Sunday, December 30, 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007

December News

The New York Times published two interesting articles on running and exercising this month.

The first one talks about a new study that shows that "The risk of dying on a marathon course is twice as high if you drive it than if you run it..." I promptly forwarded the story to my mother, who is constantly worried about my "obsessive" running. The researcher began the study "...out of annoyance with the enormous attention given to each death in a marathon — often even greater, he added, than the attention paid to the winner." Very true.

The second story talks about a mental technique many athletes use called "dissociation." The article says that "No matter how high you jump, how fast you run or swim, how powerfully you row, you can do better. But sometimes your mind gets in the way." In order to overcome the mind-block, some athletes learned a technique from Tibetan monks who "...reportedly ran 300 miles in 30 hours, an average pace of six minutes a mile [!!!]. Their mental trick was to fixate on a distant object, like a mountain peak, and put their breathing in synchrony with their locomotion. Every time a foot hit the ground they would also repeat a mantra." It turns out that most professional athletes use dissociation, even if they don't know it. For example, Paula Radcliffe counts 300 steps (which for her, make a mile). Similarly, some of us in the running group use a metronome. On each bip one foot hits the ground.

This is probably my last blog of 2007. One of my 2008 resolutions is to post a monthly blog covering noteworthy running and exercising news and articles, hope you enjoy them!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays...and be careful about flour

I have not forgotten my blog duties...I am done with this quarter and work deadlines, so I have some time to say hi!

Last Sunday we ran the first balanced athlete half marathon. We had one aid station at 'three friends' and one moving aid station (Eric carrying gels, extra water, and Brian's potion :-) ). We marked the tricky turns with flour the night before. Incidentally, later in the week I read this in a newspaper:
"Two people who sprinkled flour in a parking lot to mark a trail for their offbeat running club inadvertently caused a bioterrorism scare and now face a felony charge".

I guess next time we will have to find a less threatening substance to mark the course, any suggestions?

Eric and I feel very proud of the running group that has formed around the store. Many good friendships have emerged, and many more fun times await us!

I was looking through the holiday cards we have received, and I was so happy to see that many come from runners in the group. It is so satisfying to see that we are regarded as your friends, not as the owners of a store where you buy your running paraphernalia...

I am not sure if many of you know how the group started. We actually started having group runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays BEFORE the store opened. Three or four people would meet at the door, and off we went. I remember running and wondering how the group would change, and also hoping that it would grow. We would finish the run and go inside the store to stretch, among the unpainted walls, stained floors, and dusty space.

One year and a half later, here we are. Thank you all for showing up even on the darkest, wettest days. Hope to see you all next year! We have some fun 2008 plans, including the Tiger Mountain Relay, a group marathon in Alaska, and many local races!

The balanced athlete wishes you all a wonderful holiday season!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sunday brought an early Thanksgiving

... for the Balanced Athletes at the top of the steep hill-climb at 277th Street. The group has matured and improved so much this summer that Eric had no worries about taking everyone along the Green River to take on that trail. It rises a few hundred feet in just over 1 mile and though I felt sure that many folk would have rested along the way if they had been out on a "Sunday Solo", being part of a group, everyone made it - running. Not just 14 runners whooping and cheering each other as they wound their way to the top - it was a group. There was a sense of belonging and a shared accomplishment.

Down, down, down Scenic Hill we went, skirting Canyon/Earthworks Park (shouting as we passed Paul B's place to wake him) and back through town to the store. After 9.5 miles only Eric and I were crazy enough to want more so we took off North on the Interurban Trail for a quick out-n-back 6 miles while a few others joined the waiting list for a table at The Wild Wheat. It was an exhilarating second set that we completed in about 42 minutes. Yes, I'm happy that I'm ready for Tucson.

Was it just another Balanced Athlete Sunday run ? No, it was a remarkable run for a number of reasons.

