Friday, February 28, 2014

5 Ways All Runners are Literally Batman

Last time, I mentioned how you can end a run feeling like Batman if you listen to the right music. I'll use the same image here to describe this feeling:

I promise I didn't write this article just to reuse this image.

At the time, I wanted to say more about Batman. But no, I thought, this is a running blog, and no one wants to hear too much about Batman.

Then I realized that there’s no such thing as too much Batman.

And upon further consideration? There are TONS more reasons running makes you not only the runner your city deserves, but ALSO the one it needs right now.

So here’s why runners are actually all Batman.

#1: You’ll Be Fit

This one should almost go without saying. Batman kicks all kind of ass. It’s pretty much the only common denominator in all his various media appearances.

But he only once had nipples on his suit. Never again, Schumacher.

So how does he accomplish this ass-kickingness? He trains. He trains HARD. I don’t know if you guys have seen Batman’s hypothetical training schedule, but it is BANANAS.

Ridiculous. He runs and lifts and flips and ninjas about all day, only to do it again at night. Most of us don’t have training schedules like this, but you know what? We also aren’t all super-millionaires without day jobs. The training we do, as runners, is as intense as Batman’s given our time-constraints. We push our bodies, reach goals, and get better, just like Batman. And we do it without crazy-expensive facilities and a sassy British butler.

So you know what? I think runners might have Batman beat in this category.

Take it easy, buddy. We have four more to go.

#2: You’ll Fight Crime

Okay, you’re saying, I don’t think so. Batman stops all kinds of crimes. Muggings? Check. Robberies? Check. Liam Neeson? Check.

Neeson WITH A GOATEE, no less.

I know that. But you’re thinking about this in the wrong way. Just because your run doesn’t always take you through a burning elementary school to save kids does NOT mean your run doesn’t indirectly help the justice system. As it turns out, exercise greatly reduces anger levels. You know what that means to me? Runners are less likely to commit crimes of passion.

So you’re preventing future you from committing crimes, see?

This may sound like a stretch, but think about it. If the Joker had run a 5k every day, maybe he wouldn’t feel the need to kill people. If Bane was a marathoner, he would be too broken by that experience to even think about breaking the Bat. If Scarecrow could feel the pure fear of suddenly needing to poop mid-run, he would never want to inflict fear on anyone else.

Okay, maybe don’t think about it too much.

In any case, if you’re a runner, just be comforted by the fact that if some crazy chemical accident results in your developing a distinct physical appearance that qualifies you for Batman’s rogue’s gallery, you probably WON’T become a homicidal maniac, because you’ll be more in control of your angry emotions.

I know I am.

#3: You’re Using Exercise as a Way to Work through Your Issues

I don’t know if you guys know this, but Batman’s parents are dead.

Okay, sensitive subject, I'm sorry.

It’s a pretty big motivator for him. In fact, most everything he does comes down to being unable to process his grief.

You know what's cheaper than all this, Batman? Therapy.

So how does this relate to runners? Well obviously there aren’t many runners who exercise as a way to process both their parents’ death and being raised by Michael Caine.

"He raised me with sass instead of love." - Bruce Wayne

But we all have stresses. We have jobs where someone just won’t respond to that important email, friends that drift away over time, and not enough money to buy a functional Batmobile. Running helps with these kinds of stresses, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that. We all know that exercise reduces stress.

But you know what else running does? It gives is distance on memories that might be painful or stressful for us, and distance is the first step to closure. I’ve spoken about this in the context of unemployment, and I think it applies to other things as well.

So when your run makes you feel better, you’ve once again used running to become Batman. And once again, since he never seems to get over his parents’ death, I think runners are actually dealing with their issues better.


#4: You’ll Develop Detective Skills

A lot of the new media about Batman tends to omit what is, in many iterations, his main skill: being the World’s Greatest Detective.

In the movies, he mainly detects with his fists.

Yeah, he’s strong, and yeah, he beats people up, but what makes him so formidable is his great intellect. He’s basically gothic Sherlock Holmes in a cape.

If they would cast him instead of Affleck, I swear I would see the movie twenty times.

How does this relate to running? Well, if you take the time to run every day, you will, simply put, become a running-detective. You will know your running path like the back of your hand. You will know every crosswalk you can stop at, dread every slight incline, and welcome every downhill portion. After a hard-freeze, you will know where the ice patches lie more confidently than you know the rooms of your house.

