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!