Saturday, June 30, 2012

Faith-Filled Running

One thing that has surprised me most about running is that I use it as a chance to pray.  As I perform the repetitive act of running, my mind is free of the usual clutter, and I can really focus on prayer.  Especially on a long run, where I have many, many miles to spend in solitude, prayer keeps my feet moving forward.

Occasionally I launch into detailed conversations with God, but most times, I just repeat a single prayer over and over as a sort of mantra.  I pray for strength to conquer the battles in my own life, and I pray for the broader social troubles in our world.  Sometimes I don't formalize it as prayer, but when I run, I always feel gratitude for the clean air, the physical and mental strength that allows me to run, and the peacefulness of the world in the early morning.

Those who hope in the Lord. . . will run and not grow weary.

I think running strengthens my soul as much as it strengthens my body. To me, running is a physical manifestation of our spiritual trials.  While running, I force my body to plod onward climbing one more hill, finishing one more mile.  Likewise, in my spiritual life, I carry on through trials and tribulations knowing that I just have to keep going; I have to sweat through the spiritual miles, trusting in God that He will see me through.  The practice of sweating through the physical miles builds spiritual as well as physical stamina and keeps me mentally capable of enduring the spiritual miles, too.

The spiritual component of running has been significant for me almost from the start.  Yet, this is probably the first time I've shared this part of my running with anyone.  When people ask what I think about during a long run, I never say that I spend much of it praying.  Instead, I say that I enjoy quiet time to think and solve the world's problems.  Why am I afraid to talk about my spiritual connection in running?  Perhaps because most people think running 10 miles is crazy enough; if I told them that I spent those miles talking to God, they'd probably send me to a loony bin.

But I don't think it's crazy.  And I think the spiritual aspect is one of the main reasons I've been so religious (pardon the pun) about sticking to my running schedule.  Running makes me stronger: mind, body, and soul.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Run: To Recenter Myself

I run to recenter and focus myself. With temperatures at 106 degrees for the second day in a row, the little people in my house (and the taller ones, too) are a bit cranky. We've played outside in the mornings, but they are feeling cooped up in the house, and it seems we all have short fuses lately. After a particularly rocky morning, I knew I needed to do something to regroup during naptime. Sitting on the couch with a pint of ice cream sounded appealing, but I knew that would leave me feeling frustrated with myself. A run, on the other hand, could help me regain balance and feel focused.

It's summer in St. Louis: hot, humid, and just getting warmed up.

After singing the requisite naptime songs, I sought the solace of my basement treadmill. I always prefer running outside to running on the treadmill, but on blisteringly hot days like today (or blustery days in the winter), I'm grateful that I have an indoor option. I set low expectations for today's run. I just wanted to run for 30 minutes to get my heart rate up and burn off the frustration of dealing with overheated and overtired toddlers. I surprised myself by setting a PR for the treadmill course I selected, and according to my heart rate monitor, I logged a higher maximum and average heart rate than I've measured on my outdoor runs lately.

Now, after a shower and some stretches, I'm feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to face the rest of my day. And the icing on the cake? There's still 40 minutes left of naptime ;)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Route Phobia

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem: I am afraid to try a run outside my neighborhood.  Heck, the only 5k I've ever run was practically in my backyard.  It's not the newness that scares me necessarily.  I love running in my neighborhood and the adjoining ones, and I always experiment with new routes within their boundaries.  But the thought of running outside their limits paralyzes me.

I run this stretch of road almost every time I lace up.

I can't explain it.  I've lived in this area for most of my life (save the 6 years I spent in college and graduate school), so I'm very familiar with a wide area outside my neighborhood.  I drive these roads all the time without batting an eyelash, and I see runners on them regularly.  But when it's time for me to run, I'm a homebody.  I've trapped myself within the limits of Princeton Heights, Southampton, and St. Louis Hills and can't bring myself to run outside their bounds.

I ran my first 10-miler a few weeks ago.  Because of my new route phobia, I ran every possible neighborhood loop to cover the distance.  It seems rather absurd to say that I ran 10 miles but was never more than 2 miles from my house.  But that's a fact.

I think the beauty of a long run is the chance to see more of the world, to cover more ground, and to run in new places.  But I'm stuck within my perceived boundaries and seemingly unable to break out.  I don't have a solution or even a strategy, but I'll keep working on it.  In the meantime, I'll continue to wear a path on my familiar, comfortable roads - and I'm okay with that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fitting it all in

An unexpected and urgent house project has completely derailed my running routine.  For the past two weeks, my (barely existent) kid-free time has been spent sanding, painting, staining, and tiling our bathroom.  After staying up past my usual bedtime to work on this project, my alarm sounds angry at 5:00am, and I usually snooze it without a second thought.

Hanging out with these guys rather than running is eroding my sanity.

I'm frustrated that I've not been running as much, but I've been pleased with my ability to sneak in mini workouts throughout my day: planks and wall sits while waiting for a coat of stain to set, yoga during a painting break, sprinting up and down two flights of stairs to retrieve missing tools.  None of these are as satisfying or fulfilling as my early morning miles, but I'm trying to be satisfied with what I have.

And if all goes well, this project should be finished by the end of the week.  Then my running (and our bathroom routines) can return to normal.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lake Running

I've read about pool running but have never had occasion to give it a try.  While spending the weekend at my parents' lake house, however, my mom and I tried running in the lake.  And boy was it a great workout!!

