Monday, March 31, 2014

How You Deal with Running More

Spring training is in full swing. I'm rounding out the end of my 3.4 miles/day week and entering my 3.7 miles/day week. Subsequently, I hate past me for committing to this. I also thank past me for committing to this. Basically, my past self and I are frenemies.

Running more has also given me a new running topic: how do we think about running more? I'm not talking about the planning required to run greater distances, since that's relatively easy if you're committed to running in the first place. Like me, I imagine everyone can easily plan a running schedule by creating a detailed Excel spreadsheet outlining dates and distance increases by day and week-

Okay, maybe everyone doesn't do this.
I'm talking about how you think about running more when you're actually, you know, running. For me, at least, it's a repeatedly intimidating experience. I start running, and I know that I'm not going to stop where I stopped yesterday. I'm entering a foreign country where I might not know the language. Where will I turn around? Will I have to cross a busy street? Will I have another hill to cope with? Will my body spontaneously combust with the increase in exertion?

All (some) valid worries. And they plague you as you run. Despite all my running victories so far, my mind is full of these complaints. The transformation happens to many runners on a daily basis. If you meet your goals one week, you feel great. Unstoppable. Batman-like. You end one week feeling like this:

But then you start a new week like this:

What was once easy now seems impossible because you've added a teeny-tiny bit more. My mind goes crazy when I start a run like this. How much more do I have to do? 4/10ths of a mile? Oh my god, that means I have to run 2/10ths farther BEFORE turning back, and then I have to run that 2/10ths AGAIN before finishing the ENTIRE run. This is going to add, about, let's see, 5 MINUTES to my run?! Inconceivable!

How will I have time to live the rest of my life with this kind of commitment? Suddenly, running becomes that driver that doesn't pay attention to the merge right signs and has to get over at the last minute. Everyone has to make room and slow down for that driver, and they all hate him or her a little bit.

That's how the other parts of my life react to a longer run. They hate it. The grass of last week's runs becomes much greener. Remember when I only had to run 3.1 miles? That was one of the best times of my life. It was like some impossible nirvana that I'll never experience again.

But like a lot of negative things in life, there's a silver lining.

When you run farther, that new run becomes the enemy. It becomes the focus of your negative attention. But when you've been increasing that distance every week or month, do you know what happens? Last week's run becomes that impossible nirvana. What was once an impossibly huge obstacle is now the safety net under this new, longer distance.

And that's how progress is made. That's part of why runners challenge themselves; running is like a shark, and if you don't move forward with it, it'll die. Improvement is both scary and vital, and the only way to make it less scary is to reliably challenge yourself.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Runner's Meal: Chewing is for Suckers, so Blend Blend Blend!

Food post! I like doing these, so I hope you like reading them.

Thanks to Chicago getting confused and giving us more snow in LATE MARCH, I did not get to run as much as I wanted to this weekend. Since I just started my 10k training plan, I was...slightly frustrated by this. 

Pictured: my face upon first seeing snow on Sunday morning
But that's okay, because you can't control everything in your running life, and sometimes it's nice to be reminded of this. 

You know what you can control, though? Smoothies. As a food, smoothies are the epitome of control. Everything that goes in can be exactly measured, and all of it gets precisely poured into your face. You can't leave bits and bobs on a plate, you can't wonder how the meat cooked down or what nutrients just steamed out of the broccoli. If an ingredient goes in the blender, it stays in the blender.

Unless you leave the lid off. Then this happens.
So I looked through the smoothie section of The Runner's World Cookbook, and found a recipe that just seemed bananas to me. First, it didn't involve bananas. What? Bananas are my smoothie staple. I mix them with ice and orange juice, and always enjoy liquid deliciousness shortly thereafter. But as I've learned in my never ending running education, bananas have carbs, and carbs are what you want BEFORE a run, not for running recovery.

(Incidentally, bananas are perfect for quick pre-run fuel. I  just started having one every morning before running, and it's great quick, light fuel. Highly recommended.)

