Do What Moves You – part II

Do What Moves You – part II

In the second part of this blog series on “motivation” we will discuss finding motivation during recovery and in returning to running after injury or a long hiatus (see part I on the elements of motivation).  Not surprising, there is a huge field of study on the “psychology of sports injuries“.  There is no way around the issue, injuries are awful.  According to the NCAA and Sports Science Institute, “injuries can hinder performance and negatively impact . . . athletes’ mental health and well-being, including: threats to self-esteem, social isolation and motivational demands associated with rehabilitation. Therefore, injury is one of the most arduous physical and psychological tests confronting . . . athletes.”

Sound familiar?  The scope may be different for us amateur athletes (i.e. no shoe contracts or college scholarships at stake) but the similarity of the human experience in injury is largely the same.  LeBron James and myself are likely to react in a very similar way to being injured and sidelined from the sport we love.  So if injuries are such an “arduous” experience, how do we athletes come back from injury and stay motivate?

We science the heck out of our recovery!

Science tells us that “greater self‐efficacy is the ability to perform prescribed rehabilitation modalities, stronger beliefs in the treatment efficacy, and higher value attached to rehabilitation, were all related to compliant behaviour.”  Say what?  If we believe we can succeed (self-efficacy) and we believe in the value of the treatment/therapy, we will be good little recovery runners and do our work without pushing too far, too fast.

Now is the critical point.  We need to find the motivation to recover and the self-belief that we will recover.  To achieve this goal, we will utilize the strategies of motivation from my first blog post: Autonomy, Value, and Competence.

Autonomy – we control the outcome.  In order for us to feel “in control of an injury” we need to understand the in’s and out’s of our injury.  What is the injury, how did we get it (i.e. overuse, muscle imbalances, bad form, etc) and we need to understand how we can prevent the injury in the future.  We also need to have a clear idea of what recovery looks like – how long it will take, what are the steps of recovery, and what does success look like at each step.  We need milestones for performance during recovery.

Value – recovery is singularly important to us and our running tribe.  Value is perhaps the easiest for us to find.  We want to be better and back in the race.  To boost value, we need to tap into our social network.  Our network of family and our running tribe become our recovery team.  They help us see the value of little accomplishments and keep us connected to our running even when we are sidelined.  I have good friends that have been injured but quickly became the hero of the long run when they showed up to provide mobile aid stations during hot training runs.  The injured runner values their return to sport and their community values them and their recovery.

Competence – we will recover and be better than before our injury.   We must approach our recovery with “tenacious attention“.  The athlete must make their singular focus to do all the million little things correctly that will lead to recovery.  With this laser focus, there is no room to doubt the possibility of recovery.  The runner must stay in the moment.  The worst thing a runner can do is reminisce about who they were as a runner.  That is not the runner we are at the moment and it is an unfair comparison.  The runner must focus on every fine detail of a task and push their bodies precisely to facilitate recovery without crossing the line.  Every precise execution is the opportunity to build competence and prepare for the great return.

Do What Moves You – part I

Do What Moves You – part I

What moves you?  When you have a long or hard training run planned and the temps are in the teens or heaven forbid, triple digits, what drives you to lace up and head out?

I have a group of friends from my running group who have a messenger chat room and the topic of today’s conversation was how to stay motivated.  Not just when the weather is challenging but when you are recovering from/coming back from an injury.  This will be a two part post.  In this post, I’ll cover what fuels motivation and what science has to say about staying motivated.  In the second part of this series, I’ll cover coming back from injury.  So let’s get down to it.

The good, old-fashioned, dictionary defines motivation as “the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way” or “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something”.  Thanks to science, we can also define predictors of staying successfully motivated:  Autonomy, Value, and Competence.

