“Most of us try to avoid hills, but what’s so good about flat? Think about it: flat tires, flat hair, flat returns and–the ultimate–flat lining. Life happens on the hills. They’re opportunities to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you ever imagined. If you never attempt the ascent, you’ll never know the thrill of swooshing down the other side.” (author unknown)
After laying down a running base of 500 miles, serious run training (i.e. intensity) can now be safely added to a runners training program. Hill repeats are drills that build runners’ stamina and strength quickly. Here’s a link to an article regarding the specifics of hill training from Competitor.com magazine.
Today I ran with a small group of local (Oracle) runners and we ran hills today… again…why? Because no matter where we run in our little mountain town, we run hills. Up hills, down hills, there is no relief from the rolling, undulating topography. We have no choice but to run hills for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most of us like to complain about our hills; and I don’t know any local runners who do the ‘hill drills’ we so often find in those spiffy half marathon training plans. I think it’s because we’re too tired from running the ‘hills’ we find before us the moment we jog out our front doors. The only place we get to run flat and fast in our town is around the junior high school dirt track. Funny thing is though, most of us local runners prefer the hills to the track…go figure. Even though we love to complain about our mountain geography, lately some of us have noticed that our hill training has made us stronger runners; and maybe even a tad bit faster too…especially when we go down the mountain to run the big city races. So all in all, hill running clearly has its own reward, and it also makes for beautiful metaphors and parallels when we compare the hill running life to our non-running life. Running the hills is not only good run training it’s good life training too!
How far, how fast, how long? The answers to these three questions form the basis of every training plan created to improve runners’ performance. Whether elite or recreational, all runners must lay down base mileage before beginning the rigor of their training cycle, and the magic number for this base training seems to hover at 500 miles. Why so many miles? Because physiologically, those base miles boost aerobic conditioning, develop slow-twitch muscle fibers, increase blood volume and glycogen storage, strengthen connective tissue, and enhance the body’s ability to burn fat*. But here’s the best news about the 500 mile base: they are to be performed at conversational pace! That means an effort level of 6-7 on a scale of ten. This is an extremely doable effort for most all runners; and because this effort is not race pace intense, individuals wanting to run every day can lay down 3 miles a day, 5 times a week and reach their 500 mile goal in 8 weeks. In my next post, I’ll outline the types of training that runners use to advance their fitness for specific race distances.
Who says, “I Love Test Day”? No one ever! For most students, pop quizzes, tests, or final exams usually bring on uncomfortable physical symptoms like sweaty palms and upset stomaches. Athletes often experience similar physical discomforts when they are tested…on race day! Before I started entering running races, I never understood why anyone who runs for fun or fitness would willingly put themselves through the anxiety of running a race. Why would anyone sign up for such distress and discomfort? Well, fast forward a year and I’ve since entered over a dozen running races, and now I think I get the answer to that question. Runners show up for races like students show up for exams–to prove what they have learned…inside and outside of the classroom. Is it possible to look forward to these ‘exam days’ without dread and fear? I believe so; but only if you and I have properly prepared for the test by spending quality time in training or study. How do we know if we are ready for exam day? I know I am ready to be tested when I have confidence…confidence in the quality of my training or my study time. This assurance is not a feeling I try to muster or hope for in order to fake myself out. I either know for certain that I am ready or not; if there is any doubt in my heart or head, then I most certainly know that I am not ready; my sweaty palms and upset stomach is evidence enough. To be tested on the race route, in the classroom, or in our everyday lives, creates something like a finish line for us. The finish line is the terminus of a training cycle or academic semester. It is the culmination of all the days and weeks we have spent absorbing and synthesizing knowledge, whether that knowledge is physical, psychological or spiritual. If we embrace our test days as opportunities to consolidate and prove our training, then we can face the finish line with a confident smile on our face and cheerful exuberance in our heart.
Whether or not we like it, growth (physical, mental, social, spiritual) requires revolution; a change in direction or movement or thought. There can be no progress, no creative flow, no gains in health or fitness without change. All of creation, both visible and invisible, is designed to thrive in the realm of change. The seasons and their regular permeations support the growth cycles of all living things in the seas and on the land. Our bodies are best nourished when we eat those foods that grow in season; a diet limited in variation is a diet destined to promote disease and ill health. In the realm of education, business, and fine arts, the finest programs mosaic curriculums across a spectrum of specialties and fields of concentration to promote students who are flexible in thought and process. A similar approach is used when designing a comprehensive exercise program. The best plans are those that integrate a mixture of activities that encourage the building of strength, cardio-respiratory endurance, flexibility, and balance into our physical bodies. If change is so central to how the world turns, then why do we so resist it? Why do we insist on becoming set in our ways? If change is integral to growth, and growth is the essence of vitality, then surely we must revise our perspective on this inevitability or suffer stagnation and regression in every area of our life. If we have breath to breathe, then it’s not too late to adopt a positive mind-set towards the changes we face in life. Simple things like choosing a new genre in regards to the types of books, movies and activities in which we engage can prime and supercharge us for new areas of learning and creativity. One thing is for certain in life, that change visits us all with alarming regularity. While some may say that all change is not necessary to growth, I would rather submit that all change is our invitation to choose growth and even perhaps a small revolution!