This smoothie is for recovery, so no banana. Boo.What does it have? Unsweetened blueberries. Greek yogurt. Rolled oats. Low fat milk. And finally, flax seed. Yes, flax seed. You guys, I have no idea what flax seed is. And there's really no excuse for that. I have the internet. I am literally typing this on a computer right now. But still, I won't look it up. I feel like any explanation of what it is will just involve more weird words like flax and hyphenate and curdle. I just put it in the blender, made my peace with God, and pressed blend.

Immediately, everything inside turned purple.

Much like my childhood bedroom when the walls were repainted
I blended and blended, and then I had my creation.

My glass had both the name Joey and a mustache. I, unfortunately, only have one of those. 
Verdict: good not great. Tasted a lot like something that's just healthy, instead of healthy and tasty (like last week's burgers). It had a good texture, but no real flavor. I suspected as much given the ingredients, but I thought that flax seed might have some magic taste-giving powers.

It does not.
But I drank all of it, and I felt reasonably recovered from the non-run I took that morning thanks to our bipolar weather. I think that, next time I delve into smoothies, I will look for one with more pep. In the mean time, give this blueberry smoothie a try if you lose your taste buds in some sort of horrible hot tea or coffee accident. Also: add ice, because it came out lukewarm without it.

I will not be able to update again until next Monday, since I'm visiting my family in Nashville until the end of the week! I have quite a back catalogue of posts, though, so check those out if you're hurting for gifs paired with running-related witticisms. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Why a Scale Does Not Dictate Your Success as a Runner

Well, I've started my spring training regimen. In two months, I want to be running 6.2 miles a day, instead of 3.1. I'll accomplish this through the 10% rule, which states that you should increase your running distance by no more than 10% every week. Since I'm exercising this rule to the maximum, I expect it will be difficult. But I also know that I can do it. So there's that!

But today, I want to talk about something else that will be added to my training radar now that it's not the White Witch's Narnia outside in Chicago.

It would almost be worth it if I ever got Turkish Delight.
I'm talking about weight loss. It's why many runners start running, and even if it's not, weight is something most runners are sensitive to. After all, fluctuations in weight becomes viscerally evident when you're lugging yourself up hills after entering your fifth mile.

So this past Thursday, I dug out the silently judgmental companion that will accompany me throughout my spring and summer training: the scale.

"Hello judgment my old friend..."
A lot of emotions and stress run around the numbers displayed on a scale like this. I know I focused on it a lot when I started running. As part of overhauling my overall unhealthy lifestyle, I adopted a stricter, healthier diet and started running, and the scale was a validation tool.

And at first, it was great! I suspect the same held true for many first-time runners. As you force your body to run larger and larger distances and incorporate exercise into your daily life, the weight tends to drop off when coupled with a healthier diet. That first spring and summer, I lost nearly sixty pounds!

And I did it all no thanks to Subway, whose food isn't actually that good for you!
But then I hit a plateau. All of a sudden, my body got more used to running. While you kind of want this, it also means that the weight doesn't drop off as quickly. While I was at a much healthier size by that point, there were still twenty-odd pounds I wanted to lose.

So I ran harder. Planned my meals more carefully. Counted calories of the crumbs left on my plate. Then next week, I stepped on the scale, and...nothing. No change.

Then winter arrived and dumped snow and ice on every surface in the Midwest for four months. This disrupted my running plans, since I had to focus more on not falling on my ass than my pace. Plus, the holidays arrived, and suddenly food became AMAZING.

Stuffing: never has a food been more appropriately named
The scale became my enemy. I dreaded those weekly weigh-ins. I always waited until just after my run to check my weight, so seeing the same numbers pop up popped the balloon of my endorphin-high every time. What had once been a reward after finishing a run now became an act of self-flagellation.

But then I took a mental step back from my intense focus on weight. I asked myself: am I happy with my running? Do I feel stronger? The answer to both was yes! My clothes continued to get looser, my breathing steadier, and my sweating less obtrusive.

