Monday, August 24, 2009

The Runner Camaraderie

When I started running, I knew one person that ran regularly. After a few years, I had many friends that run. Some I have made because we became running partners first. Through the many hours on the road, chatting it up, we became close friends. Other runners that I know were aquaintances or old friends before I began running; I just never knew they were runners. After I became hooked on running, it's as if there was a whole newfound camaraderie with us, as if we had this "inside knowledge" about something that noone else knew: running is fun!
I soon learned something else; talking to non-runners about running is difficult and often not worth the effort. No matter what, it was as if they just could not understand or maybe didn't care enough to try. Running is like no other topic in these regards. It feels as if there is a deep understanding among others in the sport, whether they are fast or slow, run short races or long. A runner who is truly committed is a runner who is truly committed, no matter how they engage in the sport.

Maybe we are a little crazy; that sure is the way that the non-runner can make us feel sometimes. Any minor ache that we recite aloud to the non-runner, especially a sedentary person, is a perfect reason for us to stop running to them and, rest assured, they will tell you immediately and ask you to join them for beer, nachos and a couch. Soon the runner learns to only talk about our minor (or sometimes major) aches and pains to other runners, because they are the only ones who understand. Other runners are the only ones that we can trust to give us an honest response of whether or not we really need to rest a nagging ache or pain. This is how the camaraderie stays so strong. Other runners (and sometimes other athletes, mostly in other endurance sports) are the only ones who can understand the need to continue by whatever means necessary to get the feeling of release, of freedom, of power, etc. that we get from running. Runners know that the ultimate goal is to be able to continue to run now, but also to continue to run forever.

Runners are a rare breed...and I am honored to be one of them.
Happy running : )

Monday, August 17, 2009

Random Psych Related Thought

I was listening to KT Tundstall and she says, "My heart knows me better than I know myself, so I'm gonna let it do all the talking." It made me think:

There is a life-long relationship between the "heart" (emotions) and the mind (rational thinking). When people ask, "Which should I listen to?" I believe that it is never as black and white as one would hope. Any relationship takes comprimise, based entirely on the situation at hand, how strong the convictions are of the parties involved, and what seemingly will satisfy both parties as much as possible. Such is the delicacy of the skill required to balance the "heart" and the mind in an attempt to maintain a healthy sense of self.

The trickiest part of this particular relationship is that there is no escape, as many people seem to be utilizing as a solution much more in recent times. The "heart" and mind are inseperable, part of the same entitely, consistenly struggling to maintain order, harmony and peace, while impacting the self. It seems like much of life consists of this very same principle; do whatever possible to maintain the highest possible level of order, harmony, and peace. It is when incongruency occurs when either the mind, the soul, the body, or the "heart" springs into almost instant action in an attempt to return life back to its harmonious state.

It's all about balance and comprimise.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Made to Run

I have read that running (especially distance running) may be "natural" to humans because of the tie to our primal hunting technique of hunting faster animals over long distances at an even pace until they tired enough to kill them. Also, I have heard of sprinting as possibly inciting the fight or flight response. So, is the tie to a genetic predisposition for certain techniques "in the wild" the reason that some of us love running so much? Is it satisfying some instinctual desire?

What are your thoughts?


Runners are Smarter

I know that I can say without hesitation that I think more clearly and quickly on the days which I exercise. My memory is more efficient, my thoughts come easier and I feel I can comprehend more easily after I run. I have always attributed it to mostly a better mood and less stress, almost a clearing out of my mental clouding, but perhaps it is more.

I just came across an article, which I thought may be of interest to this blog. It is written by T. A. Sloan from the Discovery Health channel, who has come across some material suggesting that exercise stimulates not only new connections in the brain, but possibly new cell growth. The new growth is found in areas of cognition, learning and memory. The brain growth is attributed to the increased micro blood vessels and oxygen in the brain, which occurs during exercise and promotes neurogenesis. These things along with endorphins are attributed to a more alert state and better memory retention far after exercise is ceased. Also, it is pretty well known that interaction with the environment is key to promoting new brain connections. (Sloan, 2009) While running, there is much about the environment and how we are experience it which is registered by the brain. This may have an affect on the growth as well.

An experiment in 1998 showed that mice who were exposed to environmental stimuli grew brain cells. A wheel was introduced and the mice were allowed to run as long and fast as they wanted, whenever they wanted. Those mice who participated in the activity grew TWICE as many cells as the mice who did not run. Now, it is probably a combination of the two, running and stimuli, which cause this astounding cell growth, possibly due to the increased oxygen and blood vessels which accompany running. (Sloan, 2009) The combination creates a "win-win" so to speak, as your brain is now more efficiently RECEIVING the information that is being introduced.