  • The group runs have been getting larger, busier and noisier - Sunday saw our best group in ages with over a dozen people smiling and eager to start at 8am.
  • It was so good to see people there ranging from original runners to the new faces
  • On the run so many little groups forming, changing and re-forming making it a great social event too
  • A number of people commenting how far they have come in running and fitness in only one short summer

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The power of thoughts

Lately I have been entranced by an emerging concept in neuroscience called 'neuroplasticity.' The implications of this discovery are so amazing that neuroplasticity has been named "one of the most extraordinary discoveries of the twentieth century."

Neuroscientists had always thought that the mind (a collection of thoughts, hopes, beliefs, and emotions) is a result of the chemical mechanisms and circuits in our brains, and, that these mechanisms are immutable after a certain age. In other words, they thought that the physical brain governs our mind.

The Dalai Lama asked one of these scientists if the mind could act back on the brain and change its physical characteristics. The scientists answered that this could not be possible. However, they were open to experimentally test this theory.

Buddhist monks meditate many hours every day, and during their meditation, they think about love and compassion. Scientists discovered that "adept" monks (who have meditated for at least 10,000 hours), have an abnormally high amount of gamma brain waves. These waves are associated with perception, problem solving and consciousness. They also observed that parts of the brain linked to the self have lower activity, "as if during compassion meditation the subjects opened their minds and hearts to others", and areas linked to positive thoughts and happiness became more active.

There is more to this. It turns out that attention has a very important role in shaping our brain. The things we pay attention to every day physically mold our brain. This is backed up by other scientific experiments (for details, see links below). So as one scientist at the University of California (San Francisco) put it:

"[Through attention] We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves."

So, how is this related to running, walking, triathlons...? If our mind can shape our brain, and our brain controls our can run a marathon by just thinking that you can do it (plus training, of course). The mental barrier is the biggest obstacle most of us have.

If you are as geeky as I am, you can read more about this here:

- How Thinking Can Change the Brain: an easy to read Wall Street Journal article
- Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice: a published science article from Princeton University

Well, that is my blog for today. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and remember, think positive!!!


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Newspaper

I often read the New York Times articles on running. They are actually very good articles, and you can read them for free online (after you register).

This week, they had an article that gives pretty good advice on marathon racing (link to article, you need to register, for free). However, their advice applies to any running distance (I have inserted my own comments):

1. "Your goal is to keep an even pace or, even better, to speed up at the end, running so-called negative splits." In other words, do not start fast!

It is so difficult to not start too fast when everyone else is behaving like they are being chased by the bulls at Pamplona (link to news on this crazy tradition). Many will pass you, but if you are smart about how you start, you will pass many of them later on.

2. "Taper for 14-10 days before the long distance race. Too many people go to the race exhausted!"

Very true. I have experienced this on my own skin. One more long run or speed workout during the last few days before a race is NOT going to improve your performance. Your goal is to get to the starting line with rested legs. You should feel very strong during the first half, and your legs should not burn when you are just starting. If they do burn, you probably didn't rest enough (or you started too fast).

3. "Have a rousing mantra for when the going gets tough."

Your mind plays such an important role when racing. My yoga teacher tells us that the way we think, react, and behave when we experience a physical challenge is a reflection of how we think, react, and behave when we experience problems in life. By training your mind to change when you exhort yourself physically, you are also training your mind for life's problems. I truly believe this.

You can learn so much about yourself when you challenge you body. For example, I have learned that I mentally break down when I am almost done (~80% of the distance covered), regardless of the distance (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, ultra...). After I recognized this in my running, I realized that I behave in much the same way in other parts of my life. When I can almost see the finish line, I sort of self-sabotage by letting myself feel tired and discouraged.

Once you recognize your weaknesses, you can try different strategies to overcome them. For example, I pretend that I am running a longer distance(when running a half, I pretend like I am running a full marathon, etc). This has worked a few times, one problem is that sometimes I run slower, oh well...

Having a mantra that inspires you is huge. A mantra can be a memory, or thought that keeps you going when every part of your body is telling you to stop. It does not have to be a sentence or word. For example, I keep thinking of all those people who cannot move due to an illness. I celebrate that I am moving, that I am capable of pushing my body while other people can only hope that they could walk again.