Pictured: me, prior to running, doing any exercise
Running is bigger than can be contained in three numbers on an electronic scale. Even if you started running to lose weight, at a certain point its other physical and mental benefits start to outweigh (pun intended) the pounds you drop doing it.

This is not all to say don't use a scale or track your weight! I wouldn't trade the feeling I got seeing the numbers go down initially for anything. Just be prepared for those numbers to slow down, and remember that validation of this sport should not stem purely from those numbers, like it did for me then. It's a facet of being healthy, but if a scale's importance is over-inflated, it can become detrimental to your running motivation.

I know I'm going to keep that in mind as I try to shed these last twenty pounds. And if they stick around? Fine! I'll still end this summer able to run longer, and I'll have made a plan and stuck to it! So while I'll check it every week, I have this message for my scale:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for March 19th, 2014

Some guy is running through the country like Forrest Gump. Still hasn't met the president, though. Again. (via StatesRunner)

Running got someone out of prison! No, not like that! (via +Runner's World Magazine)

Personally, I like to brag about both:

How to prevent injuries in runners. Injuries are bad, mmmkay? (via @TheRunningMan)

The science of marathon running below. All this tells me is that Bill Nye would be a great runner.

Heel-striking during running: not all bad. TEACH THE CONTROVERSY. (via +Competitor Group, Inc)

Reddit's weekly running pictures thread. Inspiration and motivation! (via +reddit)

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Runner's Meal: The Healthiest Post-Run Burger You'll Ever Eat

In keeping with my earlier promise to talk about running-friendly recipes, I'm going to talk about a recipe I tried this weekend that kicked ass.

For our three-year anniversary last week, my girlfriend (who knows a thing or two about trying new food) got me a cookbook.

Link in the left sidebar!

This book is great. First, it breaks down all the do's and don'ts of nutrition for runners. Basically? Carbs and protein are your new best-good friends.

The book also talks about eating a rainbow of foods. While at first I thought this referred to eating more Skittles (and got TOO excited), it turns out you want to eat different colors of fruits and vegetables.

Pictured:  not Skittles
This is also good, though. I like lots of fruits, but I tend to have a few go-to veggies (carrots and broccoli, I'm looking at you), so eating a greater variety is a definite priority.

But I figured I should ease myself into eating healthier, like an old man into a hot bath. Gross. So when searching through the recipes, I found a food that is a common staple of my non-healthy diet: burgers.

I love hamburgers. I love them rare. I love them well-done. I love them with cheese on top. I love them with more, but different meat piled on top.

Whoever invented the bacon double cheeseburger was either spectacularly good or diabolically evil.
When I started flipping through the cookbook, I had also just finished my run for the day. It was warm in Chicago that day for the first time in seven generations, so I was energized to really book it. I finished in record time, removed my sopping clothes (hint: I'm a sweater), pondered my irate lion of a growling stomach, and landed on these meat and grain burgers.

My stomach purred approvingly at the idea of meat AND grain, and the distant, echoing voice in the back of my mind still concerned with healthiness yelled its approval at the calorie count. It was decided.

Cutting the recipe in half to make three burgers rather than six, however, I began to get worried. Three burgers only called for half a pound of meat. Guys, I have taken individual BITES of some burgers that probably weigh in at half a pound. Were these burgers going to be substantive? My stomach growled and clawed, but I put my faith in the generous grams of protein per burger. This would fill me up, I knew.

Plus, these burgers were super healthy. The most difficult part of the recipe was wilting, chopping, and mixing in half a pound of spinach with the meat. I'd never wilted spinach before, so the first thing I felt upon weighing out the half pound was disbelief. There was NO WAY this much spinach was going to mix into that little amount of meat. These burgers were going to be MOSTLY spinach.

While this prospect might excite Popeye, I was less enthused.
But guess what? When spinach is wilted, it shrinks! It shrinks A LOT! In other news, water boils when it gets real hot!