Moreover, you will know yourself more deeply. All the parts of your body have to pitch in when you’re a distance runner. You will suddenly pay attention to your knee, that thigh muscle, a tight shoulder, etc. You will be able do deduce why a run went badly, how what you ate affected you, how your office chair might cause your back to ache mid-run.

You will gain an eye for the details that would otherwise be missed in a more sedentary life. Basically, you will become Batman.

#5: You’re All Heroes!

I’ve said it before guys, but it bears repeating: runners are awesome. We support each other, enjoy our sport, and help charities with our events! For example, this weekend, I’m running a 5k to support opportunities for the homeless (I’ll report back on this Monday).

Runners could have found any excuse to go and run. We love it anyway for so many different reasons. We could even run in capes to express our love of Batman. But you know what runners do, no matter why we run? We use our sport to help others. We get together to prove that people can make a difference.

Did you see that more people are going to the Boston Marathon than ever before this year? That alone shows how runners are heroes. And you know who else is a hero?


So good for you, runners. Now put on a mask, pull on some tights, and go run.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for February 26th, 2014

Sharon Stone's gym only costs $39 a month! I'm assuming it's in LA, but I might be willing to commute for that price.

7 habits for effective runners. #8: poop BEFORE you run. CANNOT. STRESS. THIS. ENOUGH.

Sometimes eating right for running can be hard if you go out to eat. My advice: if you're going to spend the calories, make it fancy!

6 Food Rules for Runners. #7: any pudding is too much pudding  before a run.

Are you over-training? Yeah, sometimes pain means no gain.

Five exercises you can do on your way to work. I tend to get enough exercise shoving rude people out of the way on the train.

Newbie at running? Check out these tips. Then go run!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Should You Listen to Music When You Run?


Okay, I suppose it’s a little more complicated than that.

I should start by clarifying that I’m going to be talking about distance running here, not other types of running. If you’re just running for a few minutes to get your heart rate up, listening to music probably isn’t that big of a deal.

But as a distance runner, the issue of music was a HUGE focus of mine when I started out. I read tons of debates online between runners discussing its importance. (Side-note: reading internet arguments is not a productive use of anyone’s time.) I’ll try briefly to outline the two sides here. I should note that I have at separate times been a staunch supporter of both these arguments.

Pro-music: Music helps to motivate me! The tempo helps me pace myself, and I enjoy running more when it has a soundtrack. Also whatever, I’ll do what I want!

Pictured: me, arguing this side

Anti-music: Music is distracting and dangerous! You aren’t as aware of what is around you, which makes you more vulnerable, and you can’t pay attention to your body when you can’t hear yourself run. TRUE RUNNERS don’t need music to stay motivated! Also whatever, I’ll do what I want!

Okay, I might have this attitude kind of a lot.

To put this on my running timeline: I started out listening to music and loved it, but then my headphones broke and I started running without music and loved it. So my advice will be pretty strongly colored by this experience, but I think it’s pretty valid.

Music can be a nice set of training wheels when you start distance running. One of the big obstacles when I started was self-perception; I just felt silly exercising. I’ve talked about this before. But having the right music pumping in your ears can transform you from struggling and embarrassed to LITERALLY Batman.

How you will feel finishing a run after listening to The Dark Knight soundtrack

Or you can listen to something fast and energetic. And I’d just like to take this moment to thank Katy Perry and Firework for supporting me through those first few runs.

And guys, this is the least embarrassing of my music choices.

But this is a double-edged sword; if you listen to something energetic, or anything that takes you out of the run, you can fail to heed your body’s signals. Yes, Eye of the Tiger will improve your pace for a solid, heart-pounding four minutes, but you might spend too much energy without realizing it. And distance running is all about pacing yourself.

So no matter how attached you get to your music, I strongly suggest that, for at least one run, you take out the headphones and see what you notice. Because there are things about your body to listen to that music covers up.

First, you need to hear your footfalls. Not only is it important to hear your feet to maintain a steady pace, but you also need to hear how loudly your feet are hitting the ground, because they shouldn’t be hitting it that hard. Your feet should land underneath you as you run. If they’re hitting loudly, they’re probably landing in front of you, and you’re losing momentum with every step.

Second, and this is less tangible: you need to hear yourself and the world around you.

In a way, you need to paint with all the colors of the wind. 

