Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

Fitness

I DID IT! Half-Marathon Complete!

 

Four months ago, I was not a runner.  Sure, I was in good shape – I went to the gym frequently, did yoga, etc., but running was certainly not my forte.  I considered two miles on the treadmill a pretty good workout. But yesterday, for the first time in my life, I ran 13.1 miles. I still can’t believe I did it.  On that fateful day in August, when I first started training, I was skeptical that I would ever complete my goal.  But here I am – over 130 miles of training later – with my goal finally accomplished.

Here’s how the morning of the race went down: at 5:00 am on November 25th, my friend and I groggily rolled out of bed, stuffed some GoLean Crunch and toast with peanut butter down out throats, and hit the road.  We cruised down the deserted LA streets to Venice Beach where the start/finish line was.  I was relieved to find that the race was super low-key – there had to be less than 100 people running and the people hosting the race (Rocket Racing Co.) were super friendly.  It was just the kind of atmosphere I need for my first HM.

I was delighted to discover not just that the course was completely flat, but also that the entirety of it was on the bike path along the coast.  We ran 1.3 miles south first (i.e. into downtown Venice Beach), looped back to the start/finish line, then did the loop again. We then ran 3.9 miles north (along some of the most beautiful coast I’ve ever seen) and looped back and finished there.

I’ve got to say, the 1.3 mi dip into Venice Beach was so entertaining.  I passed homeless guys in drum circles (one of them even reached out to give me a high-five), ran around bicyclists, waved to gay couples walking their dogs, smelled strong evidence of marijuana wafting out of apartment buildings, etc.  That street has got to be one of the most eclectic in all of Los Angeles.  Luckily for me, the first 4 miles of the race were so distracting that I didn’t even notice the distance I was covering. As I ran north, the sun was just starting to break through the early morning clouds and fog. It was the most beautiful site.  I can’t imagine a more scenic location for a race.

Physically speaking, the last two miles were incredibly painful.  Remember, the most I’ve run before (in any one stretch) was 10 miles.  I was surprised at how much I really felt each additional mile past that.  11, 12, 13…the balls of my feet were hurting, my hip joints ached, my thigh muscles felt really tight….ouch.  The good news? I didn’t experience any chaffing (thank you Body Glide!) and I didn’t feel like I was running out of energy (Shot Bloks, thank you as well). I felt that the only thing that kept me from running further was the pain in my legs.  My running partner stashed some Advil in her pocket before the race and popped them during the race. Maybe I should have done the same?

I know a lot of people don’t like to listen to music during a race, but because this race was so uncrowded and low-key, there were many times when I was pretty much alone.  For this reason, I did bring my iPhone along and listened to the Songza playlist “Sunshine Indie Pop.”  I’ve been running to this playlist a lot recently – it’s the perfect mix of energetic and interesting.

 

 

 

I finished in 2:05:50, so I realized after the race that I’d been running at a pace much faster than I’d been training at.

What’s next? Definitely a few more half-marathons, and who knows, maybe a marathon?  I guess I have some time.  After all, there were two fifty-year olds running in the 50 mile event at the race…


Proper Running Form (infographic)

I found this awesome infographic on fellow blogger, Daily Dose of Fit‘s page.

This graphic is great because it simplifies and visualizes everything I’ve always heard about proper form in one easy chart.

Even though I know that mid foot strike is ideal, I often get lazy about it toward the end of my run. To improve this, I’m going to start dedicating one run each week to really perfecting my form, starting today!


Strengthening Your Self-Control

Now that classes are kicking into high gear and my schedule is getting more and more packed, I’m starting to slack off in my eating habits.  I think the main problem is that when I’m rushing around, I tend to grab whatever snack is near me and eat on the go.  With this lack of awareness surrounding exactly how much I’m eating (not to mention what the food even tastes like), I’m eating many more calories than I normally would. Late nights are especially dangerous for me, as eating becomes a coping mechanism to help me stay awake and keep me entertained when I’m doing work I don’t particularly enjoy.

Perhaps all I need to do is inject a little more consciousness into my eating habits: stop and think about if I’m really hungry, if I really need this food (or if I’m just eating it because it’s there), and how I might feel afterwards.  In other words, begin “journaling the 3 D’s” (see below).


Aiming for an 8 minute mile, and its unexpected benefits…

For the past few weeks I’ve grown very comfortable with the idea of averaging 10 min/mile on my runs.  It seemed like a nice round number and fit easily into my calculations: 30 minutes for a 3 mile run, 40 minutes for a 4 mile run, etc.