So I drained and chopped the spinach, mixed it with the meat, added various spices, onion, garlic, and finally, the secret ingredient, the grain!

The grain I chose was bulgur. And no, that's not one of the balls used in Quidditch, which was what I first thought.

"Harry, you'll be the Seeker, a position that guarantees you're automatically the most important player in EVERY GAME."
The grain makes the burgers much more substantive. The half a pound of meat made three burgers that were probably four or five ounces each. And with so much of that being non-meat, the burgers were much healthier.

So I popped them in the oven, put them on some whole wheat buns, arranged them on a plate, and then exercised my sub-par photography skills!

Amazingly, this picture looked EVEN WORSE without the flash
Verdict: pretty great. They were very filling and very good for recovery post-run since they're full of protein. If you're not a big fan of veggies or spinach, be assured that you pretty much only taste the meat and spices.

My one warning (which was entirely my OWN fault, not a problem with the recipe) is to use meat that is moderately lean, maybe around the 85/15 split. I used 93/7, and so the burgers were a little dry. A little less healthy to use fattier meat, maybe, but I imagine it would improve the texture. As it was, I just had to douse each one in a little extra hot sauce for extra moisture.

I'm sorry I used a version of the word moist just now. And again, during that apology.

So there you go, meat and grain burgers. This is the week I start increasing my distance, to expect an update about that on Friday.

Happy eating!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why We Track What We Run

Why do I call this blog A Runner’s Journal?

For me, running is all about moments. There’s the feeling of laces tightening around your foot. There’s the butterflies you might get stepping onto your running trail. There’s the soreness and uneasiness of those first few strides, when your muscles shake off the snow of inactivity. There’s struggle as you breathe harder, the air clawing at to your lungs. There’s relief as the movements become automatic and you hit your stride. There’s the thrill of pushing yourself, of hearing your footsteps, of almost being done. Then there’s the satisfaction of finishing, the rush of endorphins like a warm blanket settling around your shoulders.

Also, there's the joy of spotting the dog turd BEFORE you step in it.

How would a running journal, or any recollection of your running stats, capture that feeling? All it has are the static numbers and conditions that represent your run any given day. Yet still I pore over my run on Map My Run every morning. I look at the reports of my total distance for a week or month, track my pace over elevation changes, and revel in my total miles so far.

Guys, I know I’m not alone in doing this, so we runners must be getting something out of it.

And it's not a sponsorship deal with MapMyRun, despite my blatant advertisement.

Obviously, many of us would say that paying attention to such details is a way to track progress and plan improvement. Of course, that’s partly the case. But I think there's something deeper going on in the way our culture has become obsessed over tracking different forms of exercise. There are a million different apps out there for running, bicycling, lifting, walking, everything.

So here’s why I think we cling to the information contained in a running journal (digital or otherwise).

As I outlined above, running gives you those intensely personal moments, but they are fleeting, insulated from the rest of the day. When they are gone, their intensity fades as well. Suddenly, the act of running becomes shrouded in the minutia of our days, and so it gets simplified. It might start to look like a chore. It might start to look like a luxury you don’t have time for. It might start to look like something that is too hard. Our brains simplify running in this way because they love categorizing things. It’s a way of simplifying the million things we have to do each day and preparing us for what might be expected with any given task.

But ultimately there’s something intangible about running that you don’t have direct access to outside of the run itself. Considering it a chore, an obligation, or a responsibility is oversimplifying the act. It would be like putting the appreciation of art on a to-do list.

10:00 - breakfast. 10:30 - arrive at Sistine Chapel. 10:35 - absorb beauty of art, realize depth of human achievement, fathom beauty of earth and its peoples. 10:40 - lunch! Probably Italian.

But detailing our running stats in a running journal is a way of paying respect to the intangibles that make up the run. By obsessing over details, pace, and distance I think I’m trying to recapture those moments during the run. It’s the closest I can get to those running moments during the day, and it’s a testament to the power of our sport that even reflecting on a run can be so addicting. It’s like looking at photographs of a vacation. You’re not as happy as when you were there, but it’s nice to remember.

