Wednesday, September 18, 2019

RUN(derful) & RIDE(rful) Wednesday

HAPPY WEDNESDAY GUYS! Ahhhh! We made it! It's all downhill from here (and that's GREAT news when it comes to running and biking). 😄

No matter what goes on in our lives, it's important to live in the moment and to focus on what's important to us. It's important to appreciate the time we spend doing what we do, whether that's work (or an aspect of work), learning new skills at the track with friends, picking up a new hobby or attending a class. Lately, I've been thinking about several aspects regarding friendship, relationships and personal accountability in a general setting. The more we grow and experience the world, the more we begin to realize that our willingness to bend over backwards for friendships and relationships of any kind begins to quickly dwindle, and for different reasons.  

This week's thoughts include:

Setting yourself on fire may be a bit intense, but sometimes we feel expected to cater to someone else in order to keep them happy. My first experience with this was in 5th grade; we had just finished a graduation party celebrating our grade's ascent into middle school, and my friend Shelly handed me a note - this was back when friends wrote each other letters during class and passed them out either before or after the next class. Shelly's note told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to hang out with her and be cool next year, I needed to drop all my other friends. Wait, what?! First of all, I was slightly confused and wasn't sure weather to laugh or be offended. Shelly was going into band, and all due respect to band, but in what universe is that cool? I was taken aback by her audacity and heavy abuse at the slightest perception of personal power, and rightly so. I realized who she was at that moment, and I didn't feel that a letter like that from a so-called close friend justified a response. Long story short, the next year in 6th grade I had a TON of fun with my friends, and Shelly became a tiny blip on the radar throughout middle and high school. I made the choice not to sacrifice what (and who) made me the happiest in order to make someone else happy. 

It hasn't all been that easy though, especially if you're a pleaser. Growing up, I hated it when someone was upset with me, even if I had done nothing to cause their negative feelings. It took me a while before I realized the futility and sacrifice of living a life by trying to make everyone happy. There are instances, especially as we get older, where the decisions we know we have to make aren't so cut and dry. Making the decision to destroy something about yourself, your happiness, or your trajectory in life may not be wrapped up in one large request. It's sneakier to recognize when it consists of lots of smaller actions over the course of time, for example, consistently doing small things to appease someone else. All of a sudden, you may look back and not know how you got to the place you did. 

Feeling obligated to go above and beyond, or even damage things about yourself to make someone else happy is a slippery slope. When does the line become crossed? Doing anything and everything for sports coaches despite what you feel is right is another aspect of that as well. In the end, all you can do is be honest with yourself, and always be giving. By "be giving", I mean give love, kindness and respect, but don't give everything you have to make someone else happy or content. You are not responsible for anyone else's "warm" happy feelings. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

Running Group Challenge: 4 Weeks of Research

Recently, and perhaps brought on by a big life change including a move halfway across the country, I’ve been more willing to step out of my comfort zone these days. I’ve been feeling empowered lately, mostly because I realized that I AM capable of so much more than I thought I was (and YOU are too!). I always thought my worldly “bubble” was pretty large – I’ve traveled, I went to school in Europe, raced BMX all over the country, stepped WAY out of my comfort zone after BMX and joined a sorority in college (💓 my fellow Delta Gammas 😎), taken on grad school (and the corresponding student-debt), but until this move and an introduction to all the changes that came with it, I realized that my bubble could definitely be bigger, and that it would certainly benefit me to try more in this world.
One of the tweaks I’ve made recently to my training program have been the addition of group runs on Sunday mornings. Instead of slogging through a long run alone on the same park trail each week (and usually not until around noon), I drive into Westport to a local running shop early in the morning to meet up with 50 other fun and interesting people who are just as crazy as me when it comes to their love of all things running.

Always a good sign to see when you pull up to a running shop!