Even though I’ll be running my half-marathon with a friend, we’ve been training in different parts of the country (I’m up in Northern California and she’s in LA), so we aren’t quite able to run together.  I was so proud of myself with my 10 min/mi pace, until I learned that she’s been running 8 MINUTE MILES.

Uh oh, I thought. Am I horribly off track with my training? I’m struggling with the 10 min/mi pace as it is!

The good thing is, the half-marathon I’m registered for doesn’t have an end time (I know – it sounds wimpy, but I wanted a super low-pressure race for my first one). So theoretically, I could take as much time as I needed…but…it also doesn’t hurt to ramp up my pace during training, does it? Or at least dedicate one day a week to really pushing myself?

So when I woke up this morning, I told myself I would only do 2 miles, but I would finish in under 16 minutes.  Well…the two mile thing happened, but the 16 minutes? More like 17:30. Oh well, that is much better that the typical 20 minutes it would take me.  Of course, I did feel like I was killing myself there at the end to beat the clock…I even started to feel a little sick.

Even though I fell short of my goal, it wasn’t entirely in vain. The context: my run this morning took place on a 1 mile loop around a lake.  I kept passing a really cute guy at the start of the trail and at the half-way point (we were running in opposite directions). After we had passed each other four times, he stopped me and said, “Hey, we’re running at like, the exact same pace! We should just run together,” as he motioned for me to join him on another lap.  In part because I was about to pass out after killing myself to keep that pace, and in part because I was a red-faced, sweaty mess, I declined. But who knows? What better motivation to wake up and run in the morning than the prospect of meeting a cute running partner?


Change your mindset, improve your running

So much of our ability in running comes from having the correct frame of mind. Oftentimes we fall short of our goal because our mind tells us we can’t do it, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bored, etc. Here are some simple tips I’ve found to help me overcome those mental barriers and push through.

Lean into the pain. Avoidance of pain is one of our most instinctive human responses. Although certain types of discomfort do signal potential injury, there are also plenty of aches and pains that are simply signs that you are pushing your body.  “You need to push through discomfort to see performance gains,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, in Runner’s World Magazine. So don’t stop running next time you sense the first hint of pain.  Instead, listen to your body.  Try to recognize if the pain is a sign of growth or a sign of injury. If it’s a sign of growth, push into it.  Let that inspire you. Know your body is trying to reach limits it hasn’t before, and that’s how you’ll become faster and stronger.

Set ambitious goals.  I’ve learned one very simple psychological trick: if I tell myself I’m going to run three miles, I’ll be exhausted after three. If I tell myself I’m going to run seven, I’ll be exhausted after seven.  For a long time I kept thinking that four miles was my limit, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t moving past four simply because I never aimed to run more.

Identify short-term targets. Take it one step at a time.  Focus on making it to the top of the hill, then to the end of the street, down the next block.  Try to push through to the end of the song you’re listening to or try running especially hard for the next 30 seconds.

Look for little victories.  Congratulate yourself after each mile or after each stretch. One small reward system I’ve implemented is allowing myself to sip from my water bottle after each mile.

Refocus your thoughts. It’s okay to tune into your body, but it’s also okay to tune out and let your mind wander.  Do you have a project at work to mull over? A friend you’re excited to see? Or maybe you would prefer to tune into your surroundings, whether that means observing nature or even making up stories about passerby.  Whether running is your time to process things in your everyday life or to ponder more abstract ideas, this kind of mental activity is good in that it distracts you from physical discomfort. When your mind zeros in on the pain, your body actually increases its stress response, thereby aggravating that discomfort.

Visualize goals. If you begin your run by saying “There’s no way I’ll reach my goal today,” chances are you won’t.  Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Imagine yourself telling your friend, partner, or workout partner “I ran ____ today,” and the sense of pride that accompanies it. Recall past experiences where you did accomplish your goal.  How did that feel?

Remind yourself why you do it.  What are your motivations for running? Do you run to lose weight? To train for a marathon? To decrease your stress levels? To impress a friend or partner? Whatever the reason, imagine how much closer you’ll be to that goal if you push through to the end.


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program: Halfway to the Half Marathon

Well, folks, I’m halfway there.  Just completed my first ever six-mile run, and I am proud to say that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I anticipated.

To be completely honest, what I was most afraid of with this run going into it was the monotony.  Six miles is a long distance, and at 10 mins a mile, that’s a full hour of running.  I was getting really bored on my treadmill even on the shorter runs, and the high school track is equally monotonous.  So I ventured out into uncharted territory – that is, a nicely paved path about half a mile away from my house – and just started running.  Since I knew the road would be relatively flat, well-paved, and straight, I just ran and ran until my Nike+ Running app alerted me that I had run three miles, at which point I turned right around and ran back toward where I came from.