The principal of autonomy dictates that the more ownership we have for an activity or pursuit, the more likely we are to stay motivated for the task.  So to translate for us runners, the more opportunity we have to control our training and goals, the more likely we are to stay motivated for our daily run.  To aid with this control, it can be helpful for runners to develop their own training plans and goal races.  During the day, runners should schedule runs in their calendar and keep these commitments in the same way we keep business lunches, staff meetings, or summons from the local pastor.  Also, science tells us the earlier in the day we schedule a run, the more likely we are to complete the run because other life commitments don’t get the opportunity to pull us away from our run.  I add control to my running life by scheduling runs in my calendar, specifically runs with my running groups for extra accountability.  I work many long hours but on running group nights, if no one will die because I leave the office, I will not schedule late afternoon meetings because the run is my commitment to myself and my sanity.  I am an adult who runs!

The second principal component of motivation is value.  We are generally more motivated to complete a task when it comes with a high personal value.  For runners, this may mean paying for a goal race or speed sessions.  For other people, the value is in telling others of our plans and knowing that to keep social status we must follow through with our workout (i.e. think of the endless social media posts about workout plans or completed workouts).  Still for others, the value is in the competition.  I know runners who go out the door solely because they know their competition is out working hard to beat them.  Find the value and you find your motivation.  For me, the value add is that I don’t want to show up to the start line unprepared.  I want to compete and I can’t rest while my competition is out running hills while I make sweet love to a pizza and a Netflix Marathon (Don’t judge.  People we’ve all been there).

The third and final component of motivation is competence.  There is a direct link between our perception of our prowess and our desire to complete a task.  For us runners, that means as we find success in PR’s, overall/age group awards, weight loss, or running longer distances we have a greater motivation to run/race.  This is great, but all runners have slumps.  So what do we do when we feel our times are slipping, that Father Time is winning, or we gain a few pounds after winter break?  The best cure for our feeling “incompetent” is to re-frame.  Maybe we didn’t perform well at the most recent race, but rather than going to the “I suck” head space, we need to evaluate the things that went right and the specific, discrete tasks that will help us address a weakness.  To succeed, we must always train our weaknesses.  If I didn’t kick soon enough or I got psyched out by a strong surge from a competitor, there are speed work sessions to be done, hill repeats to be conquered, and running groups to engage to help train my weaknesses.  And in training my weaknesses, I have more ownership and autonomy . . . and you guessed it, more motivation.

So, the next time you hesitate to lace up or look back at your day with disappointment because you couldn’t find the motivation to run, check which of the big three components, autonomy, value, or competence was draining your drive.  Chances are, with a bit of tweaking, you’ll be ready to rise to the challenge tomorrow.

The Wise Runner’s Fear

The Wise Runner’s Fear

I truthfully have no idea how many races I have run.  I know I have run a lot of races.  I have run 5K to 100 milers.  I have run multi-day events.  I have run trails and roads.  And while each race is unique, they all have one thing in common, fear.  Every time I toe the starting line, I have the butterflies of anxiety and the undercurrent of fear.

So what are we afraid of and more importantly why do we as runner’s persist in an activity which evokes fear and anxiety? Let’s start with the fear. Most fears can be defined as rational, or reasonable concerns. For runner’s, the reasonable fears are getting lost, running out of water or nutrition, injury, not finishing, heat, cold, chaffing, and the ever dreaded . . .potty disasters. All of these are rational fears because they likely could and often do happen to runners at some point during their running career. The good news is that with proper training and planning, these anxieties can be easily mitigated.

But what should the wise runner fear? A wise runner fears the battle between his “demons and his better angels“.  If a runner ever tells you that she has no jitters before a race, she is a liar.  The runners who are truly honest will tell you that they always fear the “demons”.  The “demons” are the inner voice we all have; the negative self-talk.  The “demons” catch you off guard and make you feel like you are worthless.  They whisper sweet consolations that can make you dump months or even years of training down the drain because you are suffering.  The battle between the ears is truly where races are won or lost and goals actualized.  I have run phenomenal races only to crash in the last few miles because my demons said “we are done”.  The demons are clever; they know exactly what to say to make you slow down, rationalize less than your best, or make you not care about something that was once an ambition.  The distance of the race is no matter.  I know 5K runners who have caved under pressure when challenged during the last quarter mile.  I know 100 milers who sat on the trail and pondered DNF (did not finish) at mile 90.

So the next time you set your site on a race, remember, you must first rally your better angels to silence the demons.  Then, you can worry about the location of the next restroom on the course.