Running has typically been my solitude. Being an introvert, I use my time during a run to think things through and decompress from a stressful week. It leaves me happy and ready to take on the day (and sometimes a good nap). Large, energy driven, talkative groups are always fun but as any introvert knows, they are draining after a while. Thus, the need for a long, solo, calming run. With everything that had been going on lately and everything I continue to learn from, I began to realize that a group run was at least worth a try- and maybe more than one try. A solid opinion should include some in depth research, meaning multiple group runs, am I right?? SO, after years of running solo, I decided to take a deep breath and give this new thing a good try. Fast forward a month and I have now completed my 4th group run. Keep reading for my experiences/opinion.

Week 1: August 4th

My 1st ever group run! I just want to know where everyone else parked...
On the morning of my 1st group run I got up, got dressed, and headed out to Run 816. Run 816 is a local running store that not only hosts these group runs, but also gives back to the community as well. I got there early for some good parking and went inside (they open the shop early Saturday for the runners) to get in line for the bathroom. After their announcement of the course and reminder that water is every two miles, we took off. Some friendly runners had approached me prior to the run, so that was really cool, and I began my run with them. This course was a preview for the Kansas City Marathon, so this was a net course to run, complete with many hills. After a while and due to my being quite the hill novice, I fell back in the run. I found the first water stop quite easily but ended up getting glost after that since I couldn’t find any signs. Another runner came by who was also lost, so we got our phones out and figured out a way back to the shop. Frustrated and feeling quite defeated I headed back to Run 816 with a “measly” 6 miles under my belt (I had been hoping for more). My opinion of group runs after this wasn’t too good. A few days later, I found out that a disgruntled homeowner had removed one of the signs and sent a strange (and grammatically incorrect) email to the store, so to be honest, it took me a few days, but in the end I decided to give it one more go the next week.

Week 2: August 11th

I made a new friend. Excuse the awkward photo, we just got done with 12 miles.

Week 2 was petty similar to week one, minus the huge crowd. There were about half the people there this time; I’m assuming it was partly due to a non-Kansas City Marathon partial route, and partly due to some pretty crazy impending rain. Luckily my boyfriend keeps track of the weather, because when I let him know my Sunday morning plans and he told me it would rain, I took that to mean, “put your valuables in a sandwich bag”, so that’s what I did. I got there, got some good parking, bought a Honey Stinger waffle for some pre run fuel, waited for my Garmin to locate a signal, and was on my way with the rest of the crowd. Since this run wasn’t on the same route as the previous week, all the signs were left where they were supposed to be. This helped tremendously! A New Balance rep was also set up at the shop to loan anyone who wanted to run in them a new pair of Fresh Foams. I had been wanting to try these out SO badly- so I swapped my Glycerines for a pair, stretched, hydrated, an got ready to take off. A few miles into my route I met several runners at a water stop and ran with them for several more miles. By now the rain had started, but with people there it made the miles more fun. My biggest fear was the pressure of matching other’s paces, but it became very clear that it just wasn’t the case. If someone wanted to speed up, they said goodbye and took off, and vice versa. Also, people who were turning around (not everyone does the same amount of mileage) always said waved and said encouraging words to those still running the opposite way. Throughout the miles I found myself doing the same thing. To be honest here, I wasn’t planning on running 12 miles, it just…sort of…happened. In the rain. Strange, I know. When I made it back to Run 816 and traded in the New Balance Fresh Foams for my Brooks Glycerines, I realized that my feet had so many hot spots and blisters. I attribute this less to the shoes (they were SO comfy!) and more to the rain and the fact that I needed to start putting Vaseline or something comparable on my toes before runs. That run also called for some pancakes afterward, and my feelings toward group runs had begun to change a bit.

Week 3: August 18th

Post long run chat with an amazing, fast and super nice trail/road runner before heading home.
Going into the 3rd week of group running, I was starting to look forward to it, and to meeting new people and trying out a new course. Since you’re not really forced to meet people during these runs, the pressure is off and occasionally I found myself making small talk with someone. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE getting to know and chatting with people; everyone has such an amazing story to tell. However, I never thought I would at 7 in the morning. That part surprised me. What also surprised me is how quickly my 12-mile run went by. I can’t say enough about how cool it is to have a fun route through the city, as well as water stops every two miles. Luckily it didn’t rain, and I even stuck around at the end to chat with an amazing runner, as well as a group. They gave me some great tips on recovery as well (Epsom salt baths are the bomb for muscle aches!)! I left this morning feeling hungry and like a million bucks. I got home, had a bagel, some eggs, and an Epsom salt bath after. After a nap, my day was ready to begin!

