Sunday, September 18, 2011

5 Lessons Learned From Running

As a kid I hated running.  Makes sense, right?  I was the fat kid.  The fat kid and the Presidential Fitness Run do not get along.  In high school I dreaded the 1st and 4th quarters because it meant our gym teachers would take us out once a week to run 3/4 of a mile.  It wasn’t even a full mile and it still took me nearly the whole period to complete it.  I was always the last one to finish.
One time during my junior year on one of these ¾ milers I was by far the last one.  My friends in the class, as a show of support, began cheering and clapping for me.  I ran the last 100 meters under the guise that their support helped me run a little harder.  The truth is I wanted to get them to shut up quicker.  I hated having all eyes on me as the last one to finish.  I felt so bad I nearly started crying, but being fat in high school is bad enough, I didn’t need to be labeled as a cry baby as well.  I held the tears in and pretended to appreciate the cheers.
Even with my disdain for running, I often secretly wished to become a “runner.”  Every time I attempted to lose weight I pictured myself crossing the finish line of a marathon, or at least a 5k.  This time is no different.  For the past few years I have been running off and on.  Since I moved back to New Jersey I started running around the neighborhood I live and then I found a trail close to home that’s great because it’s flat.  I don’t do hills-yet.  I don’t run great distances or fast, but I run (or jog if you want to get technical), and I have learned a few lessons as a result.
1. Music makes it all better.  I love music.  On my MP3 player (yeah mp3 not an IPod) I have all types of music: hip-hop, R&B, rock, dance, pop, alternative, neo-soul.  In the past I often heard of the healing powers of music.  Going through a breakup?  Put on some breakup music.  Experiencing one of life’s hard times- nothing like the blues.  For me, I came to music’s healing potential while trying to push myself to run just a little farther.  If I can make it through this Beyonce song then my time while be up or almost up.  These days I often turn my music all the way up and blast Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Eminem, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5 and whoever else I am in the mood for.  Music gets me into the zone, plain and simple.
2. Clothes can make the runner. The seasons are changing in my neck of the woods.  Meaning that instead of it being 80 degrees at 7 o’clock in the morning it is now around 55 and the other day it was in the 40s (WTF?).  Since I have moved a couple of times in the last few months I have lost much of the outerwear I had that I preferred to run in.  To remedy this I took a trip to Target yesterday to purchase a new running jacket.  I bought a hot pink zip up hoodie.  Wearing that hoodie for the first time this morning was most likely the only reason I got up this morning to run.  Hot pink is and has always been my favorite color and not to brag, but it looks damn cute on me.  While running I knew I wasn’t the fastest or skinniest runner on the trail, but my new hoodie made me feel like the cutest and that gave me more confidence to keep going. 
3. The power of positive thinking.  In most of my day to day life I often have a negative dialogue going on with myself.  “You’re too fat,” “You can’t do that,” “You’re not smart enough”- and these are some of the nicer comments.  A couple of years ago I was on the treadmill and struggling to keep going.  The negative self talk was playing louder than my music and I wanted to stop.  I consciously made a decision to tell myself I could do it.  I started saying things like “Good job Tiff”  “You are doing so good” “Just a little further to go” “You can do it.”  As cheesy as these comments may seem I could actually feel myself stand up a little straighter and relax just enough to let me continue running.  Since then, I often encourage myself while running telling myself I am doing a great job or saying things like “You could have never done this five years ago- keep it up!”  I am working on transferring this kind of self-talk into my life outside of running.
4. Your core is more than stomach muscles.  This may seem like common sense to some, but it wasn’t to me.  When I first started increasing my running times- from say 15 seconds to a full minute (seriously), shortly thereafter I would get this pain in my lower back.  I thought it just meant I needed to stretch, but after doing some research (i.e. googling “lower back pain after running”) I discovered it could be an indicator of weak core muscles.  Why would that affect my back? I wondered.  Well it turns out the core includes your abs, as well as, the lower back.  The core is the band of muscles that extend all the way around: front, sides, and back.  While running all these muscles take a pounding and since most people neglect their back while trying to build core strength these muscles tend to be weaker.  Once I found this out I began doing strength exercises to build the muscles of my lower back.  Guess what happened?  The back pain disappeared!  Lately, I have been slacking off because my lower back has been complaining after I run.  Back to working on those lower back muscles.  Sometimes I need to learn things more than once in order for it to stick!
5. Endorphins are God’s gift to those of us who choose not to indulge in illegal narcotics.  Before I ever experienced it for myself I had heard of runner’s high.  I never believed it would happen to me.  I had also heard that exercise is ideal for those suffering from depression because of the endorphin rush.  As someone who has suffered from depression for years (that’s another post for another day) I thought maybe it could be beneficial for me.  When I began working out I didn’t really experience anything.  Even once I started adding running to my workout I didn’t feel much.  Then, out of nowhere, one day I felt it.  After running on the treadmill for 20-30 minutes I would feel invincible or at least like I could take on the rest of the day.  I have yet to experience “runner’s high” while actually running, but I am betting that is coming.  For now, I can settle for the rush I get after my run/walk/workout. 
I am sure this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to lessons learned from running.  I am anxious to see what comes next.  Maybe patience?
Have you learned anything from running or any other activity you do?    

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