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...