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Wayne Dyer
Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight. Marcus Aurelius
Do you find yourself ‘zoning out’ during weight training repetitions or while you’re running for miles and miles on the treadmill? Are you looking for ways to distract yourself from the discomfort of your exercise routine instead of enjoying the physical activity for its own merits? Do you ever reach your fitness goals or do you lose interest or motivation long before a goal deadline? If you have a love-hate relationship with exercise, maybe you should ditch those exercise activities that you hate and start doing those activities you love. There is a strong connection between your mind-body when it comes to the benefits gained during exercise. If we don’t enjoy the activity, it is quite often not going to be beneficial to us. If we are not in-sync (mind/body) during exercise then we are inducing a stress response to exercise that negates any benefits we might otherwise reap from the activity. Instead, take the time to really dig down into your psyche, your memories, your feelings about exercise and consider the ways of moving your body which bring to mind happy thoughts or memories. These remembrances are the keys to identifying those activities in which you can happily engage on most days of the week. There is an oft quoted saying which states that “if we do what we love, we will never work a day in our life.” This same outlook or attitude can be transferred to the fitness activities in which we choose to engage. Once identified, activities that we love to do will seem more like child’s play rather than a prescribed, must-do exercise routine. So before you pickup another dumbbell or drag yourself to another group fitness class, make sure you know, deep down, what really drives you to stay fit; once identified, this knowledge will make reaching your fitness goals a journey you’ll enjoy rather than dread.
You have to fall in love with building the identity of someone who does the work, rather than merely dreaming about the results that you want. In other words fall in love with boredom. Fall in love with repetition and practice. Fall in love with the process of what you do and let the results take care of themselves. James Clear
Two days ago I wrote about how an early morning run triggered some mindful introspection when I jogged into the sun’s warming rays and how my absorbing the warmth of the sun transported me to another place… mentally…and how my thoughts spilt over in every direction, just like the rays of the sun. Today as I revisit that run it occurs to me that the positive energy I enjoyed from that ‘warming moment’ was the result of my decision to engage those uplifting thoughts and ideas and make them my own even for those few fleeting moments. While I was exercising my body, I was also exercising my mind. Even now when I re-connect with those thoughts and ideas, I am warmed, I am encouraged, I am challenged…to become the very best that I can be…in my body and in my mind. Today I read a blog by Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology who specializes in Neuropsychology. She says that “our brains are designed to reflect the mind.” To me this means that if our mind absorbs (receives, learns, assimilates, understands, or latches onto) ideas and thoughts, then we will eventually reflect (project, imitate, emulate, repeat) these thoughts upon our brains; thereafter our brains respond to our thoughts and transfer our thoughts into our bodies. So, if our brains reflect our mind, which is always changing, then our brain is also capable of change or growth, which in scientific terms is called neuroplasticity. And if our brains can change by our mere choosing of thoughts, then it seems that we can ‘change our lives for the better’ one thought at a time. The choice is ours and ours alone ~ we simply decide ~ or not which thoughts to think.
I have always been intrigued by the ‘Army of One’ slogan. It conjures the image of an individual dressed in military camouflage engaged in military activities without the benefit of doing those activities with the Army of Others. The ‘One’ ideal, it seems, is more adept at preparing an Army of ‘individuals’ to work together rather than training the ‘herd’ to work as an Army. Regardless of whether this ideal works for training soldiers, it has merit when applied to our own individual goals, especially in regards to our exercise or fitness goals. There are myriad plans and trainers to chose from in the current marketplace. Whether virtual or local, the fitness market is flooded with exercise programs that can be trendy or based on solid training principles; it can be difficult to know which activities are safe or worthwhile in which to engage. However, if we employ the ‘Army of One’ mentality to our exercise training, this gives us the freedom to pick and choose the setting, the exercise and the intensity that best suits are current fitness needs. Consulting or training with an exercise professional will almost always enhance your exercise outcomes too. The most important thing to remember is this: if you want to be an Army of One, then you have to train like you have enlisted for service. You must follow up on the commitment you made to yourself, and engage in those activities that will bring you health and vitality each day of the year.
The early rising sun quickly warmed by back and legs as I jogged up the winding town site road. The black running tights I wore readily absorbed the sun’s rays as the welcoming heat transferred its energy into my legs; my pace quickened; and my thoughts turned upward in thankfulness.
I pondered the effect this absorbing heat produced as it collected in my body and in my mind. How it triggered a cascade of thoughts for me to play with as my feet moved in sync with my breath. What else can I absorb throughout the day to cause my body, my mind, such a delightful quickening, such awareness? Can what I absorb also be reflected? If so, what am I reflecting?
Isn’t a reflection a mirroring of what is on the other side? If I absorb helping benefits from the sun’s rays, is it possible for me to reflect those same benefits in my life onto the life of another? If that’s possible, then the quality of those things I absorb should be carefully chosen. Those things I listen to, those thoughts I think about, those things I do are the reflections of what I have absorbed over the course of one day or many days, are they not? Doesn’t a true reflection simply mirror its own image? What do you think?
Our life is what our thoughts make it. Marcus Aurelius
If you want to gain power, strength or stamina from your exercise training, then try putting some mindfulness into your next exercise session. Whether you are training for strength or endurance, pay attention to what you are asking your muscles to do for you! Put your mind on the muscle you are currently working, make sure you focus your attention on your form during every repetition. Involve your mind in the exercise activity and require it to focus its understanding on feeling what the muscle is doing. Can you visualize the muscle lengthening and shortening with every repetition? Can you focus the energy of your breath on your working muscle(s). Do you perceive health and strength surging through your blood vessels as weakness is expelled with every exhalation? When you practice this kind of mindfulness during exercise, you are effectively training not only your body, but also your mind; this is how your brain is made strong and how you increase mental discipline! With every mindful intention you make during your exercise session, you are making new neural connections between your mind and body and you are laying down new foundations for well-being; you are teaching yourself how to re-create vitality into your body every time you put your mind on your muscle!
Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training and some are not. George Sheehan