Part of why I, and I suspect others, got so attached to music is because it allowed me to forget I was running. Much like running on a treadmill, this is counterintuitive. You have to face exercise without any ornamentation to learn to love it. It’s so much easier to make exercise a habit if you acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Otherwise, your relationship with running is built on a lie. Here's a new, terrible metaphor. Music while running is like maintaining a relationship with someone purely through their Facebook timeline. People don’t put the bad parts on Facebook, but the bad parts are what create deep connection. You would never really know the person if you only connected with them that superficially. You need to face the bad runs, the hard runs, the great runs, all of it, in order to truly love the sport.

So let’s figure out a TL;DR version. If you’re starting out running, consider music like training wheels: useful, but only at the beginning. Getting rid of the music is a great way to better understand and appreciate distance running. So consider it if you ever need extra motivation.

Or do what you want. I couldn't blame you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

How Running Simplifies Your Relationship with Food

Let’s get this out of the way: talking about food is ridiculous.

Just think about it. I’m going to be talking about what food I eat as a runner and how running changes your relationship with food.


Writing something like this is so strange and new. It’s so uniquely 21st century-first-world-human.

Imagine that someone picks this entry up four thousand years ago (by way of some timey-wimey nonsense). “This is about food?” he or she asks, though probably not in English. “That thing I stuff in my face to not-die? I have it sometimes, it’s pretty nice. It makes hunger go away, and afterwards I can better move myself away from predators, or towards prey. What else is there to say?”

This person may or may not be wearing a toga. I'm a writer, guys, not a historian.

Imagine a dog trying to understand what a complicated relationship human culture has developed with food. “This is about food?” it barks, fumbling with the mouse to scroll down my blog. “I like that stuff. It tastes like happy and then I love you. Do you have food? Look at how big and watery my eyes can get!”

"Just kidding," it continues, "I've actually never had ANY food before EVER."

Don’t get me wrong, though: I don’t think talking or thinking a lot about food is necessarily a bad thing. We’re human; every facet of our existence is wrought with meaning and feelings and corners full of secrets. I love this about us. But running has changed how I see food, and I think part of this stems from simplifying my relationship with what I eat.

I spent a lot of time not exercising before I started to run. Obviously. Back then, the idea of eating good or healthy food was abstract. There was good food like broccoli, but then there was bad food like a microwave burrito constructed from pure sodium. The bad food was tasty and fast, and either way, I wasn’t hungry after I was done eating. Who wants to take the time to boil water?

Pictured: an impossible-to-overcome obstacle

Of course I felt worse after the burrito, and of course my health suffered, but the connection between what I ate and how I felt was too abstract for me. There was too much distance. I could insert a million other reasons for why I felt bad in between food and my mood: work, money, a relationship, Breaking Bad will end someday. Because of this distance, I could safely ignore what I ate.

Insert running.

Not literally. Ew. How would that even work?

Running considerably shortens the distance between what you eat and how you feel. All of a sudden, your food-choices don’t dribble out of you slowly over the course of a day; they’re shot out of you in a huge, wild burst of energy as you run. Again, not literally. But you know what I found out? When you run, you feel what you eat a lot more. 2000 calories of potato chips and cheese whiz feels a lot worse than the same amount in vegetables and chicken breast.

I know. earth-shattering revelation right there.

But there’s knowing the difference between good and bad food in theory, and knowing it through experience. And if you get the experience through running, eating good food will suddenly become much easier. I no longer had to make myself eat well. I ate the food that I knew wasn’t going to make me short of breath or shut-down my muscles halfway through a run. I ate the food that would repair my muscles. I wanted to eat well.

I know that not everyone has the childish attitude towards food that I did prior to running, and some people don’t need running in order to eat like an adult. But I imagine that for some of us, the problem is that abstraction between eating and its affect on our bodies. Run, and you will feel everything you eat course through you. Run, and you will come to appreciate WHY good food is good, not just that it has so much of this vitamin or this much fiber.

Basically, running will simplify your relationship with food in a good way. It will cut out some of the weird psychological tricks we have to use to eat well.

I’m going to devote some more entries to food. Specifically, I’ll feature a commentary on certain recipes that are great for runners. Look out for it!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for February 19th, 2014

If Jungle 2 Jungle taught me anything besides to stop seeing Tim Allen's movies, it's this: you have to breath when you run. Here's a list with that and other running tips.

So I'm starting to more seriously consider yoga. Here's another sequence from Ekhart Yoga that's good for runners.

Getting fit increases pain tolerance? Then why do I still tear up when I stub my toe?

I love avocados, and I love guacamole. My girlfriend recently learned to love them too!

Can you overdose on motivation? Read these fifty motivational posters and find out.

