of Savannah. Half marathoners run around 12 historic squares, while the 5K weaves around 4. It’s the perfect “run tour” to view the city’s historic layout, rich in architecture with the magnificent homes and wrought iron fences (which inspired the race logo), Spanish moss-draped oaks, lush green trees, bright and colorful varieties of azaleas in bloom everywhere, historic Grayson Stadium, and a finish line right around the iconic fountain in Forsyth Park. Trust me when I say this course is absolutely gorgeous!
I woke up to a dreary gray and cloudy morning, however, Forsyth Park was teeming with excitement full of runners dressed in bright pastels and neons. I made my way to the start line area and waited for my cue to begin singing the National Anthem to kick off the race. As I stood there waiting, I spent those minutes being present and taking in my surroundings. I watched all these runners (obviously the majority were women, with a few men sprinkled here and there) with big smiles on their faces. Some looked nervous, some were checking their watches, and some were bunched up in groups taking selfies at the race start. I closed my eyes briefly and could feel the intensity of their energy, soaking in their chatter and laughter. When I opened them, I was looking at women of all ages, color, shapes, and sizes. It was an amazing scene to see women empowering one another. I took a deep breath and exhaled, getting all the nervous jitters out, and couldn’t help but feel thankful to be a part of this community and proud of Savannah for putting on a women’s race!
I had just been a part of the Runner’s World Getaway, a running retreat for women, over on Hilton Head Island a few weeks ago. I left feeling renewed, energized, and empowered. Deena Kastor, a bronze Olympic medalist was our featured guest and most of all, a huge source of inspiration. We talked a lot about women empowerment and supporting one another. There has been a tremendous increase in the numbers of women running and the numbers continue to grow. In a study provided by Runner’s World, 61% of half marathoners in 2014 were women. In 1990, women made up just a quarter of all runners. In 2014, it spiked up to 57%. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t quite that long ago when women were prohibited to race more than 1.5 miles. How insane is that?!
Just this week, I received my Runner’s World and Women’s Running magazine subscriptions - all of them highlighting the great Roberta “Bobbi” Gibbs and the movement she made for women in running. In 1966, this 23-year old’s Boston Marathon application was returned stating that “women are not physiologically able to run a marathon.” Boy, did it light and fire, which only made her more hell bent and determined on running the Boston Marathon. On race day, Bobbi hid in the bushes waiting for her opportunity to jump in with the other runners and became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Not only that, she ran it fast! She completed it in 3:21:40 - beating more than half the field - wearing her brother’s Bermuda shorts, a bathing suit, a blue-hoodie, and some brand new men’s size 6 Adidas (back then, there weren’t any running gear for women). Wow!
2016 marks the 50th anniversary of when this 23-year old female defiant became the catalyst spurring the movement for women to participate in the Boston Marathon. It didn’t happen immediately. It wasn’t until 1972 when Title IX was enacted and women were officially allowed to run Boston. If you think about it, the first US Women’s Olympic Marathon was only introduced in 1984 (with Joan Benoit Samuelson winning it) and Bobbi Gibb wasn’t even recognized for her three consecutive Boston wins until 1996! Put it into perspective and you’ll see it hasn’t really been that long at all! And now look - we have races that are dedicated to women and in my hometown! Now that’s not to say that the Publix Women’s Half & 5K is only for women. Men are welcomed and encouraged to run it also!
As I finished belting the last notes of the National Anthem, I made my way to the start corral and found my girlfriends. I didn’t set a goal for the race and just wanted to run what felt good to me. No pressure! We had the best time running the race - gabbing the miles away and laughing at our silly selfies along the route. We would occasionally offer words of support to one another, as well as the other runners along the course. We were completely blown away by how far ahead Joy Regina was in taking the lead. She’s a fast one! It was truly inspirational to see her go! We cheered on our training pals who were in pursuit of some impressive PRs and they both killed it! I ended up finishing in 1:54 and I’m pretty happy with it! I felt great at the finish which means I could’ve given more effort. I’ll try it for another half marathon. It’s best to see how I can do without drinking beer the night before ;)
I was so happy for my friends who smashed their goals, as well as their personal bests. I was also proud of my friends who ran just for the pure enjoyment of being part of this beautiful running community. Most importantly, I was proud of all of us who toed the line and completed the race! You go girls! There were so many smiles and laughter on the course and that is such a beautiful sight to see. Overall, the Publix Savannah Women’s Half & 5K was a great race, despite the weather, and I’m looking forward to running next year and seeing this race continue to grow through the years!
If you look up the idiom "on-the-run", it means to constantly travel or moving from place to place. Welcome to my life! I get asked the question - "Do you ever sleep?" at least once a week. The truth is - I am always on the run. My weeks are filled with work, training runs, dropping kids off to school and extra curricular activities, traveling out-of-town for races and soccer games, theatre rehearsals, civic duties - you name it. In addition to being an avid runner, I'm a happily married wife, mother of two, an actress, singer, a Fleet Feet CREW coach, and work full time as the Marketing Manager for Thomas & Hutton Engineering Co. I love being on the run!