4. "Hydrate before the race, we don't actually absorb much fluid during running. Drink water one hour before the race...", and drink LOTS the days before the race.

I have found that when I drink fluid during a race, it just sits in my stomach slushing from side to side (I can actually hear it). For some reason, I don't absorb much water while running. Eric, on the other hand, can drink lots, and he makes restroom stops at least 3-4 times. So hydration depends on your body. But no matter who you are, it is always good to hydrate heavily the days before a race. Actually, you should try to hydrate every day, but at the very least, make an effort during those last few days before the big day.

5. "Have a friend or family member wait for you at the 15 mile mark with a fresh dry shirt to change into. This will make you feel much better (psychologically)."

I have never tried this one, but I can see how it would help. I personally don't like to stop during a race, but whatever makes you feel like you are starting fresh helps.

Again, you have to trick your mind. There is this whole new theory about how our brain is 'plastic' (link to information about the emerging field of neuroplasticity). Neuroscientists used to think that the connections between our neurons cannot change much after a certain developmental stage. But, it turns out that this is not true. Our brain can be trained by thinking!. This is a whole different topic for my upcoming blog though, so keep tuned!


Friday, October 19, 2007

My Big 2007 'Aha' Moment

When we were thinking of how to name the store, we had a long list of possible names, but none of them 'felt right.'

One morning, Eric blurted out (with cereal still in his mouth) 'the balanced athlete.' And that was it. It was settled, it was a great start. But, it took me some time to really believe in the name.

At the time, we both had very busy schedules (and of course, we still do). Sometimes I felt very frustrated because I could hardly fit running into my life. I would skimp on sleeping to get up early in the morning to go for a run. If I had planned a long run, but something else came up that prevented me from it, I became moody and miserable for the rest of the day.

I am not sure of when it happened, but at some point during 2007 (maybe when we were dealing with the newly opened store, I changed jobs, we were planning a wedding, and we moved to a new house), I discovered a great concept: mold your running to your life, and not your life to your running. That was a big 'aha' moment for me, believe it or not.

There is nothing in life that is guaranteed, except for change...and death (which in itself is change). Change brings growth, lack of change brings stagnation. Once I accepted these facts, the only logical conclusion was that you can't resist change. So, every aspect of your life needs to mold to the current circumstances. And what drives most of us crazy is that change can arrive in any form, at any time, and in most cases, when you least need it, expect it, or want it.

Another fact that led me to my big 'aha', was to discover that I am not super-human. I need to sleep, I need to relax, I need to rest, and I need to enjoy my journey. So....I put one and one together, and I told Eric: "You know, you really had an enlightened moment when you named the is really all about balance, even if it sounds cliched."

Thanks to these huge leaps in reasoning, I decided that 2008 is going to be the half-marathon year for me. I started a part time MS degree, so I cannot keep running the same amount of time per week. And I feel perfectly content with this. I am looking forward to working on my form and my speed for this distance. Every distance presents you with a different kind of challenge.

I am sure that for some of you, my big 'aha' of 2007 is a big 'duh!', so I apologize for that. However, I see my old self in many of you. The more balanced your life is, the more you are going to enjoy running. It takes time to change your mindset, and sometimes, only change will force you to change your mindset (it did for me).

So there you go, that's my bit of wisdom for the day. What's yours? How do you balance your life? For those of you with kids, (I can't wait :-), how do you do it?


Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Gray Line of Cheating

During our post-run breakfast today, we talked about Marion Jones' doping confession. We discussed the ethics of ingesting substances that purportedly enhance performance, even if they are legal. There is a gray line between what's acceptable, like a strong cup of coffee before a race, and what is borderline cheating, like pills to boost endurance before a race (if the boost comes from the placebo effect, is it cheating?).

