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.