Has anyone noticed a feeling of easier thinking, remembering or learning since beginning to run/exercise?? Have you ever noticed that the conversation flows so effortlessly, honestly, and deeply while you exercise with a friend?? Have you noticed increased "epiphonies" while exercising??

What are your thoughts?


Sloan, T.A. (2009). Mind-Body Exercise Connection. Retrieved August 6, 2009, from

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mental Endurance/Positive Self-Talk

I was thinking about running the other day, while I was running, of course : ) I ran through a tough section in my run, relying almost entirely on positive self-talk. I have done this plenty of times, as I'm sure all the runners (and endurance athletes) reading this have as well. After accomplishing my goal and finding my run going much easier all of a sudden, I began thinking about how much of running is psychological. So much of running is pushing through the negative and twisting it into a positive. This must be why runners generally tend to be pretty good at combating negativity in other areas of life...they have trained for it.

So much of running is "all in your head". In the beginning, your mind is just getting used to this constant pitter pat of your feet on the pavement. You are essentially teaching your mind that you can run. Yes, of course, much of running is conditioning, getting out there, and training your heart, muscles, and lungs to pump harder and longer; however, I'll bet that if all runners who have been in the game for a bit look back, they will all realize that it is usually (especially in the beginning) your MIND that stops you from running before your body. You practically talk yourself into giving up...until you learn how to do the exact opposite.

You are on a five-mile run. It's gorgeous outside, but a little warm. You are upbeat and fall into a good rhythm almost immediately. Seemingly, all of a sudden, you fatigue and begin to get negative. Your thoughts sound a bit like this: "I want to stop. I need to rest. Am I overheating? Is this a gradual hill that I didn't notice? What's going on?! Maybe I should have eaten something/more. I don't have the energy for this. I should just stop for a few minutes and have some water to regroup. I need to walk right now." Most beginners would stop here; most seasoned runners, however, know that this is just a part of the process...I'm not saying that a seasoned runner NEVER gives in, but it takes much, much more.

The seasoned runner immediately attempts to "nip it in the bud" and thinks, "First off, be quiet you! You are NOT stopping. I will slow my pace and find that rhythm I had before pretty soon. I'm fine! I've got this! I've been worse off than this and pushed through...this is nothing! I'm gonna flip to that power song now and jam it out...tear this pavement UP! Whew! Let it go! Look around, love the process. I'm almost there! This will pass soon, just stick with it."

And you know almost always DOES pass. Even bettter than passing, usually the "other side" is so much "greener" than before the negativity tried to seep in. Now you appreciated that rhythm just a little bit more, you notice how pretty this particular stretch of road is; you love that power song just a little bit more; you love the run just a little bit more.

Most often, your mind will try and tell you to stop running, because it is used to giving up when the going gets tough (I know mine used to be and I still fall for it sometimes), but let me tell you...the more you DON'T give into that negative self-talk, the less often it will bother trying to stop you.

And this is why runners (and other endurance athletes) seem so well adjusted in other areas of life. Not only do they have those happy little neurotransmitters circling around in healthy doses up in their noggins, as I have talked about in previous blogs, but they have TRAINED their minds to deal with stress in a positive way. When the going gets tough, it doesn't really seem so bad anymore; it's nothing that can't be run right through.

"I just ran (so and so) miles the other day in that heat; I'm sure I can stick out this one hour meeting with my dumb boss." Your mind won't instantly want to flee's trained to run right through it to the other side.

When the negative self-talk begins, "I'm not prepared enough. He's never liked me. He's going to make this as painful as possible. Maybe I'm getting fired," a runner's mind knows how to handle this line of negativity, because it trained for combating negative self-talk every single difficult run (and difficult is absolutely subjective to the individual and to circumstance). A runner's mind just instantly jumps back to, "You're fine! You've GOT this! You've been worse off than this...this is nothing! Let it go! Look around, love the process! You're almost there! You know this will pass, just stick with it!"

Mental conditioning like this is cognitive therapy at its bst. It's all about taking CONTROL of your thoughts. They are in YOUR head and YOU have every right to control what is said. You don't have to be a runner to practice this, although endurance sports require a lot of practice with mental conditioning. Next time that you are wallowing in the downward spiral of negative self-talk, try to switch it to a more positive stream of thinking. It will feel completely unnatural at first, like you are "lying to yourself"; however, I assure you, as you practice speaking nicely to yourself, you will feel more deserving of the positive self-talk.