I also had all conditions working in my favor: it was a beautiful, 72º evening, I was well-fed (having had toast with peanut butter a half hour before) and well-hydrated (I even brought along the nifty water bottle I won at my last 8K!), and I had Songza to keep me company. It was one of the most enjoyable runs I’ve been on so far.

I feel so empowered.  Four weeks ago I never would have thought that I could run six miles without a break. Now that I’m halfway there, the half marathon is seeming much less daunting.

12 miles, here I come!


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program: The 8K

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I was actually pretty nervous about my 8K yesterday.  Not only had I never run 5 miles straight before, but this was my first actual race (even though most people would probably start with a 5K).  To increase my mental stress even more, as soon as I got on the trail, I realized it was far more difficult than I had anticipated.

The race was called “Into the Wild” – and they weren’t kidding.  The trail wound though steep hills, and the terrain alternated between soft sand, rocky river beds, and pavement. At some points the trail was a foot or less wide, making it nearly impossible for runners to pass each other.

I also decided not to wear my Vibram FiveFingers for fear that I might get blisters, so I wore my other minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus.  They worked well and were super comfortable.

One thing I really loved about the race, however, was the sense of camaraderie among the runners.  Maybe it was especially pronounced since the trail was so tricky, but many of the runners chatted during the race about how difficult it was and cheered each other on.  Since I’ve largely been training on my own, I’ve missed this kind of community, and it was nice to find it here.

At around three miles, though, I definitely started to feel like giving up.  I had just conquered an incredibly sharp incline and I thought, “Okay, that will be the last of it,” only to encounter a similarly difficult slope right after.  The course felt like it was never going to end. Had I been running on my own, I would have stopped at this point.  Luckily, I had incredibly buff, seasoned runners passing me by, and that was enough to keep me motivated. (Or maybe it was the approaching nightfall and the fact I was in the wilderness that kept me going…)

This race was really helpful because it taught me a few things to consider about before the actual half marathon:

  1. Don’t rely on your iPod. I usually use Songza (an app that uses internet to find playlists) but because there was no internet, bringing my iPod along ended up just being a burden.
  2. Take a TUMS before the race, or bring one along.  I don’t know what happened – I didn’t eat anything strange at all before the race, but I kept getting indigestion and it made running very uncomfortable.
  3. Bring gum. This might be TMI, but I kept choking on my saliva since my throat was getting really dry.
  4. Wear longer shorts.  I experienced some pretty uncomfortable chaffing between my thighs and this made the last mile even more difficult.

All in all, I felt that my cardio was pretty strong, and that if it were not for the points mentioned above, I would have had an even faster time.

For beginner runners, I would highly recommend registering for a short race before the actual half marathon.  Not only is being around the other runners inspiring, but it was great to get a feel for a typical race environment. Not to mention, I now feel that much more inspired to keep training!


Getting Started with Yoga, Part I: Yoga “Mat”ters

There are many benefits to practicing yoga in a studio: the teacher is knowledgeable enough to correct your mistakes and prevent injuries, the atmosphere is focused and distractions are reduced to a minimum, and you are guided in your flow as opposed to having to construct it yourself. At the same time, there are days when we simply don’t have the time to get into a studio for a class, or times when we can’t afford to pay the premium costs of most studios.  Or perhaps you aren’t looking for a terribly strenuous practice, maybe just a few minutes of quick stretches at the beginning or end of your day.

In this series, I’ll offer a few suggestions to boost your home practice – everything from equipment, flow routines, playlists, recommended reading and more.

Let’s start with the essential equipment. If you’re new to yoga, I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on equipment up front. You should explore whether yoga is right for you first before committing to all the expensive add-ons.

The only item that is truly necessary is a good yoga mat. They can vary widely in price so it’s important to think about what exactly you’re looking to get out of it. Are you hoping to travel with it? If so, prioritize thinness and weight.  Do you know that your mat will be going through a lot of wear and tear? Invest in durability. Check out the helpful chart from About.com below to compare technical specifications of five very popular mats.