Now for the why.  Why do runners subject themselves to such a physical and mental battle such that the very act of competing, makes  a runner experience fear and anxiety. The answer is  . . . because we must know.  We must know who we are when we suffer. Part of what makes us human is the quest to define who we are.  And what better way to know thine self, than at a time when we are pushed to our limit. In short, we put ourselves through “this mess” in pursuit of our best self.  We want to do the hard thing.  We want to be weighed and measured against the best runners, the hardest trails, the longest distances, and our own demons. . . and we want to be found worthy.  In the end whether we succeed or fail isn’t what matters.  What matters is that we will be better for the struggle.  We will come to a greater understanding of ourselves, and we will be better prepared for our next trial (or trail).  Because let’s face it, there will always be a next time.


It takes suffering to succeed

It takes suffering to succeed

What is the price of success to become an ultrarunner?  I think in life, we all want to be successful at something.  We all have dreams we want to pursue.  Whether it’s getting a promotion at work, going back to school, or running the Vol State 500K.  The real key to success is not however thinking about the dream itself.  Imagining yourself in a cap and gown with sheepskin in hand or standing at the finish line at some race is helpful in terms of positive visualization, but it does very little in the grand scheme of things for actually achieving the goal.

The way to define whether you have what it takes to achieve your goals is not to fantasize about what achievement looks like but to think about what misery looks like.  This seems like a somewhat negative approach but it prepares you for the reality.  If I want to measure my chances of completing the Vol State 500K, I need to be thinking about whether I’m prepared to run 100+ miles a week in preparation.  I need to be prepared to suffer in TN heat and humidity for 10 days straight.  I need to know that I will be hungry and tired, I might get lost in the dark and have blisters that eat my feet.  These are realities that I must be prepared to face and over come to “live the dream”.    So rather than asking what is my dream, I should be asking myself, what level of suffering am I prepared to face – that will dictate the chances of succeeding in my dream.

Another case study is the Barkley Marathons or for those of us mortals, the Barkley Fall Classic.  Since the release of the documentary, that brings light to the lore and legend of what many consider to be the hardest race in the United States, there have been many in the running community who fancy they are up for the challenge.  Some days, I admit that my husband and I are victim of this passing fantasy.  Here is a post from the Race Director, Lazarus Lake, regarding both the Barkley Fall Classic (BFC) and the actual “big kid” Barkley Marathons.  Below is what Laz thinks is necessary to succeed:

“Here is an interesting fact, for those of you who are thinking you will one day join the small number who have completed 5 loops at the big barkley: Robert Youngren wrote a fantastic race report last year, about his serious attempt at 5 loops. (Maybe he will post a link on here, it is a fascinating glimpse into the world of 5-loop aspirants) It is no secret (or won’t be after you try to capture a Croix) that people who succeed at Frozen Head have to run everything runnable. Being serious about doing the deed, Rob went out in the company of the people who get deep into the race with a chance at 5. Do you know what they were doing on the way up Bird Mountain on the first loop? They were running… FAST… The first climb you hit in the BFC is defined as “runnable.” If you are one of those people who include it as “walk all the uphills,” you can take finishing 5 at the big barkley off your dream list…. Maybe you can walk it and still get a Croix at the BFC….


But, I will tell you this much about the 2017 BFC. Running the runnable sections, even when your soul cries out for relief, is going to be more critical to getting the Croix than ever before. You better put on your big girl panties when you get dressed on September 16.”

So I asked myself in the middle of a somewhat benign 18 miler yesterday, that felt like I was dying, am I running up ALL the hills? Am I running fast? Am I working as hard as I can every minute of every mile?  And I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t.  And until I’m prepared for that level of suffering on every training run, the Barkleys and perhaps the Vol State 500K are still dreams.  But tomorrow is a new day and another chance to test my resolve.

The “Two-Body” Problem

The “Two-Body” Problem

“In classical mechanics, the two-body problem is to determine the motion of two point particles that interact only with each other”.  In academia, the two-body problem (career) refers to “the difficulty of both spouses obtaining jobs at the same university or within a reasonable commuting distance from each other”.  So what is the two-body problem for runners . . . other than the motion of two people that interact only with each other?