Negative self-talk breeds a negative self-concept. A negative self-concept fosters negative self-talk. It's the downward spiral I was speaking of. YOU have to take control of your mind and thoughts. YOUR mind is YOU talking to YOU...speak nicely...don't you have enough things spewing negativity at you?? Be your own positive fallback...your own refuge, because you have your mind and your body; when your body starts going, what are you going to have left: a negative mess pot or a clean stream of positivity??

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Depression and Running

I've been asked about depression and running a lot lately. I want to say that I believe that depression symptoms can be drastically reduced, if not relieved, through endurance sports, like running.

I wanted to put a post on here that I just wrote to someone asking a similar question in a forum on the nike+ website.

As a psychology graduate and a runner, I can definitively tell you that running absolutely helps mood disorders, including depression. The medication that you are probably taking is an SSRI (serotonin reuptake inhibitor). SSRIs increase the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter which controls mood, helping depression. Serotonin levels are also raised through exercise, mostly endurance sports. Exercise also increases the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which helps to regulate arousal, so your energy level will most likely be increased. Also, endorphins are released through endurance sports, like running, which is a neurotransmitter which helps your mind deal with pain and is often called the brain's "natural morphine". This gives the sensation that many call "the runner's high", which I am happy to say has FINALLY be clinically proven to exist (although runners knew this for a LONG time).

I am not suggesting that you stop your medication in any way; in fact, the running will actually help the medication to have more serotonin in your brain to circulate around, enhancing its affects. With that in mind, I will tell you this as well: I used to have depression and I have not needed medication for a while, because I learned to control it. I believe that exercise was a big part of being able to do so. Not all cases of depression are "curable", but it is possible and you are on the right track! Keep taking that medication and talk to your doctor if you ever feel that you may be able to reduce the amount you are taking.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

After a "Bad Race": The need to enjoy the process

So. Where do I start? I trained like crazy, and then messed myself up by trying some new inserts, which through my body all out of wack. I felt good in the beginning. I felt I was running well. Then I don't know what happened. I got all worked up. I was nervous that I wasn't going fast enough. I was disappointed in myself for not being able to push harder. I was really hurting the last four miles or so of the race and DRAGGING myself the last two miles. My cousin really helped keep my spirits up enough to get to the finish line and into the sound to "ice". I was disappointed in my race...even though I made a PR. I really felt I could have done better if I had paid more attention to my body during training.

I had a bad race experience and now I need to choose how to react to that. I need to change my focus.

New Focus:
Enjoy the process
Run free, yet focused
Love the run
Run to relieve stress, not create it

"When life gets hard, YOU have to change!" -Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon, Change
In the beginning, I remember thinking "I can DO this!"...that's the main sentence that comes to mind when I think of the first week or two of running. I thought of it as a freedom, as something that I could do for myself, as a way to regain a part of me that had been missing for a long time (the althlete in me), I could do it outside and I didn't need to go to the sweaty, smelly gym. I wanted to lose a few pounds, but it wasn't the main focus (which may have been why it actually MADE me lose weight). I wanted to be one of those girls that I would see running and think to myself, "I wish I could do that. I wish that I liked running. I wish that I had a sport that I was passionate about." Runners always looked so free, yet focused to me; I wanted that feeling.

What have I already obtained from running that I refuse to let go??
Fitness and a love for it. I am not letting go of that. I also have an outlet that I love. I ENJOY "working out". I don't want to lose that either. I have a new respect for myself that I have followed through with something. I also love the racing atmosphere and running with other like-minded people, since most of my friends don't run. It's nice to be around people who don't want to just sit around at a bar all weekend and talk about the TV shows that they can't miss...and sit around all week they can go to the bar and sit around talking about them. What kind of life is that?

What do I want to get out of/accomplish through running??
I want to be a lifetime runner. I don't want to have to stop running ever. That means taking care of my body and probably starting to cross-train more often. I would also like to eventually complete a marathon. I want it to continue to make me feel free, yet focused.

What is a good run for me??
My favorite runs are long and at a good pace. I like not having to worry about pace and enjoy looking around. The distance makes me feel like I accomplished something and the pace/looking around makes me feel like I am free: I am free, yet focused.

