My Year of Running

At the outset of the year I’d made the conscious, though not publicly-stated, decision to run 1,000 miles in 2016. So here it is officially: I’m attempting to run 1,000 miles in 2016.

😉

I have steadily increased my mileage over the past several years from 600-something in 2013 to 700+ in 2014 and finally topping 800 miles this past year. I’ve done this by running more often throughout the week and by stretching my average weekday run distance from about 5k to about 7k and my weekend run distance from 5 miles to 10k.

In January Mashable ran a post about Mark Zuckerberg and his commitment to promoting running with the seemingly-simple goal of running 1 mile per day this year. 366 miles – it’s a leap year, after all – seems like an achievable first step for most folks who either haven’t run ever or don’t run consistently.

I joined the Facebook group for his efforts the day I read the article.

I don’t normally listen to anything – music, podcasts, nothing – but another Facebook post sent by my brother-in-law motivated to share my year-to-date mileage today.

All of which is to say, I’ll likely be even more annoying about my running for the remainder of 2016. If you don’t like the beer blog updates or tweets, you’re sure to be annoyed by these.1

Until next time, I’ll see you out on the streets.

  1. If you want to see my previous attempt at being very descriptive about my running, you can check out this Google Doc, which I’d intended to be an actual book cataloging my first full year as a runner (mid-2010 to mid-2011). I ultimately got too busy and shelved the whole project, called “Around the Year in 365 miles”, mostly because I couldn’t remember how I’d felt during each run.

    A much better example of an interesting running diary/log is the excellent Poverty Creek Journal. I’m only halfway done with the prosaic poetry (non-rhyming and paragraph form), but it’s a fantastic artifact of a runner during a similar timeframe recounting how his runs carried him through a calendar year.

Mindful running by acronym

Despite the fact that I’ve run less this Summer (fewer miles AND fewer runs), I’ve made it a point of emphasis to be more mindful during my running.

One of my main challenges in becoming a more regular meditator is that I do some of my best thinking while I run, so I decided to turn a weakness in to a strength to see if I could get the physical benefits of my run with the emotional benefits of mindful meditation. And since I usually feel better emotionally after I run I figured I was already doing some form or mindful meditation, it was just my legs and not Headspace, guiding me.

Getting started: breathing & Step-counting:
My first forays in to mindfulness had to do with a very regimented approach to dealing with the breath and counting my steps. If you’ve read my blog posts about running, you know that steps and footfalls are pretty important to the more forefoot-strike running stride I’ve been using for several years, but counting steps and putting so much emphasis on how my foot lands is only part of the solution I wanted.

I haven’t blogged about it here previously, but checking in with my feet – mostly listening to how loud my footfalls are and trying to make them quieter – is a good solution for me. I tend to lose some of the natural rhythm of my running when I think too much about my feet. Given my footwear choices, listening for my strides being too loud is a better analog for measuring how I’m running then counting or forcing my forefoot to land first (something that ends up feeling, for me at least, just a bit too much like prancing).

Likewise breathing while running should come naturally and not feel forced, labored or otherwise shoe-horned into some concept of right vs. wrong. I had attempted a 3-strides-in/2-strides-out approach after reading an article in Runner’s World mostly as a way of combatting a problem I didn’t have: side cramps. The article contended that alternating the intake of each breath on left and right footfalls could ward off cramps and curtail any lopsided hitches in stride and performance.

For me it boiled down to too much mental effort trying to solve a nonexistent problem. Much like the footfalls exercise, it also made me feel less in tune with my body and my run instead of the opposite, which is my overarching goal.

So what did I do? I made an acronym!
I’m probably just a touch OCD, so thinking about a relevant acronym that captured the kinds of mental activities that, for me at least, helped me get in to a mindful space during my running made perfect sense.

I’ve been reading my way through Wherever You Go, There You Are and I’ve been struck by the concept of a dignified posture for meditation. With “D” as my starting letter here, then, is my acronym: D.R.I.V.E.

D. Dignified posture
R. Relaxed face
I. In(ward)s & Out(ward)s
V. Vertical spine
E. Energetic lower body

D. Dignified posture
Starting at the very top of my head, I imagine I’m a dignified person, a dignitary or at the very least a runner with some sense of dignity. I try to do the same thing as I sit and meditate, so this is the logical running extension. Your interpretation may vary, but having a dignified running posture is as descriptive or prescriptive as I try to be, physically.

R. Relaxed face
Thinking my way down from the top of my head, I focus on how much tension I’m carrying in my forehead, cheeks and especially my eyebrows. You’d be surprised how much more focused and mindful a run can become if you stop furrowing and start thinking through your emotions. It also helps with breathing. Which leads to …

I. In(ward)s & Out(ward)s
This is the step where I think about my breathing, but also the step where I check that I’m abiding by the list items that come before and after it.