Fittest Presidents? I don't see Taft on this list! He must have been pretty fit to get himself OUT of the bathtub he was stuck in, you know.

Plantar Fasciitis sucks, and not just because it sounds like an ancient Roman venereal disease. Here's a yoga pose to prevent/cure it.

Running roadblocks and how to overcome them. You know what roadblock they don't cover? RUNNING IS HARD AND I'VE HAD TOO MUCH CHEESE.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How Morning Running is Perfect for Non-Morning People

I never wanted to be a morning runner.

If you’re a morning person, let me try to explain how non-morning people feel when they wake up. Or at least, how I felt. There’s an instant upon waking, when you’re swimming up out of sleepiness, when you become you again. Everything you think, your memories, your current status in life, and, most importantly, your usual outlook on life hits you like a wave. Everyone experiences this. For non-morning people, however, it happens in a specific, unfortunate order.

The first things non-morning people think of are the negative things. What was bad about yesterday? That hits you first. What might be unpleasant about today? Boom, second. This colors your perspective right away. Instead of bright and shiny optimism, you immediately put on a dull-colored, blurry filter, and you begin seeing yourself and everything in your life as obstacles, or impediments.

How I wake up

The good stuff does show up, usually during the morning routine or sometime during the day. But for me, it was always too late. The first thing that hit me when I surfaced from sleep was that wave of negativity, and you can’t be comfortable doing anything else, even in calm waters, when your day started with such horribleness. In fact, when you wake up, all you want to do is crawl back into sleep, and you dread doing even one small thing when all your life seems so awful. This is how every morning has been for me, for large parts of my life.

The picture is unrelated, I just felt like we need some cuteness after that parade of depressing

For the past two months, however, I’ve been getting up at 6 AM, every day, and running my 3.1 miles. In this winter, no less. So that brings me to today’s topic: why running in the morning is perfect for non-morning people.

To begin with, I started running this early because I had no other choice. I’m working two jobs, one of which involves ludicrous amounts of travel time, and if I didn’t run early in the morning, I wouldn’t get to run. Since running has become so important to me, I made myself do it.

This is an important first step.

If you’re a non-morning person, there is NO WAY to become a morning runner without this first act of desperate willpower. Hide the alarm clock, go to bed in your running clothes, or have a spouse/SO/sibling/parent/whoever throw cold water on your face and MAKE you get up.

Find your own Ferris Bueller if you have to

Now, I recognize that tons of people talk about this. I know that us non-morning people have been told a hundred times, in a hundred ways, all the great things about getting up and being super productive! I KNOW it gets old.

So I’m going to tell you why running in particular spectacularly kicks the ass of the morning blahs.

You wake up, and you’re going to run. You repeat that mantra, the snarling tiger of NO roars and claws in your chest, but you make yourself do it.

Ugh, you feel drowsy, you hate running, this is just going to make you hate running more, and where are your shoes? It’s not even LIGHT outside, I’m probably going to get murdered, I bet my bed is still warm from where I was curled up.

How sleeping looks at this stage

All the negativity is still there, and right now, reading this, you probably still don’t want to do it BECAUSE all the negativity will still be there. But that’s the trick. That’s what is so great about morning running for non-morning people. I'm not saying not to be negative when you wake up. But if you make yourself run and wake up with that intention, all the negativity will be focused like a laser on just that. It won’t be about the unchangeable past or the unknowable future; it will be focused on an activity that you are about to do, right now.

If you run, you will start each day by definitively defeating something that seemed insurmountable to your half-sleeping mind. Last week, you could barely drag yourself to the shower, but this morning? It’s not even time for breakfast and you ran a mile. Two miles, half a mile, whatever.

THAT will be your new perspective. You didn’t wake up burdened by past and future obstacles, you woke up kicking ass. Do this for long enough, and you’ll come to cherish the morning like Pavlov’s dog loved that bell.

So if you hate mornings and can’t imagine running then, you are in the PERFECT position to start. It works better the more you hate the idea of doing it. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

How Running Looks When You're Not Running

This past weekend, I found myself in a strange situation: I wanted to run. Fidgeting in my girlfriend’s car as she drove me to the park, I more than resembled an overexcited puppy—I pawed at the windows, whimpered incessantly, and drooled everywhere. She tried to calm me down, but I couldn’t be calmed.

We were going to Foster Beach, and I was going to run the lakefront trail alongside Lake Michigan.