So that’s why I call this blog A Runner’s Journal. These essays are a way for me to reflect on and respect the runs that so center my life. Rather than recording statistics, I use words, and metaphors, and silly gifs as a way to capture some of the crazy, life-fulfilling moments making up each run.

And I think everyone could benefit from doing the same. With so many options online, there isn’t really any excuse.

In case you were still wondering: really not getting paid by them

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for March 12th, 2014

What if everybody ran? Fascinating. I know one more thing, though: Vaseline sales would go THROUGH THE ROOF. (via +MizunoRunningHK)

8 reasons to drink coffee before your run. #9: to have AWFUL coffee breath. (via +Runner's World Magazine)

Top foods for runners. This is a sport that ENCOURAGES eating lots of peanut butter, y'all. (via @BackonMyFeet)

Courtesy to other runners? Here's a tip: If you have to fart, wait until someone isn't running directly behind you. Unless you're sure you can outrun them when they notice. (via +irunnerblog VimLife)

53 Rules for Running. Brilliant. Check out #8, though; definitely written in a pre-cell phone era.

So using a treadmill is bad for physical reasons too! Who knew? (I DID) (via +Kinetic Revolution)

How to become a morning person! Great advice, especially the stuff about getting movement into your morning? (RUN!) (via +Greatist)

Exercise treats chronic disease. Guys, running is a wonder drug. And it's free! (via +InsideTracker by Segterra)

Monday, March 10, 2014

4 Famous Stories Made Better with Running

Your life story has probably been changed because you’re a runner. If there was a novel about my life, for instance, there would be a whole section in the middle titled “Running.”

There would also be a section titled "Grain Alcohol." Most of the pages would be blacked out, though.
As a hobby, running affects so much of who we are and what we do. So I wondered: how could it have affected other stories throughout history? How would some of the world’s most famous stories be changed if certain characters were runners?

1. Hector is a better runner, thus irrevocably altering the course of world history

I imagine most of you are familiar with the story of the Iliad. For those of you who haven't read it, let me set the stage:

Helen is stolen away to Troy.

Everyone in Greece attacks Troy. A bit of an overreaction, sure, but this was an era without internet, so I imagine most people were just looking for something to do.

Achilles, the best soldier, doesn't fight for the Greeks because of angst. Instead, he stays in his tent and has ludicrous amounts of sex with Patroclus, his lover.

The 2004 adaptation left out this detail. It was still full of homo eroticism, mind you, but mainly as subtext.
Eventually, though, Patroclus dies and Achilles decided to leave his tent and get revenge on the man who killed him: Hector.

So: they fight, Hector dies, and Troy burns. Here's where it get crazy: some Trojans flee the city, travel the world in a hilarious road-trip movie called Aeneid, and eventually land in Italy and FOUND ROME.

Yup, that Rome. Eventually, that city conquers everything and spreads its art, culture, and government to all corners of the known world. Every nation on earth still lives under the shadow of its amazing success.

The Roman Empire: clearly compensating for something
But let's rewind. Clearly, the fight between Hector and Achilles changed all of world history. Let's take a closer look at how running could have changed the outcome.

When Hector first sees Achilles coming from him, he acquits himself like any great epic hero: he runs away.

" did Achilles make straight for Hector with all his might, while Hector fled under the Trojan wall as fast as his limbs could take him." (via

They circle the city three times before the gods get bored, tell them to fight, and Hector dies.

But what if Hector was a runner? What if, instead of putting on heavy steel armor that morning, he had put on some running shoes, shorts, and a light, but breathable, T-shirt? What if he had been running consistently for the months, improving his pace and form, and participating in races like the Helen Sure is Pretty 10k

He would have easily outstripped Achilles, and when the great warrior was tired, jogged over and taken him out before finishing his morning run.