I guess it all comes down to the reasons why you run. If you run for purely external gratification (a medal, a money prize, fame, being top 10 finisher) you are more likely to be tempted to cheat. I can imagine that when you are a professional athlete, it is easy to justify it by thinking that everyone else is doing it, so why should you be at a disadvantage. I also imagine that professional competition can change the meaning that running has to you so dramatically, that cheating is so much more tempting.

Cheating is not a temptation that only professional athletes experience. Amateur runners frequently experience windows of opportunity to cheat at races. For example, at trail races. It is so easy to simply skip a section of the course, to 'miss a turn'. It is common to run by yourself for long periods of time, no one would notice if you cut 1-2 miles (that's anywhere from 8-25 minutes off your finishing time).

For amateur runners, the biggest gratification is the knowledge that you did it, and that you did it well. You don't get money (you pay money, and these days, you pay a lot), you don't get fame (except within your small circle of family and friends), and you get a finisher's medal (sometimes) that you can hang at the office. But the most important prize is, you did it! If you cheat, you don't get your prize.

All professional runners were amateur runners at some point (very talented ones, but still amateurs). It is sad that doing what you love for a living can corrupt its meaning so much.

I had a training buddy who didn't like to drink anything but water when running, because he felt that drinking sports drink was cheating (a little extreme for me, but that was his rule). So while he was drinking water and eating saltines for our long runs, I was 'cheating' by washing down gels with Gatorade :-)

What are your thoughts? What do you consider cheating? What things do you allow yourself to boost your performance? Which ones are out?


Friday, October 5, 2007

Happy Racing!

Some of the runners in our group are going to race this coming Sunday (Portland, Bellingham, Victoria, ... did I miss any?). For some of them, this is their first marathon or half-marathon distance! I just wanted to wish you all a good race. I'll be anxious to hear about how it went! You are all very well prepared, so just relax and enjoy.

Also, I would like to invite you to share your racing experience with everyone through this Blog.

Simply click on the link to this Blog located on the left, then scroll all the way to the bottom, and then click on 'Post Comment' (see images below).

On my end, I am going to try to 'dance a last Tango' for 2007 at the Cougar/Squak 50K that's happening tomorrow (hopefully I can still register). I first started to trail run in these mountains, so I hold them very close to my heart. As some of you know, life just got busier for me (school), so I am trying to get one more fix for the year before all I can train for is half marathons (which I love because you can run much faster than in a marathon or 50K).

I send you lots of good thoughts, and let us know how it goes...


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Community and Rain

Even though it is raining and cold today, ten runners showed up at the store for our Sunday run. Eight of us ran for almost nine miles, and Eric and Maria (a new member) ran six.

After our run, four of us had breakfast together. While we were enjoying our eggs, pancakes and coffee, we had a very interesting conversation that I would like to share.

After I mentioned I was from Mexico, Brian said that when he had been on vacation there, he had been amazed at the strong family and community values that people have. We all agreed that a sense of community has been lost in most places in the United States. I wonder what percentage of our national depression epidemic is due to this.

Many studies have shown that when we feel a sense of belonging and have a support network, we are more stable and happier. Once our basic needs are met (food, shelter, and health), it is not material gain that makes us happier. Among other things, belonging to a group makes us feel happier. Being social is a trait that has always allowed us to survive harsh conditions, so it makes sense that belonging to a community enriches our life.

So, back to our run. There is a big difference between running by yourself on a rainy day, and running with a bunch of other wet people. Actually, I don't think a lot of us would go out for a run by ourselves on the first place. Knowing that a group of friends is waiting for you is enough incentive to get you out of a warm and cozy bed at 7:00 AM on a gray Sunday. Knowing that you are having a yummy breakfast after your group run helps too :-)

Some of the runners in our group have told me that at first, they were hesitant about running with us. They thought that they would not be able to keep up with the pace, and that they would end up running by themselves, or that they would slow everyone down.

They soon found out that they didn't need to worry. This group is not the 'see if you can keep up with us' group. This group is about running together. There are some that are slower or faster than others, but we always come up with a system so that no one runs alone. The larger our group, the easier it is. We break up into smaller groups depending on running pace and distance.