Imagine my excitement
The strange was, of course, that I was excited about running. Not excited in a general “I’m being healthy” or “I finished my run!” kind of way, but instead I was specifically excited to beat feet along a new (to me) trail. This kind of anticipatory excitement is hard to come by in the life of a regular runner. If you commit yourself to this hobby, then it eventually becomes routine. While you kind of want it to become a routine, getting to this level has its own problem: routine has a way of taking the joy out of any activity.

Pictured: adulthood. Sorry, kids.
This new trail would have new sights. It would have other runners. It would be clear of snow, since it’s so popular. Now I love my regular trail, but let me introduce today’s awkward metaphor to explain the difference.

My relationship with my regular trail is like an old marriage: I bicker with her (“Oh, I see we’re having ice for running today. Again.”), our physical relationship has no surprises left, and she sometimes tries to break my legs. While she’s gotten me through a lot, I’m bored with the relationship. This new trail? It’s like an adulterous fling: new and exciting. I’m going to stop unwrapping this metaphor before it gets gross.

Here’s the point: flings don’t last. Runners cannot find brand new trails regularly, and if you want to run every day, you will hit this routine-fatigue. Simply put, you won’t be as excited about your runs any more. But I ran the Lakefront Trail, I loved it, and I thought of this topic:

How do you anticipate your runs in a positive way? 

I want to address this because, unless you run daily ultra-marathons, you spend most of your time not running. That means that most of your relationship with the sport happens not while you run, but as you anticipate the next run. This is important. We rarely decide not to run when we’re running, we decide during that pre-run anticipation.

There are two methods I use to deal with this. As I said in Informed Stupidity, one is being deliberately obstinate. Don’t consider your running a hobby, consider it an obligation. How you feel about your life that day, or the weather, or how much you will run tomorrow or ran yesterday doesn’t matter. Just run. I’m going to run. It’s not a hobby, it’s an inevitability. Nike knew what it was talking about when it said, “Just Do It.” That’s what it comes down to most of the time. And unlike most obligations, you KNOW you’re going to feel better after exercising.

But you’re smart, and I’m smart, so we know it can be hard to make yourself stupid. It’s like telling someone not to think of alligators. What are they going to think of? What are YOU thinking of right now?

Probably this. Really, Russia?
The brain wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants to be negative. We’ve all been there.

Today should be good. I’m happy with how things are going and have reason to be optimistic about the future. Oh, what’s that, brain? I did something stupid in 8th grade? Sure, go ahead and remember that in excruciating detail.

So here’s my other method for correcting the negative kind of anticipation: know your enemy. When you don’t want to run, your brain is trying to trick you, and it uses the same methods every time. Learn its strategy, and you can beat it. This is how it works. Your brain has two parts.

Okay, maybe it has a million parts. I'm a writer, not a neuroscientist.
So the first part of your brain tells you to run. I call this the positive part. The other part is telling you not to run. This is the negative part. If that bit of creativity just floored you, hold on, because I’m only getting started.

One day, you don’t want to run. This happens. Negative is screaming while positive seems to be silent. If you feel this way, don’t worry; while it feels like the positive group is silent, it’s not. The negative group only does anything when the positive group is at work. Just by having this internal debate, you can be assured that there’s some obstinate part of your brain that is dedicated to keeping this hobby going. People who don’t start new hobbies never debate doing it; the first step is always to not want to do it.

So we know the negative group is louder, but it’s also more creative. It’s easy for it to be more creative. The positive group only has one candidate to back, while the negative group has unlimited possibilities.

“If you don’t run,” it says, “the world will be your oyster. That grass over there? Demonstrably greener. I’ll show you, just don’t run. Plus, running sucks. Remember breathing hard? Why would you do that? Plus, you look ridiculous.”

It might play images like this in your mind.
“If you run,” says the positive group, “you…will have run. That run you’re planning? It will have been accomplished.”

So many times this internal debate causes people not to run, but I always solve it by observing one thing: what happens to the negative group after you don’t run? It shuts down. It stops working faster than a political candidate who got elected on empty promises. It stops because the positive group stops, and the positive group stops because the event has passed, you made your choice. You’ll just be left to regret missing a run that you had no good reason to miss. (Sometimes there are good reasons to miss a workout, though!)

So the next time you don’t want to run, remember the whole process. Remember what happens after you make the choice to do nothing. And don’t forget: not wanting to run is the natural first step to anticipating a run. You wouldn’t debate doing it unless some part of you, however buried and silent, was totally dedicated to its achievement. Not wanting to run, as much as running itself, makes you a runner. It’s practically our communion. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for February 12th, 2014

So I wanted to add a new feature to my blog: a weekly roundup of links to running-related news stories and articles. The online running community is varied and fun, and I think it's worth sharing to my tens, if not dozens, of readers.