Troy would have remained un-burnt, Rome wouldn't have been created, world history would be unrecognizable, and, most importantly, we wouldn't have Gladiator.

I seriously love this movie, guys.

Shakespeare makes one character a runner, rewrites one of his most famous plays
We all know who Shakespeare was, right? Right. Let's get to the good stuff.

He wrote a play called The Winter's Tale. In this play, the king thinks his wife is unfaithful. She isn't. She has a daughter, the king wants the baby dead, and orders a noble called Antigonus to kill her. This noble takes her to a desolate coast and prepares to murder her. Meanwhile, the queen and her young son die just before the king realizes his mistake.

Pictured: one of Shakespeare's COMEDIES
Antigonus can't bring himself to kill this infant (imagine that!) and is about to take pity on her when we get one of the most famous stage directions in all of Shakespeare's work:

Exit pursued by a bear"

Yup, you read that right. Antigonus gets chased off by a bear.

Pictured: the Elizabethan Michael Bay

First off: really, bear? You're going to try and catch a fully grown man instead of snacking on the little baby laying right there? Think it through, dude. Second: because Antigonus gets chased off, no one knows who the baby is, mistaken identity happens all over the place, and eventually everyone gets married. It's Shakespeare, guys, this is how it usually goes.

But what if Antigonus was a runner? What if, instead of pulling on overwrought tights and a puffy shirt that morning, he had worn running shoes, stylish shorts, and a modestly-colored sweatband? What if he had just recently participated in his king's Infanticide 5k? He could have easily led the bear a safe distance away before circling back to pick up the child. Then, he could have brought her back to her grieving father and they could have lived happily ever after. Or, as happy as Shakespeare's comedies usually are.

Jack Dawson becomes a runner, misses Titanic, lives to ice fish again

Titanic is a movie about a boat sinking. Other stuff happens too. It's a great examination of class discrimination, 19th and 20th century industrial hubris, and human frailty.

Mostly, though, it's remembered for a lady being drawn naked.

Let's rewind. They tell the ship's story through the eyes of Jack and Rose, two star-crossed lovers. In the end, they both float in the freezing Atlantic waters, Jack dies, and Rose lives. Then in the future, old Rose throws a priceless diamond necklace into the middle of the ocean.

Or you could sell it and give the money to charity that helps poor people, Rose. Ever think Jack might want that, too?
Overall, not a great trip for Jack. In fact, part of the story's irony is that he wasn't even supposed to be on the ship. He wins the tickets last-minute in a poker game, and races to the docks to catch his ride.

But what if Jack was a runner? What if, before playing poker that morning, he had participated in the Ironically Named Luxury Cruise Liners Marathon? He would be WAY too tired and sore to get to the ship in time to make it on board. He would hobble to the docks just in time to see the ship on its way, curse his luck, and return to Paris to continue drawing French prostitutes. Later, after hearing about the ship sinking, he would consider how lucky he is to be alive and decide to turn his life around. He would become a wealthy businessman abroad before returning to America, maybe even New York, and...

Yup, this is definitely a parallel timeline

      Forrest Gump runs, avoids depression, meets son

Forrest Gump is the story of a mentally disabled baby boomer who participates in, and is sometimes a key part of, vital 20th century events. It is a very popular movie among baby boomers, which I find confusing since the premise seems a little insulting to their generation's accomplishments.

Pictured: one of the greatest achievers of the 20th century
At one point in the movie, Forrest is dumped, once again, by the love of his life. He wallows in self-pity and depression for the rest of his days, finally drinking himself to death in his decrepit Alabama home.

But what if Forrest was a runner? What if, instead of become depressed, he strapped on some running shoes and took off to circle the country by foot...

Oh, wait. Never mind.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Runner's Guide to Meditation

I sit down.

Indian style. That’s offensive. Stupid too: did people not sit like this other than the North American indigenous peoples? Or wait—which Indians does that phrase refer to? Asian Indians or Columbus got turned around and misnamed them Indians?