Gaiam Kulae tpECOmat Jade Harmony Lululemon 
The Mat
Manduka PRO
material PVC TPE rubber polyurethane, rubber PVC
thickness 1/8″ 1/8″ 3/16″ 3/16″ 1/4″
weight light (2.2 lbs) light (2 lbs) mid (4 lbs) mid (5.5 lbs) heavy (7 pounds)
length 68″ 72″ 68″ or 74″ 71″ 71″ or 85″
biodegradable no yes yes no no
odor no no yes (rubber) slight (rubber) no
soft yes yes no yes no
traction fair good good good good
durability poor poor good good good
price $22 $39 $65 $68 $94

I first began my practice out with a $10 mat from Target, and it wasn’t long before I grew frustrated with its thin cushion and poor grip.  I ended up buying two more mats until I finally decided to just make the investment and buy a mat I wouldn’t have to keep replacing. Though the Manduka mat is expensive, it is built to last and may be the last mat you buy for many years.

Clothing. I’ve seen people practice in everything from spandex shorts to loose linen clothing. The main objective with your clothing is that you are comfortable and able to move about freely.  In a class, the instructor often prefers that you wear tighter clothing so they can see your form and make corrections if necessary, though if you are simply practicing in your home, this is not essential. And men, when practicing in a studio, please no loose-fitting shorts. No one needs to see your junk during a down-dog…

That’s it for the essentials, but if you’re ready to deepen and enhance your practice, here are some other things to consider:

  • To absorb all that sweat, I recommend buying a yoga towel for your mat.  Especially in Hot Yoga, it can get pretty slippery.  I own the Gaiam Yoga Thirsty Towel and that has worked well for me.  It will protect your mat both from sweat and dirt, thus enabling you to go longer periods without having to wash your mat.
  • To keep your mat smelling clean and fresh, I would recommend Manduka’s Yoga Mat Spray. Nobody likes to smell a week’s worth of practice during their child’s pose. (I’ve also heard that you can also put your mat in the washing machine by itself with a tiny bit of detergent on a low setting.)
  • To deepen your stretches, the Manduka Cotton Yoga Strap is useful, especially for those hard to reach places. If your hands can’t quite lock behind your back, or your fingers can’t yet stretch past your toes, this strap can provide that extra leverage.
  • To facilitate your poses, I would recommend the Iyengar block. The block functions as an extension of your body, allowing you to reach more difficult poses.  In place of, or even in addition to the block, I would recommend a Traditional Mexican blanket.  They can be very affordable and in many instances can take the place of your block in providing support.  They are also commonly folded up and sat on for meditation because they elevate the booty just a couple inches off the floor, allowing blood to flow to your legs so they don’t fall asleep. If you’re practicing Restorative Yoga, you can also the blanket for warmth.

And that’s it. Namaste!


Finding motivation even on the toughest days

When I made the commitment to start training for a half marathon, I knew it was going to be physically difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were the emotional hurdles that would inevitably get in my way. That is, life.

I recently went through a tough break-up. When I woke up the morning after, I was emotionally wiped out. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my pajamas all day, hide in my house, and eat chocolate.  Inevitably, my half marathon training schedule flashed open on my desktop, reminding me I needed to run 4 miles that day. Naturally, I resisted. I was so laden with mental and emotional stress that I felt drained of all energy and motivation. And in a way, I think I told myself I couldn’t run because I was “in mourning”, and continuing with life as normal would insult the magnitude of the situation.

Even though running always cheers me up, I spent the day moping about and as a result, felt even worse. The next day, I acknowledged how counter-intuitive this kind of behavior was. I knew I needed to force myself into action. I started small: I laced up my shoes. I stepped outside, and I told myself that even if I managed a ten-minute jog, I would be proud of myself. Almost within minutes of being outside, however, my spirits lifted. I ended up running far more than I had anticipated (4 miles at 9 mph – a personal best). When I came back home, though I still felt sad, I felt more empowered to deal with and process those feelings.

When we are going through an emotional low period, whether it’s the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or simply being in a funk, getting out the door can be the biggest challenge. We might tell ourselves “I’ll take one day off – it won’t make a difference,” or with feelings of futility, ask ourselves, “What does it even matter anymore?”  This kind of thinking is dangerous, however, because exercising not only provides a space for us to process and think through whatever we might be going through, but physically speaking, it releases endorphins. It allows us the freedom to move on with a clearer mind and lighter heart. You don’t have to run that 8K on an especially rough day, but don’t let your emotions keep you inside, as that might simply prolong those negative feelings.

What are your tactics for powering through with tough days?  How do you rally the motivation to get out the door?


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program, Part II: The Schedule

Here’s the 12-week training schedule I’ll be following for the next 11 weeks (I’ve already completed Week 1). In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post an updated chart at some point in the future of what I actually ran, my pacing for each run, and what activity I did on my cross-training Sundays.  Hopefully the distances will be pretty similar, if not identical!