What is a good race to me??
I have most enjoyed the races that were at a distance that I wasn't sure I reach. During those, I didn't worry about the pace, just getting to the finish line. I enjoyed the process, not just as a means to the finish line, but as a fun and heart. When I am going for time, I feel proud after, but I hate the run. There were a few times that I was proud of and they occurred when I wasn't going for time...and I enjoyed the ride. Why am I out there? To break some time barrier by adding training runs that I hate, and then having a race that I hate the run, but like the time at the end? What am I trying to prove?? A good race to me is one where I enjoyed the ride and am satisfied with my final time. One where I know that I put all of me into the race and had a blast while doing it.

What do I like the most about running??
The freedom and the scenery (I am mentally noting that these both have a lot to do with NOT making a particular time goal, while having much more to do with taking the time to look around) I also really like the release I feel afterward. I also love the respect I have for myself, which a regular workout routine always seems to give. I love the sense of community you feel with other runners, since running seems to really be something that only other runners can fully understand.

What do I like the most about racing??
I like the atmosphere. Everyone is out there because they have some level of committment to running and fitness in general. Racing makes running, which is most often a solo act, a behavior, or worse, "a workout", a SPORT that is shared with others. I like seeing the faces of others who have just done something that they didn't know they could do. I like the frontliners, the middle of the pack and the back of the line...I just like the ones who have pushed themselves to that finish line with all the heart they could muster...whatever the goal. I like the supportive attitudes that everyone has in each other completing his/her own personal goals.

What don't I like about running currently??
I'm hurting my body right now. Things are going really wrong. I'm not enjoying my runs where I worry about time and I actually do better when I don't think about it. I don't like the need I have to go fast to "prove" something...I feel like I need to prove that I'm a runner. Does completing in a certain time do that? No. It's as if I feel that to show that I run a lot, that I am committed to running, I need to be a fast runner. None of that works into my long term goals for running or the reasons why I started or continue to run. Who exactly am I trying to "prove" this to? It's not me, so I'm stopping immediately. I don't have to prove anything to anyone, except myself

How do I fix that??
Take a week off to heal (blah). Stop running for time. Start adding in some biking and swimming. Get good shoes. Listen to my Cousie and "love the run"............enjoy the process. After some fun running, schedule a fun race to do (not for time at all) to stay focused...invite some friends along : ) Good times.

What don't I like about racing currently?? How do I fix that??
Stop stressing out!! This is to relieve stress, not create it!! Go out there and "love the run" (as Cousie says). Run comfortably hard and do the best that I can do on that particular day, on that particular course, and let the run relax me, not stress me.

Thoughts of the hour:
Enjoy the process
Run free, yet focused
Love the run
Run to relieve stress, not create it

You need to try something to see if it works for you. I tried running for time and I have found that it is not for me...and THAT'S OKAY!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Freeing and Cleansing

I was supposed to do a 5 mile easy with Crystal, but it was raining, so she bailed. I decided to go a different direction (right out of my street instead of left) and run for about 45 minutes wherever I happened to end up.

I really enjoyed the freedom of going where I felt like it and my run turned into a 6.4 mile easy-ish. It was really the best way to start out this training: reminding me why I started running in the first place...for THIS feeling...just running.

The weather was rainy as hell, really heavy at times, but it wasn't really cold. It actually felt great to have the rain water dripping down my face. It was cleansing...It made me feel strong, like Rocky. Like nothing could stop me...not even the crappy weather. I looked around, I ran at an even and comfortable pace...I felt the runner's rhythm.

I came home drenched, as if I had stood in the shower for five minutes with all my clothes on...I don't think there was a spot of me that wasn't soaked...but I was giggling at myself and in good spirits. I want to make sure to include these type of runs in my training in order to not be boggled down by the schedule.

I need to have these runs to remind me that running is what I choose for it to be in my life. It is the one thing of which I have all the is for ME and only me. It is my release, my joy, a source of power and serenity. I will only make my goals, if I can keep this in my mind throughout training. Push it hard, but remember what you love about running and take the time to enjoy that once in a while.