Week 4: August 25th

Everyone getting ready to get in those miles, and my boyfriend and I chatting lol. He's the tall one in front of the white column.

Everyone taking off! We're in the middle in the white and black tops...

Running in a thunderstorm makes 8 miles feel like least they did on Sunday!

How I feel after a training session! Woohoo!

By week 4 of my running group challenge, the habit of waking up at 6 am was already becoming ingrained in what I considered my usual Sunday morning routine. I found myself looking forward to it, but after 2 back to back weeks of longer runs (I am NOT marathon training at the moment, so I’m trying to keep my mileage down some and work on other things- I don’t want to burn out come January), not to mention lots of running and BMX during the week, my legs needed a bit of a rest. I was also able to finally talk my boyfriend into waking up early as well and joining me on this run, so we settled on 8 miles for this one. We got ready and I put my phone, key and ID in a Ziplock bag, then we were out the door. It was very overcast with the threat of rain, but during this run the rain managed to hold off until our very last mile, in which case it began thundering, lightening and pouring like no other. It felt great to run in the rain for a bit, but I’m glad it was our last mile, because between the Vaseline on my toes wearing off and my feet getting soaked, the lightening was no joke either. We ran for a few miles with another runner, a student who had just moved back to town for the start of the school year, and before we knew it we were back at the store, getting water from the cooler and standing under the awning for a few minutes (thank goodness for keeping extra old towels in the trunk of my car). Everyone who continued their run that morning was caught in the thunderstorm, as well as the participants in the Go Girl Half Marathon, which was going on through part of our route. I will be missing my next group run doe to some traveling next weekend, but I will definitely be continuing with this awesome group!

Right?!?! 😃😄😎

Final Thoughts:

I feel like joining this running group gave me the best of both worlds- solitude, the freedom to run your own pace (while getting faster) and still having support (and water stops) throughout your entire run, as well as being surrounded with amazing, supportive people. This group is diverse and minute mile times range from 7 to 13-minute miles. This group makes it a point to include everyone, and it shows. I can’t speak for every running group out there, since I don’t want to generalize, but I’m glad I tried this. If there’s a takeaway (or two) from trying this, I learned that it’s important to step out of your comfort zone to try something new. Running groups are not just for extroverted people, and it’s beneficial in so many ways, especially being far from family and friends. I also feel that it’s important to try something like this more than once to get a real feel for what it’s like. I’m already looking forward to my next long run. The routes are clearly mapped out and uploaded to Map My Run. I don’t have any cons to my experience so far except the sign being removed on the first day, but that wasn’t the group’s fault. My advice after 4 very intense weeks of “research”, is that if you have never tried a running group, go try one. I don’t mean to encourage anyone to pay to be a member of a running group if it’s not in your budget; there are many free running groups out there, including this one at Run 816 (if you’re in the Kansas City area come check them out!). In fact, check out a few groups to find out which one you ultimately like. Even if you try it and realize later that it’s not your thing, you haven’t lost anything by checking out something new. I’m certainly glad I did.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Developing & Maintaining Mental Strength in Sports Performance

Today I want to talk about something that I haven't seen pop up much during my online and social media scrolling, but something that's just as important, if not more important, as our gym workouts, track time, daily activities and mileage. This includes:

Mental Strength

How many of you know someone who is so amazing at what they do, but during a race they give in to the pressure and stress? In sports and in sports training, what we do physically to become ready for competition appears central in its importance to our preparation. A subject that can be easily overlooked in our endeavors is addressing mental strength. This fortitude is what keeps us in the game, especially when things aren't going our way; it's what makes us get up and try again every time we're knocked down (literally and figuratively). Mental strength is important long before game day; it helps to be be present in all of our training leading up to the big event. This strength is what helps us get out of bed at 4 in the morning in the train to train for that ultra, or get in those squats and put in the miles after work when we would rather lay on the couch and watch TV. I'm not saying run yourself into the ground- that's different. Rest days are important, and being able to differentiate pure exhaustion vs. a preference to continue sleeping is listening to our bodies and being in tune with our needs; this is something that also plays a central role in our ultimate success long term.