I love running by myself too. I find that I can think clearly about my problems, I can come up with new ideas for work, or I can just listen to my music and escape. But I don't like to always be the stereotypical lonely runner, bravely facing the elements with a furrowed brow, willing myself to overcome the obstacles that the road may present to me. Sometimes I like to be more humble, and let the synergy of a group carry me through a long wet run. It is good to not try to be a hero all the time. And, did I mention our breakfast?


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Recovery and Body Listening

After a hard race, a period of recovery follows. I enjoy this period as much as all the other phases in training. This is a time when I look back at my accomplishment, and I get a nice warm feeling of satisfaction. I also get to eat a little more to replenish glycogen, and to seat on my comfy couch (while watching some mindless TV show) to rest my legs so that they can get stronger. And the nicest part is, I feel 100% guilt-free for eating and seating.

I would say that for most runners/bikers/tri-athletes, the recovery phase is one of the top reasons why they like to train and race. You get to indulge, and you know you deserve it. For me, it is chunky cookies (the ones with walnuts, chocolate chips, and oatmeal), for Eric, it is ice-cream (these days, he only eats Rice Dream, but that's a whole different story) and beer.

Some people ask us for how long they should recover, and the answer is 'it depends.' It depends on your body, on the effort level at which you trained and raced, and on your mind. Sometimes, not only our body gets tired, but our mind can also get burned out. Some running magazines recommend one day per racing-mile (that would be almost a month for a marathon, 2 weeks for a half-marathon, etc). I find this to be too much recovery for me, so the bottom line is, you will have to experiment a little to find out what works for you. With time, you will learn how long it takes you to get the itch again.

We do recommend that you go for a couple of easy workouts on the days following your race (even if it is a 20 minute jog), as this will help your muscles to flush out the waste that accumulated during the race. I highly recommend a gentle Yoga class to elongate your muscles so that they don't get tight and short.

Your main worry when recovering, should be r e c o v e r i n g. Many runners, including myself, are too used to following self-imposed training schedules, and make their workout a must-do item in their daily to-do list. If they don't have this schedule, they can feel anxious and get moody. A cure for this is to make a recovery schedule, with 2-4 workouts per week, and depending on a number of variables, the workouts should be between 20-60 minutes, and at a SLOW pace.

Another thing I have tried lately, is to forget about a schedule when recovering, and practice my body-listening skills. For one to three weeks, I give myself 'permission' to ignore a schedule, and just listen to my body, and do what it asks me to do.

For example, this week, I had planned to run on Thursday after work. But after driving home, there really was no desire in me to run. My body was feeling worn out, and I felt like making some tea and reading my novel instead of putting my shoes on to run around the neighborhood. It can be difficult to listen to your body and do what it tells you to do, specially if you are like me (type A all the way). Even when I was reading, I kept looking at my watch, and thinking, 'maybe just 10 minutes...'. But I told myself: 'Live in the moment', and I really gave myself to the book (BTW. I really recommend 'Out Stealing Horses'). Time flew, and I had a great time. And the great thing is, next morning, I woke up at 6:00 AM without the help of the alarm clock, and there was nothing I wanted more than getting up to run in the dim fall light. This run made my day.

So you see, when you listen to your body, you will not stop running (or doing your sport of preference). That's what I thought would happen if I threw my schedule away. I thought that I would not 'get it done.' But our bodies get so used to moving, that they will make it very clear to us when it is time to get out for another dose of healthy stimulation. I am serious, give it a try! You don't loose anything, if it doesn't work, you can go back to your schedule. For me, the next step is to try to run more like this, even when I am not recovering.

OK, so it is time for me to go and do some more recovering. I already had a wonderful breakfast with our Sunday morning group run, but there was a cookie at the bakery that has my name written all over it.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cle Elum 50K

We ran Cle Elum 50K yesterday. We got up at 4:30 AM to make it on time for the 8:00 AM start. I was recovering from a respiratory allergy episode and was not sure of whether I would be able to run. I decided to start, and 'play it by ear.'