Happy running : )

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Love it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going Long

There is something incredibly empowering about going long. A long run is just what it sounds like: a run that is usually significantly longer than your other weekly runs. Most people will do one a week when training for a long race. I usually do one a week, often with my running partner, Lauren. I love the sense of empowerment that I get in knowing that I am doing something that most people cannot do. I love the feeling of peace I get afterward from the endorphin release. I love the feeling that I am really strong. Every once in a while, I "check" myself and say, "Remember when you couldn't run a full three miles?!" I love that I can be outside, no matter the weather. I hate being shackled up all winter! Even though it may be cold, there is still something unexplainable which is gained from being outside for an extended period of time. I am grateful for everyday that I can go long, as I know it won't last forever. Eventually my body is going to reject me running so long, but until then, I will continue to enjoy every long run I do.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Endorphins: The Runner's High

Although many people in the scientific community dispute the idea of endorphins (or anything else) causing a "high" in runners, I don't know one serious runner who hasn't experienced this feeling. What is it about running, especially really hard or long, that causes us to feel that euphoric, relaxed high? A recent study was conducted, which for the first time showed increased levels of endorphins in certain areas of the brain after a two hour jog. Scientists are beginning to realize that there is more to the endorphin theory than just myth. (Boecker, 2008)

Endorphins are neurotransmitters released in the brain after experiencing a significant amount of pain and they calm physical (and some believe psychological) pain. Endorphins are a human's natural opiate, like morphine, which is released to numb pain. (Boecker, 2008) In my experience with running, I feel amazing directly after a mental battle of whether or not I should turn in my running shoes forever. This point in my run usually only comes after a real significant time of running and I really feel that it is due to some type of chemical release in the brain. However, I am just one person and cannot make assumptions saying that this is the point of endorphin release (but it sure does seem like that).

So, the idea now is to find out, not only if the added release of endorphins are the cause of the "runner's high" feelings, as it has also been shown that exercise can release the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter related to mood and dopamine is related to arousal. Since these two neurotransmitters can be linked to "feel good" emotions and dopamine can cause the relaxation, perhaps it is a combination of all three fun little neurotransmitters which give us a runner's high. Raised serotonin levels improve mood and relieves anxiety; raised dopamine levels cause relaxation while prolonging energy set specifically for running; raised endorphin levels numb the pain (or the perception of pain, really). Sounds like an awesome combination to me!

Boecker, Henning. (2008). Brain imaging explores the myth of runner's high. Medical News
Today. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Socratic Guide

At one point in my life, which I like to call my "mid-college crisis", I became unclear about what I wanted to study and what I wanted to pursue for a career. My guidance counselor at the time was also a sociology professor and had a Socratic method of teaching and counseling. He wanted his students to make the decisions and, as his job description implies, he was only the guide. His method included, most often, a series of questions which would eventually lead an insightful decision, something that Socrates was known to do in ancient Greece.

As I pummeled my guidance counselor with my insecurities, he impored the Socratic method and asked me, "What subject can you talk about for hours at a time and not get bored?" The answer was so incredibly clear: psychology. Now, I believe that I can add running to that mix, although at any given time in my life, I have always had psychology and nothing more. This added topic of running (and really a lot of exercise physiology in general) is incredibly freeing. Although some may think that I complicate running and exercise by the amount of time that I put into thinking about, scheduling, recording, etc., I really feel that it simplifies it. Having a plan and having an outlet for my OCD is helpful to my psyche.

Running has influenced my life like not much else has. Psychology has already influenced my life and it is going to have a more profound impact, as I near the completion of my psychology degree. Although I am still not sure exactly what I would like to do within the field, I do know that, as much as I want to make an impact on the field, the field will also impact me. The people that I will come in contact with will change my understanding of human behavioral trends and emotions. At the same time, I pledge to continue my education, whether formal or not, to understand how I can better help those with psychological issues and disorders. I want to be what so many have been for me in the past: a guide in understanding and stepping firmly into the future.

A Change in Focus

For the past few months, I have still been running. I met my goal of running 100 miles in one month...twice. I am currently running about 20-25 miles a week, with a long run of 13 miles. I have also added yoga once or twice a week. All of this and I have gained weight, but whatever. I have quit smoking (October 7th, 2008 was my first smoke-free day) and I have no urge to go back. I have been running my long runs with a partner, Lauren, who is fun and fast. I have been having trouble with my ankles and shin splints. I have tendonitis in both ankles, but I lowered my mileage, ran through it, and I think that I strengthened them them. Yoga has helped to lengthen them and my muscles as well.

Enough of the boring "where I'm at now" crap. Let us now discuss where I am going. I have never been good at keeping up with a blog (or any journal for that matter); however, for some reason I am constantly drawn back to them. I would like to combine this blog into a running/psychology blog. A blog which gives me an outlet for my ideas in psychology, while it gives me a place to talk about the two things that I annoy everyone talking about, since I can't shut up about them: psychology and running. I'm not sure exactly how that is going to work out, or what exactly that means. However, from now on, this blog will not only be my boring running stuff, but also how running affects my psyche and how my psyche affects my running. The good old mind and body link.