As important as mental strength is during a race, what we do and how we handle everything up to that point is priceless. We are all different, so it might go without saying that we all work on our mental game in different ways. Regardless of our differences, if you want to build mental toughness for competition, here are 10 things to work on that might help set you in the right direction.

What I Like to Work On

1. Learn how to move on and let go: 


I've had plenty of days where there was a bad race, horrible training run, or a bad BMX national result, but there's no point in dwelling on them. We all have bad days, but those bad days don't define who we are, so the sooner we can learn to let go of a bad day, failed workout or set of results, the easier it becomes to focus on the positives in our lives, including not allowing a low point or standing to define us. Learning to let go frees us up and helps up continue moving forward with our goals in mind.

2. Own your beliefs:
Stand firm in what you believe, including your values and principles. Don't be afraid to say no to something that goes against those beliefs, and don't change your values just because someone else questions them. I'm not saying that you need to scream anything from the rooftops, but know your limits, know what's deep down in your core and don't sacrifice your values and principles the second anyone comes along to challenge them.

3. Embrace the "new":
Change is good. I've been trying a lot of this lately, and change IS good. I've discovered so much more about myself and my limits, as well as met some amazing and new people because of it. Trying new things is harder for some people than others, but it is just as important. If you take a minute to think about how far you've come, you might be surprised. I used to be a 2nd  grader who would eat nothing but pb&j sandwiches (with grape jelly) and now I race, travel, try SO many new foods (& love them), lived abroad and am following a career path that I love. It didn't just happen overnight, and if we continue to try new things, our love of change and our "bubble" gets bigger and bigger!

4. Be KIND (but take NO crap):
This is important. In every sport there is always someone who thinks that being rude, catty, disrespectful or a bully goes hand in hand with their performance during competition. Here's a secret: it doesn't. It is entirely possible to be a kind person in life while still going hard and giving it all you can during race day. Being kind still won't stop people from disliking you, there are always competitors who will see your being a kind person as a pre-race trick, a doormat, a reason to talk, etc., but since when are we supposed to change based on what those few people think? There are ways to be kind while taking no crap, and that talent becomes a valuable strength all on its own.

5. Happy thoughts = happy life:
Have you ever noticed that when you're upset and thinking negatively, those thoughts seem to multiply and it becomes harder and harder to pull yourself out of a funk? Do you have that one friend on Facebook who seems to post nothing but negative or frustrated comments, and in turn takes your once happy morning down a rocky path of annoyance filled with eye rolling and negative thoughts? Similar to the spread of negativity, positivity can grow as well. Begin and end your day by thinking about a handful of things you're grateful for. I've spent time running in the rain when I couldn't wait for it to be over. I focused on how miserable to was, how wet my feet were, how I could be at home, dry and comfortable on the couch, and wouldn't you know? My run was HORRIBLE. After making a concerted effort to change that way of thinking, I spent a day early this week running in the rain (I got caught in a thunderstorm on my last mile) thinking about how grateful I was that my socks were still dry, that I was getting in a great workout, and that my braid was the perfect hairstyle for this unexpected downpour, and I came out of the run in a much better mood.

6. Be happy for someone else:
I can't stress this one enough - you are not the only person in this world who works hard and who deserves to win and be successful. It's a messed up point of view and it will never correlate with your success in competition. Be a good winner as well as a good loser. Once we can appreciate and be happy for someone else, we can also fully own and celebrate the times when we experience our own successes.

7. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them:
Nobody's perfect. We all make mistakes, we're human. However, those mistakes we make on the playing field don't define us unless we make the choice to let them. I've never been a big fan of ignoring my mistakes, because I feel that there is SO much I can take away from them. I've made quite a few mistakes throughout my life, and as much as I wish I hadn't made them at the time, I find that those mistakes help me get better if I can embrace and learn from them. Adopting this type of mental outlook helps us get through them more smoothly, as well as grants us a greater acceptance and understanding of other's mistakes.

8. Get in tune with your intuition:
We hear it all the time (and if you don't, you should); always listen to your intuition. This goes for choosing whom to date (or continue dating), deciding weather or not to walk down that dark alleyway or clicking on the link in that seemingly innocuous email. While the concept seems simple, getting in touch with you intuition can be one of the hardest things to learn. So many times we tend to silence that inner feeling or voice inside in favor of a much louder calling. Our intuition only becomes louder and recognized for its importance after we make choices, and subsequent mistakes, that go against it. And that's okay, because again, we all make mistakes but we can learn from them. Practice getting in touch with your intuition by taking the time to be silent. Listen to your gut feeling, pay attention to what's going on around you and don't be afraid to make decisions based on what you feel. Learning to listen to ourselves may not happen overnight, but each day we practice this we get stronger and better at trusting ourselves.

9. Take responsibility for your own performance:
Don't blame others or make excuses for what you feel is poor performance. Ultimately, we are the ones out there competing, not coaches, significant others or parents. If another competitor is faster, gets in your way or blocks you, that is just competition (I'm not talking about being a dirty competitor) and it's up to you to take that training and do your best. Once we take responsibility for ALL of our performances, we become more accepting and confident in all aspects of who we are, leading to a stronger mental game. As a side story, I used to know someone in BMX who would loudly make excuses to her competition if she got anything less than 1st place (which was quite often). Her strong belief that something must be wrong for anyone else to beat her was not only completely mistaken, it showed me her lack of ability in understanding her own performance. In every race, the minute she would begin to seek out her competition and complain about what ails her, I knew that she wasn't feeling so confident. If we were playing poker, she just showed me all of her cards.

10. Every once in a while, take stock in your beliefs and reevaluate them
When I was in elementary school there was an important presidential election. I remember the kids in my class and the rest of the school showing up with pins on their shirts or coloring pictures supporting their favorite candidate. They were 100% for certain candidates, and their insistence, and almost anger at times, left me confused. I didn't know anything about politics at 8 or 9 years old, so how did they? It turned out they didn't either. They were mimicking their parent's belief system. They had no idea WHY they supported a certain candidate, but they were more than willing to get into loud, heated arguments on their behalf. I remember going home that afternoon and asking my parents in earnest who they wanted me to support, and they responded that they wanted me to read about each person (i.e. my own research), and make a decision for myself. Looking back, I don't think that was a common response among many parents at my school. What I'm getting at is this:

Don't blindly follow your beliefs just because they have been with you for a long time. It's fine to keep them, but spend time actively thinking about them and reevaluating your reasons for holding them. As human beings, we're constantly in a state of growth, learning and change, and just as much as we have a right to believe what we do, we also have a right to alter, tweak, or throw them out the window and start over. We take stock of our gear on race day, why not take stock of what we carry around the other 99% of the time?
Hopefully applying some of these techniques to your training and daily lives can help you on your way to a stronger mental game. One thing I like to do on top of practicing these is to actively engage- that is, live in the moment. If I am having a tough day or a race I'm not the happiest about, I try hard to remain in the moment, work on what I can and set aside the aspects I can't control. Can I work on a more positive mindset or choose how to re-fuel myself at the next aid station? Absolutely! Can I control feeling poorly or having a race in the rain? Absolutely NOT. Try not to let yourself feel frustrated over what you can't control, and remember to be grateful for the things you can control. You got this!!!!

What do you do to work on and maintain your mental toughness?