When both partners are runners and compete and train together, there are a number of dilemmas that can develop.  In this post, I will address the challenges and triumphs of having two runners that run and train to compete in the same  ultra/endurance events.  Let’s start with the frivolous:

1.)  With both partners intensely training for ultramarathons, the level of laundry that is produced and needs to be completed each day is astronomical.  And don’t get me started on the water bill associated with long hot showers/baths.

2.)  The cost, that equates to two sets of EVERYTHING.  Two sets of fancy shoes, wool composite socks, hydration packs, tech shirts, moisture wicking shirts, race entries, goo, gels, hats, sunglasses, liters of sunscreen  . . . the list is infinite.

3.)  The chores get away.  Nobody likes chores.  No matter how many blisters I have, I will always prefer a run to mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom.  My husband is the same . . . the lawn sometimes gets scary and we may have misplaced one of our dogs last summer.

Now let’s dig a bit deeper.  How does running and training affect the marriage/relationship?  I think if both halves have the right mind-set, then the value add of sharing racing and training can be enormous.  But if either partner loses focus on the relationship, then things can become dicey.

First, the good:

4.)  Running together can produce endorphins, which leads to arousal, which is definitely good for a relationship.

5.)  Sharing a victory or a tough race builds memories and teamwork for us, particularly on challenging races where the possibility of failure, injury, or getting lost is very real.  We have had races where we work together to stay on course, help an injured runner, or just plain survive the nastiness of blackberry thorns, muddy ATV-shredded hills, and cold, dark night runs.  Those are the races we always remember the most fondly.

6.) We bear witness to the essence of our partner. Susan Sarandon’s character in Shall We Dance states, “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”  Running allows us to bear witness to both the greatest triumphs and failures of our partner.  I have DNF’d while my husband has run the greatest race of his career.  We have shared bruised ribs, debilitating blisters, chaffing of parts unspeakable, dry heaving, and conquering races that have tested our limits as people and runners.  In these moments of triumph and spectacular failure, I know my husband and he knows me.  We know each other at our most glorious and most unlikable.  So be assured, when life throws us curve balls of sickness or lost jobs, debt or despair, we know how the other will react, and that we will handle whatever comes our way with dogged determination.  That knowledge of the solidity and resilience of our relationship is a gift.

The not so good:

7.)  Competition.  A little bit of spousal competition is good.  It breeds more focus and determination and training, which leads to subsequent excellence.  But too much competition and things can turn ugly.  In a marriage, to compete with your spouse is to know that by you succeeding, your spouse is failing.  In racing or in life, I never want my spouse to fail.  When he fails, we fail.

8.)  Misguided expectation.  When couples don’t set reasonable expectations for a race or training run, there can be resentment.  If one person expects the other to stay with them no matter what . . . and they get dumped halfway into a run, it can get ugly.  My husband and I always try to set reasonable expectations.  If my husband is running well, I want him to drop my like I’m hot and run.  I want him to run without consideration of how I will feel without him.  I want him to run his race.  I also want him to give me the same freedom to run unencumbered and without obligation when I hit my stride.  By letting my spouse run the race he has in them that day, we allow ourselves the ability to be our best.

When in the course of human events . . .

When in the course of human events . . .

As the sun begins to set on this, our 241st year since the declaration of our independence from the tyranny of Great Britain, I ponder the meaning of this great document and of course, its relevance to runners.

While I am trained as a scientist, my hobby is history as my father drug his young children to every historical site , both Revolutionary and Civil, on the eastern seaboard.  There was no magic kingdom in our Summer vacation plans, but how about the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War?  So a brief history lesson.  The United States ratified what we now know as our Constitution in June of 1788 but before any of that, was the Declaration of Independence.  The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776.  The Declaration of Independence was the justification for their action and was ratified two days later on July 4th, our “Independence Day”.  So why the attraction to the Declaration?  The Constitution is what defines our rights as Americans and lays the foundation for our government and legal systems.  The answer seems easy – straight American audacity.  We, a budding group of colonial upstarts declared that we were free and in words so powerful that they speak to the soul of every American hundreds of years after its writing:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This one sentence is the moral standard to which we Americans aspire.