Just before 8:00 AM, the sun came out from behind the clouds, the air felt clean and fresh, and we all gathered up at the race start. Trail race starting lines are not like road race starting lines. Most of the time, there are fewer runners, it is quieter, there are no balloons, few spectators, and no loud music blasting off powerful speakers.

The first mile is on a paved road, and then there is a left turn that leads to an uphill trail. The next 18 miles are pretty much all uphill, with a few short downhills.
Cle Elum has very dusty narrow trails that are often used by motor cross motorcycles. This makes them very hard on the ankles. It is a good idea to try to run on the side of the trail whenever possible.

The first 12 miles up to the first full aid station went well for me. I was breathing easy, and my legs felt strong. Our friend Laura Houston was volunteering at the 12th mile aid station. She told me that Eric had ran by the station about 30 minutes ago. I filled up my bladder with sports drink, since it was getting warm and the next full aid station was 9 miles away.

I knew there were 6 miles left for the uphill part of the race, so I just tried to focus on this distance; I would think about the next part of the race when I got there. Long distance running can only be approached like that, one section at a time, otherwise, you just get overwhelmed with the distance. The temperature kept rising, and later I found out that it was about 75 degrees, which is warmer that what I am used to.

The scenery was amazing. It was really clear, so you could see the mountains far away. By this time, the runners are pretty spread out, and I was running by myself most of the time. Some parts get very steep, and you can't really run them. I just hiked them with short quick steps.

When you reach the peak, the scenery is just beyond words. As I marveled at the view, I felt somewhat reluctant to keep going. I knew the the next section of the race was the most challenging for me. Downhill running is not my strength. I decided to concentrate on running two more miles to the 2nd full aid station. On the way there, we crossed a creek that you just have to deep into, there is no way around it. The cold water felt great on my tired feet. Alison Hanks and James Varner were volunteering at this station. My bladder was completely empty, so I filled it up again. There were 11 miles left, and I still felt good, although my recovering lungs and throat were getting irritated with all the dust from the trail.

I ran good for the next 4 miles. I was really trying to lean into the down hill, and using my core for stability. When I reached a 25 mile marker, I had been running for 5 hours. I calculated that I could run the last 7 miles in about one hour and 10 minutes (thinking back, this was pretty ambitious, 10 minute-miles on the trails is actually a fast pace after running 25 miles -for me).

After running about 20 minutes more, the mental struggle started. I practiced some tricks I have learned from my Yoga class. I tried to decouple my mind from my body. Even if my body was hurting, I was trying to somehow relax my mind. I softened my gaze, like we often do in Yoga, and I payed attention to the sound of the breeze, the creek, and the leaves. I tried to control my breathing by making it deeper. It worked. Once more, I was enjoying the run.

But then I got to the switch-backs. The last 4 miles have a repeating pattern of going uphill towards the right, and then downhill towards the left. There are 14 of these, and if you are not familiar with the course, you feel like you are having a deja vu over and over again.

I ran into Barb Blumenthal, she and I used to train years ago for marathons. I thought we had about 1 mile left. She told me we had 3. This messed up with my mind, and from that point on, it was a real struggle. It turned out we had 4 miles left. I am not sure why I thought we only had one mile to go, I guess I decoupled my mind too much :-)

At some point, you reach an intersection, you turn to the right, and there is a steep, wide, and rocky downhill road. You know you are almost there. You can hear people cheering. You cross a paved road, and you can see the finish.

Eric was waiting at the finish line. He had been waiting one hour for me. We both had a hard race. I walked around a little, got into dry clothes, and got in line to get some much needed food.

One of my favorite parts of a race is to hang out at the finish, talk to other tired and dusty trail runners, and eat cookies. Although I finished 20 minutes later than what I had expected, it turns out I was the 3rd woman to finish. This made me feel good, but to be honest, I was surprised and happy that I finished.

