On (Re)Finding My Running Zen

Tomorrow, we will eat cupcakes. Today, however, we need to talk about sweating.

It's all about balance, right?

A very interesting thing happened a few weeks ago after I declared war on running and told it to eff off.  I started getting better at it again.  The reason I started to get better is because I branched out.  I started lifting weights again (my 1st love), and I also went back to one of my favorite activities ever: cycling.

We call it "cycling" at my gym because we can't call it "spin" because "spin" is copy-written.  I learned that this week.  Crazy, right?

Back in the day, I made it a habit to attend a cycling class every Tuesday at 6PM.  I loved cycling dearly, much like I love riding Blue Betty outside when it's a little warmer out.  Cycling gave me the opportunity to have a moment with myself and "my bike", and let me challenge myself just as much as I wanted to be challenged.

I hadn't been to cycling since September 7th.  Due to an unfortunate chain of events, I remember that date very well.  I don't know if I was afraid to go back to that class because of everything that happened after the last time I went, or if I was just generally avoiding all physical activity [probably the latter], but I did get back to my favorite class a few weeks ago, and I'm happy that I did.

I was also happy to see that my favorite instructor was still there on Tuesday evenings.

Candace Grasso is a badass PowerBar sponsored athlete and an amazing cycling instructor.  It feels really corny to say, but I always feel "new" when I leave her class.  She has a way of making her classes inspirational and fun, while still being a really killer workout.

During Tuesday's class, Candace talked about the mind being the most difficult thing to conquer during an endurance event.  She said that when endurance athletes get to the most difficult parts of their event--the point when they feel like they can't go any longer--they don't freak out and have an asthma attack.  They relax.  They find a place in their mind where they can chill out and just "be".  From there, she began telling us to relax our bodies; shoulders, legs, chest, tongue.  Yes, she even told us to relax our tongues at one point.

I thought she was crazy until I did it.

I haven't stopped thinking about this little "lesson" since Tuesday.  After class, I started Googling, and I found an article on Active.com about relaxing your mind and body during physical activity.  I was intrigued, so I put it into action yesterday during one of my 3x weekly runs.  I wanted to run for 35 minutes using Galloway 5:1's, as I have been since the Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon.

The goal for last night's run was to do 5:1's, but see if I was able to relax my way into a slightly faster pace.

The first thing I did was hit the "pipe"

This little thing does wonders for my breathing, so rather than wait for asthma to ruin my run, I've been preventing it with a couple of hits before I start sweating.

Then, I started my first interval.  The first 2 intervals are always pretty easy--I generally take them at a pace about 1-2 minutes slower than my normal running pace just so that I don't start off too fast and burn out before my run is over.  When I got to the 3rd interval, things started to get a little 'breathy', but I just focused on the horizon, relaxed my tongue [yes, I even did this part], relaxed my shoulders, relaxed my mind, relaxed my legs even, and I just kept telling myself to "settle into it".

"You can do anything for 5 minutes"

"You're relaxed"

"This is a piece of [cup]cake"

"You got this"

What I noticed is that I was much much more chill about the whole thing.  It turned out that I felt like I could actually run faster.  If you're a runner, you know what I'm talking about--that point during some runs when you realize that you feel great enough to go a little faster than anticipated.

So, at that point, I started playing a little mental trick on myself.  I'd start off my running interval at, say 5.5.  At the 2:30 mark, I'd turn it up to 5.7 until the end of the 5-minute interval, then walk for 1 minute.  When I began the next 5-minute interval, I'd start at 5.7 and run that for 2:30, then turn up the speed to 5.9 to finish the last 1/2 of the interval.  On the next interval, I'd start at 5.9 and increase to 6.1.  Before I knew it, I was running faster than I've run in months.  Since I was actively trying to keep myself relaxed, the progression didn't do much to my body or breathing, but it did a lot for my pace.

So, it seems like relaxing helped me a whole bunch on last night's run.

This is the detail from my last 3 months of treadmill Galloway runs (outdoor runs are excluded, due to hills and such).  Last night, my pace was 11:04, and I was comfortable.  The closest that I have come to that pace in the past few months was around an 11:30 pace.    In addition to being more relaxed, I would also attribute the increase in pace to my continued commitment to cross-training and lifting weights, since my body seems to like that as well.

Every time I get completely fed up with it and tell it to go take a hike, I end up realizing that my lack of skill in running is primarily due to my own laziness.  Not only do I need to RELAX, but I also need to cross-train my body.

Since I'm not a natural runner, I just have to try a little harder to get my body to cooperate.  This doesn't mean that I'm going to run any more marathons in the future, but it does mean that I will try my best to keep a well-rounded training program.

I'm not kicking running to the curb because it turns out that I really do enjoy it when I'm doing it "right".

So...tell me...are you able to relax your mind and body when you run/bike/swim/sweat?  If so, how did you train yourself to do this?

Did you see my post about the Cupcake Marathon Spring 2011?  Believe it or not, that was not just a shameless plug for Sugared Bakery--I was plugging this virtual run because EVERYONE can do it!  I'm not joking--I'll even be doing it.

Here's the deal...this is not your standard race.  The race begins on March 14th, and ends on March 26th.  If you choose to run the "marathon" distance, all you have to do is run 26.2 miles during the 13 days between March 14-March 26.  You don't have to complete the distance all at once, and you don't even have to run, so it's possible for anyone to do this virtual race.

The best part is that by completing the miles that you sign up for, you will have the chance to win a whole slew of prizes, including Sugared Bakery cupcakes.  Cupcakes are a great reason to run!

If you're up for the challenge, just go over to the CookTrainEatRace website and sign up for your desired distance.

See you tomorrow for CUPCAKE FRIDAY!


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