I want to start yoga, even though there are planks of petrified wood with more flexibility than me. I've bookmarked this yoga routine for runners. I will try it when things are warmer.

The Do's and Don'ts of Running Dates. Am I the only one who had never heard of running dates? Here's another tip: shower if you're going out to dinner after.

So a lady runner fell after expressing confidence that she wouldn't fall. I want to be more sarcastic about it, but it really is pretty funny.

Oh, an excuse to eat more eggs? I'll take it.

Speaking of eating, it turns out good nutrition is a big part of health. Who knew? If, like me, you find it hard to try new foods, check out my girlfriend's experiences broadening her palate.

See you next week!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Back on My Feet, Unemployment, and Why Running Helps

So I’ve registered for my first race. It sounds pretty unabashedly awesome for a couple of reasons. First, the race involves wearing masks and getting beads while you run. This sounds a lot like Mardi Gras itself, except the beads are rewarded for running rather than chugging tequila and making questionable life decisions. Wearing masks will be a source of comfort as well since, during a run, my face often looks a lot like I DID just chug a bottle of tequila.

But the race is awesome for another reason. Before addressing that, though, I want to add on to my post on races to mention another reasons why races shouldn't intimidate me:

Races are usually charity events. People get together and run not just for the love of running, but also to help other people. So I don't think I should worry about having trouble; I imagine that runners have to be pretty awesome when most of their events are held to help others. And of course the Mardi Gras Chaser 5k is no different. The event, hosted by the Chicago chapter of Back on My Feet, conforms with their mission of using running as a way to establish positive life habits and get under-served individuals back on their feet. Hey, that’s the name of the charity!

This mentality seemed particularly appropriate for both my running life so far and my blog. As I mentioned in my first post, running has helped and continues to help me structure to my days. It keeps me focused and gives my life a tangible narrative of progress.

So today, in addition to talking about this race, I want to discuss an issue this charity addresses through its running programs: unemployment. But first, I want to make something VERY CLEAR:

I sit atop a big, shiny mountain of privilege regarding this topic.

Pictured: me, with my privilege
I have so much privilege, I can’t even check all of it because, try as I might to see it, some of it invisible to me. But like boarding a flight that charges for carry-ons, I’ll check as much as I can.

I’m a straight, cisgendered, white male. I spent my whole life in either an upper-middle or upper class family, and probably more in the latter category than I like admitting (which is a privilege itself). I CANNOT understand what unemployment looks like to someone else, much less someone with less privilege than me. I was never on the verge of starvation or homelessness, I had YEARS of educational self-esteem pushing me to keep going, and I had several supportive loved ones to fall back on as I struggled.

So how do I talk about how my experience compares with the mission of this charity? By focusing on one aspect of my challenge that is, I believe, universal to persons suffering from unemployment: momentum.

When I wrote about how I started running, I briefly mentioned that one of the hardest things was lacking the perspective to see progress. I was stuck. Running was progress, literally, and it became the one thing I had control of, and could just do, on a day to day basis. This was important, because the most insidious, unrelenting thing about unemployment for me was the boredom and what it entails. You just have so much time on your hands.

Now, I’ve heard some people say that “if you’re unemployed, your full-time job is finding a job.”

How I picture those people
Um, no. This statement could populate the entirety of northern Wales with little, head-shaking no-people. While you probably want to focus primarily on finding a job day to day, it is by no means appropriate to expect someone to apply to jobs for forty hours a week. First off, there aren’t that many jobs, unless you’re applying to literally everything. Second, for some people (myself included), applying to jobs is emotionally exhausting because we don’t like talking about ourselves or justifying obvious things. Why do I want to work here? You do pay with those fancy American greenbacks, right?

So no matter how many times I rewrote that cover letter or rethought that resume, I ended up with several hours a day with nothing to do. And since nothing-time became self-reflection time, I mainly thought about how terrible I must be to not have a job. It was a little like the Swamp of Sadness, and I was a little like Arthax.

Not even Atreyu could save me
It felt like I couldn’t make a difference. I was taking time to painstakingly fill out forms that I wasn’t sure anyone was going to read, imbuing the word choices in my cover letter with nuances that wouldn't stand out to the no one reading it, and going through job boards that overflowed with hundreds of entry-level positions that required years of experience, while all the time my resume sat there with no new experiences added.