"Wait, this isn't India? Better kill everyone just to be sure." - Christopher Columbus, 1492
No, wait, the website said to clear your mind. So shut up, brain. It also said to sit comfortably.

I adjust myself on the floor.

My tailbone hurts.  Would I run better with a tail? Shut UP, brain. I bet I would. Balance.

Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. That way your breath doesn’t feel as awkward leaving your head.  Like someone who just walks through a door and then turns around and leaves. Leave through a different entrance, less awkward for your breath.

SHUT UP, BRAIN. This isn’t how meditation works. It’s all about being mindful.  Being in the moment. But wait, didn’t it say not to repress thoughts? Yeah, just let them pass and don’t follow them down the rabbit hole. What movie had that Alice in Wonderland metaphor? Oh yeah, The Matrix, Neo and following the white rabbit and all that. What happened with that franchise? Awful stuff.

My reaction upon considering how terrible The Matrix sequels were
Wait, no, SHUT UP BRAIN!

Six seconds have passed since I sat down. I sigh impatiently out through my mouth after breathing in through my nose.

Focus on your breath. How can I focus on that? Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, and breathe out. This is all pretty predictable. It’s not like focusing on the plot to The Wire; there’s not a lot going on. No big surprises. It’s not like “breathe in” is suddenly going to have sex with “breathe out’s” brother and then get drunk on Christmas Eve. Now THAT I could focus on. I bet that she would get…

The thought flows away. I let it. More emerge, brightly colored and fast-moving, screaming past each other like cars on a highway. My mind does not follow them.


I read once that, during meditation, it helps to hear your breath as the ebb and flow of water on a beach. With your eyes closed, deep, slow breathing even has a similar sound. It is unrelenting, steady, and simple. Listening to that repetition can produce a calm, centered focus. You are mindful of the present. This is what meditation is all about.

But I’m a runner, so I don’t hear the beach when I breath. Instead, my breath is the sound of my feet hitting the pavement as I run. Like the beach,my footfalls are unrelenting and steady. Unlike the beach, the sound is mine and only mine.

But I’m a runner, so I know that my footfalls are as vital as my breath. Both keep me alive. Both keep me moving forward.

But I’m a runner, so I realize that meditation is a way of achieving sitting down what running gives you moving forward. Both strip away life’s pretense and ornamentation, reducing who you are to what you’re doing now - not who you were or what you might do in the future.

But I'm a runner, so I know and love repetition. Footfalls, breathing, stretching, my courses, my miles, my weeks, my months. Repetition and focus are the cement that holds the bricks of my life together.

Breathe in, breathe out. One foot lands, the other moves forward. Everything else doesn’t matter. Life flits around this central vibrancy like moths around an open flame.

Running is my meditation, and that's why I keep coming back to it. That's why it's so addicting. During a long run, you dig deeply into yourself to keep going. You dig until you hit the your central bedrock under all the dirt of fear, pride, shame, sarcasm, excuses, etc.

Life will be full of things you want to do, and that's fine. Make plans and fulfill them, think about who you want to be and be it. But underneath all that, there's you right now, and there's what you are right now. Running, like meditation, focuses you on that present, and it does so through the mantra of footfalls. Run. Listen to yourself. Focus on that, and everything can fall into place.


I open my eyes, stand up, and grab my running shoes. I’m not done meditating yet. I'm actually just getting started.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for March 5th, 2014

10 foods that make you feel awesome. WHY ARE NONE OF THESE PIZZA. I guess they have to make you feel awesome for a while, instead of awesome then ashamed. (via +Greatist)

A foam roller sounds so nice, doesn't it? Like something a Muppet would drive? Well apparently it's not. Here's how to use one! (via +Runner's World Magazine)

10 ways to make runners hate you. But runners don't really hate anything. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy! Happy people don't hate things (or kill their husbands)! (via @RunningStories)

Every wondered what every single scientific detail about running looks like in one huge list? Wonder no longer! (via +NedGames)