I called it “In(ward)s & Out(ward)s” for two reasons:

  1. Literal – The ins and outs of the breath
  2. Figurative – To check that my body (inner world) is aware and abiding by these rules so that I can be equally mindful of the world I’m running (outer world)

V. Vertical spine
I realize I ought to be leaning slightly forward to generate the proper momentum and encourage forefoot striking.
I know that I’ve already mentioned posture with my first rule (D. Dignified posture)
I find that thinking of a straight and vertical spine is helpful.
I honestly needed a word that started with “v” to keep the acronym alive.
I like this rule.

E. Energetic lower body
Some days I have dead, tired legs. Other days my turnover rate (cadence) is too slow. Sometimes the whole locomotion just seems wonky. Thinking about keeping my energy level high in my lower extremities tends to improve all of these things at once.

Funny how much better a run can become if you accept the fact that you need to be running and not just loping your way aimlessly and mindlessly down the street.

I’ll grant you that my acronym isn’t as simple as just concentrating on the correct sitting posture or focusing on the breath, but I’d argue that running is an altogether more complex task than “simple” meditation. Plus, while I might meditate for 10 minutes at a time, my average run is more than half an hour in length.

In other words, I’ve got some time to kill, doing something sophisticated and multivariate so I might as well do some thinking and apply some structure to my mindfulness.

Of course I could also be overthinking things and not allowing myself to actually experience my run, but a standard set of rules to follow to keep myself aware of my mind, my body and my run seems pretty reasonable. I want to experience my run, not just suffer or slog through it to tick a box.

Your mileage may vary. Literally.

For another take on running and meditation, here’s Sakyom Mipham:

In the end I like that I can honor the drive it takes to simply put in the work, the practice, of lacing up my shoes and running with my D.R.I.V.E. acronym.

Until next time, enjoy your run and your meditation. That’s all I’m trying to do.

Wellness Watchers

Why isn’t their a mental/emotional health program for folks as there is for eating? I think I’d benefit from a support group – much like Weight Watchers – where “wellness” was the subject matter instead of eating or food.

People can get wound up in how or what they eat affects them. All this crap about Vegan or Paleo or whatever the new Paleo is. Interesting, for sure, but it’s only one facet of wellness.

I’m just as guilty as anyone else about this. I tend to focus too much on my running (or lack thereof, because of injury). I also tend to cheat on snacks, sweets & secret eating late at night which spoils an otherwise healthy day and leaves me with guilt and a belly ache.

What I really like about thinking about wellness is it incorporates my thoughts and my feelings, not just some empirical data about how fast, how long or how much.

That’s the hidden secret – in my mind (double meaning!) – about quantified self: I can (and should) record my thoughts & my feelings along with my statistics. Over time my mood should be trackable and sustainable just as much as running speed, distance or pounds lifted and pound lost.

Both RunKeeper & DailyMile have integrated this kind of “feeling” data point and that’s a good feature, but it’s not the whole picture.

It sounds simple, but it definitely takes the same kind of discipline to watch your thoughts as it takes to watch your form or watch what you eat.

Enter: Wellness Watchers

Maybe we meet at the gym.
Maybe it’s this blog.
Maybe it’s for a pint after work.

And why not?

A little drink is good for your mental health and wellness ought to be about enjoyment and fulfillment and everything else and not about attaining some kind of ideal where you’re never tempted to enjoy the things that surely warrant enjoyment.

Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called everybody, and they meet at the bar.”

~Drew Carey

Fries and ice cream and all the rest are equally OK, but it’s the moderation we seem to forget.

Anyhow, it just struck me this morning that no one talks about overall wellness. They mention a diet or an exercise regimen – and those things can certainly make you feel better – but shouldn’t the focus be on wellness first and then on the activities that support wellness and not on the activities first and *hopefully* you’ll be well after that?

The reason I started this post is because I’ve been feeling low recently. Not working out & not eating right have taken their toll or maybe they’re the result of feeling bad first. Hard to tell the chicken from the egg.

Then, last week, I ran a ton and I’m continuing to work out this week, but my results have been mixed.

I’m thinking I need to focus on the emotional/mental first and then the physical will come. Who knows.

Just a thought (or three).

What’s healthy?
What’s well?

Leave a comment.

What a difference a year makes

Just a few weeks ago I was fairly vehement that I didn’t like top [x] lists, but that’s the point of complaining on Twitter: to be a crank/get the crankiness out of your system. (Don’t believe me? Check out my updates today).

Today, however, I’m feeling okay with the lists. Two have caught my eye, so consider this post a top 2 list of list posts you should read today.

  1. 10 Stubborn Body Myths That Just Won’t Die, Debunked by Science
  2. This is one is fairly popular today and it’s easy to see why. I nearly scolded a colleague last week for preaching about #7 and I’m fairly certain I still believe #8. 😉

  3. Tackling The 10 Myths Of Barefoot Running
  4. This is one I need to share with my family. They’re obviously concerned for my well-being as I continue to nurse my Achilles injury, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying new shoes last week and coveting other shoes this week. I just think that, given my new midfoot strike, I need all the minimalist/barefoot footwear I can hoard/covet.

Nothing more to add, really, except to point out that I wish this post had 3 items, since 3 seems more interesting than 2.

Monday blogging. There you have it.