This morning as I pushed through the last mile of our yearly 4th of July race, Four on the 4th, I pondered the deep connection that the running community has with this moral standard.  We as runners believe we are living most fully when we run remote trails or pound the pavement.  We feel truly free as running allows us to take a brief respite from our daily cares of bills, health issues, and work stresses.  And when we fly along the trails with a gentle breeze and a beautiful vista unfolding in front of our gaze, we find our happiness.  Our community calls to everyone: “Come join us!  You don’t need expensive watches or shoes.  We don’t care your profession or level of academic achievement.  Who cares if you own a mansion or rent 1-bedroom apartment and live off of Ramen noodles.  Your last name, country of origin, or the faith you chose is irrelevant.  There is room for us all on these paths.  Find the happiness, freedom, and fellowship that we have found on the journey.  Come join us!”

So as the sun sets today, God Bless America, a country where we are able to run free.

Put on my Blue Knit Shoes

Put on my Blue Knit Shoes

Time for a another gear review.  In the interests of full disclosure, I am NOT an ambassador or otherwise connected with the Altra Brand, but I DO like their shoes.  Today’s review will feature the Altra Escalante road shoe.  I decided to check out the Altra Brand after my first 100 mile race.  I wore Hokas for my training and for the race and I love the padding which protects my feet after miles of pounding on the roads.  On the down side, even when I sized up, the toe box of the Hokas was too narrow, and my feet swelled so bad that I was tempted to cut the toe box out of the shoe by mile 75.  I saw several runners on the course with this latest “fashion idea” but something galled me about destroying a $130 pair of shoes.  Enter the Altra which has a very wide toe box design to allow plenty of room for your toes to wiggle and move.

Design – the shoes are light weight with a knit upper to allow for a sock like fit/feel.  I love this because it makes the shoes very breathable so my feet don’t feel soaked after miles on the asphalt.  Another staple of the Altra brand, beyond the wide toe box, is a zero drop.  Zero drop shoes are shoes “that allow the foot to sit level to the ground without a slope from the heel to the forefoot (check out this Runner’s World article for more information on Zero drop pros/cons).”  For me, the zero drop prompts me to run more “fore footed” and helps me focus on feedback from my feet to promote better form.  The shoes are also very light, coming in at 8.2 oz for the men and 6.5 oz for the women.

Ride – the wide toe box and zero drop give the illusion of a more barefoot running experience.  I wear these shoes and feel fast and “zippy”.  It feels like I’m fast at toe off and can pick up speed quickly.  There is a caution that comes with the shoe design, if you are not used to zero drop or more minimalist style shoes, ease into these kicks.  I have run in more minimalist shoes in the past with no problem but I know folks who have complained that with a more forefoot strike, as promoted by these shoes, they can get achy calves and Achilles.  So if you can’t resist this new shoe technology, at least take it slow.  I have had stiff calves the next morning after longer runs with these shoes.  I’ve worn my Escalantes for both half-marathon and marathon distances with no problems.

Overall 5 out of 5 stars. I love this shoe.  My husband got a pair and I saw how much fun he had on weeknight runs, so naturally I had shoe envy and had to get a pair for myself.  Pros, smooth ride, light weight, makes you want to fly on a run.  These shoes also feel great for scaling hills!  I think I get more from this shoe than what was intended by the designers.  I can take these on long road runs and not feel the fatigue and get both tempo runs and longer slower runs from the same shoe.  No hesitation in wearing these for races (e.g. The Dragonfly Jackal Marathon).  Cons – The shoe runs a bit big because of the roomy toe box – I normally wear a 9.5 which is VERY roomy in these shoes but not so much that I trip.  I could however have done a 9.  Make sure to get fit correctly.  The price is also a bit less sexy with shoes retailing at $130.  I have already put about a 100 miles on my shoes and they still feel/look new so we will see how well the wear for the price.  Lastly, I wear these for 5K to Marathon distance but would not use them for track work.  For me, the wider toe box doesn’t let me dig in in the same way as a racing flat or spike for track work, sprints, or repeats.