Basically, I had no momentum. If I may introduce another big, messy metaphor (because I’ve never done that before), I was slipping around on ice, unable to stand up or move forward. Running, by giving me that iota of control, was new traction under my shoe, or the tread on a tire. By running every day, I could center what I did around actual progress.

Hey, will anyone read this application? Probably not, but I ran half a mile today. That’s half a mile that can’t be taken away. That’s half a mile more than I did yesterday. I’m going to run tomorrow as well.

Things snowballed (damn, lost the metaphor), and soon I was able to ask myself harder questions about myself and my career goals. I was able to identify what I wanted to do and where I wanted to work based on who I was. And knowing who you are, for me at least, came down to looking at where I’d been. If you’re slipping around on ice (metaphorically), you can’t draw an arrow through your movements. You can’t look forward or back; you just spin. Unemployment can put someone in that position, and Back on My Feet knows that. The program uses running as a way to give that control to someone and provide that valuable perspective. (They do other awesome things, too!)

That’s why I’m proud to run in this upcoming race, and any Chicago-based readers should as well! Even if running doesn’t represent the same things for you, we all know the positive force it can be in someone’s life.

Plus, beads!

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Want to Run a Race

I’ve been running alone for almost nine months now. While I value the solitude running affords (see here for why), I’m a little curious about what it would be like to run with others. Specifically, I’m interested in the idea of running a race. Not a long race, mind you; I want to run a 5k.

Right off the bat, this doesn’t seem like the most inspirational challenge to write about. To clarify: I run 3.1 miles (a 5k) six days a week. This race wouldn’t exactly be Rocky Balboa taking on Apollo Creed. Instead, this is a little like if Rocky had been punching hanging, frozen meat in preparation for a championship bout against some hanging, frozen meat. There’s not much suspense when you do it everyday anyway.

Well, maybe there's a little suspense. Will he make it into a sandwich later?
So I want to run a race not because of its physical challenge, but because I want to address some of the mental and emotional challenges competitive events pose for me. (Not only am I a runner, guys, but I’m a super sensitive runner. It’s like my emotional nipples also chafe. Gross.)

Pictured: me as I consider running a short race
So races confuse and scare me for a bunch of reasons. Here are some:

1. People. I don’t know how you can start a race with so many people just…milling about. Do we know who’s going to be fastest? Do they go up front? What if there’s a disagreement about who’s fastest? Is the race momentarily a mosh pit when the gun goes off? What if I assume I’ll be faster than some old person, but then they end up passing me at the start? That last one haunts me at night.

      2.  Pace. First off, I know there are pacers throughout the event, but I’m more worried about how to be comfortable with my pace as people pass me and I pass others. One of the most awkward things about running now is passing people who are going just .00001% slower than me. I either have to go faster to pass them, which screws with my stamina, or pass them super slowly. The latter means that I will lurk up behind them breathing heavily like that asthmatic stalker from Hey Arnold before glacially passing beside them and gasping, “Excuse me.” The thought of doing that two hundred times in one run does not appeal to me.

Pictured: me as I pass you
3. Money. So, it costs money to join one of these races. “That’s only fair,” I pleaded with my dried-up, whimpering bank account as it slipped the noose around its neck, “they have administrative costs, and they’ll probably give us a shirt! It will be fun and healthy, and you can do it! It’s just like fifty bucks—NO!”

Don’t worry, I save the account every time. Then, the cycle starts over again when I start browsing Amazon “just to see what something costs.”

But more than anything else, I worry about a race just not fitting with my whole reason for running. As I said before, I value the solitude of running. I’m an introvert, so doing things by myself gives me emotional energy even as it drains me physically. Being around a bunch of people before, during, and after a race can only deplete my energy, right? It just doesn’t sound very fun.

At least, that’s what I thought for a long time. Recently, though, I realized that maybe that doesn’t have to be true. I remember being a kid and loving sports. Running around was fun, playing games was fun, and other people made it more fun. But I also remember this changing quickly when I became a teenager because all of a sudden sports were more focused on competition than fun. Or rather, for too many people competition and winning became the definition of fun. And while that’s fine for some, a sensitive wee soul like me found everything too angry and serious to feel comfortable. It wasn’t self-love; instead, it was more along the lines of the “extreme” trend I talked about last time.

So how does this relate to my decision to enter the public racing arena? Basically, I get the feeling that runners don’t operate with that same aggression. I get the feeling most of them just abide.