While driving back, my throat started closing up, and I knew I would suffer the consequences of punishing my body a little more than what it deserved. Oh, but it was so worth it.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

marathon vs. 50K

We are running Cle Elum 50K this coming Saturday (in less than two days!). Eric has ran it 10 times, and I have ran it only once. We have not been training as much (as we usually do) on the trails, but we have been doing some long runs in the city. This is the first time that I will run a 50K trail race without much training on trails, so we will see how it goes. As always, I try to run for running, not for reaching a specific time goal...

Most people who have never ran a 50K race (about 32 miles) tell me that they could never do it. That is exactly what I said the first time someone suggested it. I knew how it felt to run 26 miles, and I could not imagine running six more after reaching the finish line. Then I remembered that after I ran my first half marathon, I could not imagine turning around and doing it again; suddenly, six more miles didn't seem like that big of a jump. My friends kept telling me it was easier than running a marathon, which didn't make any sense at all.

But it turns out that most people who have ran a marathon, and then jump into a 50K , think that the 32 mile distance is easier (I agree). Most 50Ks are held on soft surface trails that roll up and down. The trail surface causes less impact on the joints, so they don't get as stiff as they can get when running for a long time on pavement. Also, running uphill and then downhill switches the muscle groups being used, so some parts of our body get a rest while others work a little harder. Another reason why 50K trail races are easier is that your mind is occupied. You are not thinking "I have 10 miles left...", "Now I have 9 miles left..."; instead, you are reacting to the obstacles on the ground (tree roots, rocks, etc, and I won't be specific about the 'etc', but some of the trails are also horse-trails).

The final reason I often give is, we are animals after all. A primal, adrenaline-charged feeling emerges when running in the wilderness. A sense of wild adventure that seems to be dormant in the city wakens. When I am close to the end of my long trail run and I can hear the cars in the parking lot, I feel, in a few milliseconds, how I snap out of my wilderness state back into my 'civilized' state. Once in my car, I pause to turn on the radio, and I get back to being blasted with information almost every minute of the day while I am not sleeping. Trail running is so quiet and peaceful. When I am trail running, I am at my church.

So, maybe after reading this you feel somewhat tempted to try trail running. A good way to start is to run the Cougar Mountain Trail Running series, which are a set of races at Cougar mountain that work their way up from a 5 miler to a 13 miler. If you just want to jump right into a 50K, come talk to us, and we can recommend a few races that work with your current running schedule.

We'll let you know know how Cle Elum goes, hopefully my current allergy episode will subside and I will be able to tell you about it...(and yes, we will be at the store on Sunday for our group run, another great thing about trail running is, you recover fast!).


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Welcome to the balanced athlete blog

First, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Iliana, and in my "free" time, I will manage this blog.

My husband (Eric) and I own a cute little running, walking and triathlon store in historic downtown Kent Washington. We specialize in fitting shoes by analyzing biomechanics and foot shape using a treadmill and a video camera.

We both love running. We see running not only as a sport, but as a way of connecting with nature, people, and our inner self. We also love to teach others about running, walking, and simply put, discovering how putting our bodies in motion can improve our mental and spiritual condition (we call this type of exercise "moving meditation").

Our dream is for our store to be more than just a store. We want to build a hub for a community of people who wish to get together to run, walk, bike, or do any other type of physical activity.

We have formed a running group that meets three times a week (on Sundays, after our running practice, we enjoy a wonderful breakfast at a bakery located in front of our store). We also have formed a walking group that meets three times a week. We go to races together, and we support and encourage each other. Even though our group is composed of individuals with various levels of fitness, everyone starts together, and no one finishes alone.

The purpose of this blog is to further build our community by sharing our running or walking experiences, race plans, running/walking advice, and any other relevant topics. Registered users can also post their own messages, and hopefully in this way we can grow our group and stay connected.

I hope that you enjoy reading our posts, and that we can, even if only in a small way, keep you inspired to put your shoes on and get out to discover something new every day.