Technology keeps you healthy? Usually mine does the exact opposite. (via

AND running makes you smarter? Me agree! (via +RockCreek Runner)

What exactly does "replenishing your electrolytes" MEAN? TL;DR: Your electrolytes are probably doing fine. (via +SHAPE Magazine)

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Things You Realize When Running a Race

I finished my first race! The Mardi Gras Chaser 5k was this past Sunday, and it was COLD. So cold that running 3.1 miles was really the only feasible way to avoid frostbite. 240 runners participated at Montrose Harbor, not far from where Jimmy Fallon plunged into Lake Michigan and millions of sensible Chicagoans slept in their warm beds.

Not me, though. I had beads to win!

So given that this was my first race, I wanted to speak generally about what I noticed. As a racing novice, I think my first impressions might be valuable to someone considering getting in to running and race culture. You can consider this a follow-up to my earlier post on what I worry about when thinking about race. With that in mind, let’s talk first about the most obvious new factor: people.

You might have noticed that races are full of them.

When you start a race, you do so surrounded by other people at the start line. (If this earth-shattering insight just blew your mind, hold on, because I’m only getting started.) Initially, I thought there might be some sort of order. Fast runners will have their area outlined, with average paces descending through the middle, and of course walkers in back. Generally speaking, though, this only happens with the extremes. Yes, the very fast people are going to the front, and yes, the walkers are going to head to the back or stand to the side, but the vast majority of us are just kind of left in the middle.

I found myself in that cacophony of middle-runners in the five minutes or so before the race, when I imagine most of us were wondering if we would ever feel our extremities again. I filled this time with intense worrying about everything. I scrutinized the runners ahead of and behind me; would they slow me down? Would they pass me? I imagined a gun going off and immediately a hundred differently paced runners start bouncing off of each other in some sort of epic dog pile.

Pictured: how I worried the race would start

Instead, I found out that the race starts off with everyone slowly shuffling forward until the traffic clears ahead of them, at which point you start running and passing people. Then I remembered that this race isn’t to catch the last chopper out of Vietnam, so people probably aren’t going to go all Lord of the Flies in order to shave six seconds off their time. So crisis one was averted.

During the race itself, I noticed a few things that I would warn first-time racers about in the future. First, the race is going to seem longer than that same distance usually does when you're running by yourself. I run 3.1 miles every day anyway, but I felt like the race was twice that distance. While I didn't expect this, it’s easy enough to explain. During your regular runs, you can zone out. You know the route, so you don’t have to anticipate any surprises. During a race, you have a new route, plus hundreds of other runners, plus people cheering you on, plus general performance anxiety. You’re going to be focused on every second, so the run will feel longer.

This leads into my second piece of advice: a race is a great time to evaluate yourself as a runner. Because you have all these distractions and other motivations for running during a race, a lot of your personal motivation might get obfuscated. Ultimately, most of your runs don’t happen to benefit charity or with the support of a crowd. You pick yourself up at some point in the day, strap on some shoes, and listen to a voice inside of you that says, “Run!” (My inner voice usually follows that up with, “Then you can eat all the cheese you WANT!”)

With that little voice drowned out, I spent some time not enjoying the run like I usually do. I was too focused on who I was passing and who was passing me, what my pace was, how much I had done and how much I had left. At a certain point, though, I reminded myself that running, for me, is about that communion you can achieve between mind and body when they’re both pulling in the same direction. There’s a great simplicity to it, which is part of what makes it both so hard and so easy.

I finished the race more mindfully than I began it, and I think that, secondary to the community and charity races promote, THAT should be a race’s biggest draw for distance runners. When you finally do have that cheering crowd, it can make you appreciate your own internal motivation all the more. So that's my advice: run a race with the same attitude you have during any other run. It will help clarify exactly what that attitude is.

So in conclusion: I loved it. Yesterday, I felt proud to complete a race in a community of other runners, and I also feel more proud of every run I have completed in company with myself. That’s a great gift.