What I imagine most runners feel like on a day to day basis
I know that competitiveness exists in the community, but I think it’s largely internal. More importantly, I believe that it isn’t the focus of running culture for adults. For me, running requires a strong sense of self-awareness and a good sense of humor. I think that you can’t spend much time alone with yourself on a daily basis without making some peace with who you are and what you’re like. I believe that runners have matured past the Lord of the Flies-style chaos of my high school sports experience. I’m optimistic that people won’t be awful and remind me of high school like a vet suffering PTSD flashbacks of Vietnam.

Stallone: always relevant
I’ll let you guys know when I find a race and can sell enough bone marrow to afford registration!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why Pain Isn't Weakness Leaving the Body

So I want to talk about injuries you can get while running and how to deal with them. To clarify, I’m not a doctor, so I’ll be addressing how to MENTALLY deal with injuries. For physical advice, please see a doctor like this one:

Just kidding, not like this one.
Before I get into injuries, though, let’s address a thing that often occurs in some motivational/exercise pieces online. I’d like to consider motivation/exercise to be largely what my writing is about, and I feel the need to call out a certain trend.

You know those pictures you’ll see online of someone running or stretching, whose skin and proportions are usually unrealistically perfect (Photoshop, y’all), and who is surrounded by the manufactured bloom of cool blues and warm oranges? Some of these pictures have a caption that reads, “THE ONLY BAD EXERCISE IS ONE YOU MISS,” or, “EARN YOUR BODY, FEEL THE BURN,” or, “PAIN IS WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY.”

Hi, trend. Let’s have a little discussion about no. No to all of this. No to this strange, violent culture where exercise is some sort of Spartan ritual where you kick the babies of weakness off a cliff with the boot of shame and self-hate. 

But more importantly, no to the idea that pain is an inevitable consequence of exercise and that you should be shamed for letting it stop you. Pain isn’t weakness leaving the body. Instead, it is your body’s very eloquent way of telling you to “NO PLS STAHP!”

Here’s what I think these slogans are getting at: muscles ache during and after exercise as a way to tell you that you’ve reached your physical limit. It’s a normal part of building muscle and cardiovascular strength. So by “pain,” I think this motivational trend means, “muscle soreness from moderate exertion.” These posters are trying to say, “Is it hard? Yes. You should still try!” I’m right behind this. But by saying it with the extreme attitude made popular by commercials for men’s deodorant and flavored tortilla chips, they overgeneralize and create an atmosphere of violence against your own body. 

Don’t exercise because you dislike yourself for weakness, because then it becomes a punishment. You’ll become some like a weird, self-flagellating extremist. I don’t think having this as motivation for exercise is sustainable, and, more importantly, I don’t think it’s good for anyone’s mental health. Exercise because your body is already awesome and can do even more awesome things if you want to.

Especially you. Yes, you!
But let’s speak practically about how else this mindset is destructive. You know what else causes pain? Injury. Injury loves to cause pain, and you should pay attention to pain, especially as a runner.

If you run, you’re putting a lot of strain on a lot of things: Feet, knees, calves, thighs, hips, abs, shoulders, neck, etc. Your WRISTS can swell if you move your arms strenuously enough. If you have a pain in one of these areas, or anywhere, you need to address it. Sometimes, this means taking time off from running, and that’s VERY IMPORTANT TO DO. If you believe the extreme mindset and think that pain in general is an inevitable consequence of exercise, you might think you should run through sharp, jabbing pains. Don’t do this.

When I started running, I experienced what I now know is planar fasciitis. The muscles in the arches of my feet were weak, and by running I was bruising them and felt sharp pains in my heels. When you’re just starting to get a little momentum in your running progress, as I was, this was devastating. I wanted so badly to believe those posters because that meant I could just ignore the pain, and then my feet would get stronger. I couldn’t and they didn’t. Running more exacerbated the problem, and I learned a hard lesson: sometimes the healthiest and most responsible thing you can do for yourself is to rest and do nothing.

For me, exercise--and running especially--are about loving your body and celebrating the fact that it can move itself. I breath deep, feel my feet hit the ground, feel my muscles get used to the repetitive motion, and enjoy being outside. But if your body tells you that something is too hard, or that you’re moving too fast, part of loving it means LISTENING to what it is telling you and resting when need be.

Despite what those posters and their extreme attitudes would have you believe, there is nothing more difficult to practice than moderation; extremes are easy, and balance is hard.

And you're awesome!