Sandy beaches and peaceful water at the lakes of Innsbrook.

We ran laps in waist-deep water.  Between the wind, the wake we created, and the sandy bottom that kept sucking our shoes, it was an intense 30 minutes.  I definitely got my heart rate elevated very quickly; it felt like a good hill workout.  After running our laps, we tread water for still more cardio work.  My mom is far superior at treading and did an interval of hands-free treading.  I, on the other hand, had to use my hands in order to stay above water.

All in all, it was a great workout and a nice deviation from my regular routine.  I hope to do more lake running throughout the summer!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Daylight Savings Time to the Rescue!

I owe daylight savings time a beer.  And profuse apologies for all the times that I complained about how springing forward and falling back decimate my children's sleep schedule.  DST just saved my day.

Countless hours of excessive whining and insufficient napping left me at the end of my rope.  I tried to keep my cool all day, but I was boiling just beneath the surface, and I knew I needed a release.  I tucked the kids into bed at 7:45 then snuck out for a much-needed, sanity-saving run.  I'm not normally an evening runner because I don't like to run in the dark (and I'm usually dog tired by the time the kids head to bed).  Thanks to DST, however, I was able to enjoy a sunny evening run tonight.

I returned to my house feeling in control of my emotions, refreshed, and pleasantly exhausted.  I even peeked in on my sleeping kids to remind myself that even through our days are not perfect, I am truly blessed.  A run and sleeping angel faces helped give me renewed perspective and peace.  I owe you one, DST!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Runiversary!

One year ago today, I began my journey as a runner.  It has not always been smooth or pretty, but I am so glad that I've welcomed running into my life.  I am a more balanced person now that I have running as an outlet.  On my morning runs, I can work off pent-up frustration and stress, and that tired, slightly achy feeling in my legs post-run remind me that I took time for myself that day, which is most certainly a good thing.

An anniversary calls for a celebration, right?  And if you ask my kids, no celebration is complete without balloons.

As a wife and mother, I find it very easy to lose myself while tending to everyone else's needs.  Running has helped me find a piece of the world that is just for me.  In those early morning miles, my mind is free to think about anything I wish, as I work to build my muscles, my endurance, my strength.  The sweet smell of pre-dawn air brings a smile to my face and reminds me that life is good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cross Training

Recently, I've come to realize the power of cross training.  I run four days per week, and at this time, I believe that is the most running my body can handle.  I am extremely cautious and careful to avoid injury since I need my body for so much more than running.

To keep me moving on non-running days, however, I've started doing Pilates, and I'm amazed at how much it has impacted my running.  Pilates has strengthened my core, which I can feel every time I run.  With a stronger core, my posture is improved, and better posture leads to more efficient breathing and speed.  I try to do Pilates 1-2 times per week to increase my strength and to provide a workout source on my non-running days.

I'm not quite here with my Pilates core work yet, but someday...

It has taken me some time to admit that Pilates is actually a workout.  Coming from running only, Pilates (at least the DVD I own) did not feel intense enough to count.  I'm not very sweaty at the end, and my heart rate barely leaves my resting zone.  I've had to teach my brain that workouts can take different forms.  My Pilates is obviously not a cardio workout, but it undoubtedly serves to strengthen my core and increase my flexibility.  Which helps me to be a better runner.  Which makes me a happy camper.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I Run: For Me

There are so many reasons to run that I could fill a book with them.  Instead of compiling my reasons into an omnibus post, I thought I'd post a series of "why I run" posts.  Today is the first entry in the series.

I run for me.  In my life, 98% of my energy is spent catering to other people's needs: my children, my husband, my family and friends, my co-workers, etc.  When I run, however, my focus is solely on me.  I decide how far I will go and how fast.  I pick the route, the water breaks, and the music.  I sometimes feel like my days click by without much input from me, but my runs remain an area of my life over which I can exert some modicum of control.

And when mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Running Trifecta

This morning's run took place early in the morning before the rest of my household was awake.  It felt like a run where all the stars aligned: the temperature was wonderful - low 60s with little humidity, the sun was rising as I set off, and my legs felt great the whole time.  Breathing in the fresh morning air and cruising (almost) effortlessly through my miles definitely started my day on the right foot.  Life is good.

'Nuff said.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Post-run Stretching

Thus far into my running career, I've been remarkably lucky on the injury front.  I've had my share of tight muscles and intermittent discomfort, but I've not faced any ailments that have caused me to miss multiple runs.  I attribute much of my good luck to my post-run stretching routine.  Though I sometimes slack off, I try to do a series of stretches after each run, and when I'm really dedicated, I do them on non-running days, too.

It is sometimes tricky to fit in stretching, especially after a long run.  Mommy guilt rares its ugly head when I've been gone for a lengthy run, and I feel like I shouldn't spend the extra minutes stretching.  But my body is always grateful when I do.  To lessen the mommy guilt, I often stretch in my living room with my kids.  They sometimes join me in doing their own "stretches", which always brings a smile to my face.

Neither my running nor my yoga form are this good, but a girl can dream, right?!

I found a couple great stretching resources that I use in my regular routine.  This Runner's World article outlines several yoga poses that are beneficial to runners.  My favorite poses are the Triangle and the Pigeon Forward Fold because they stretch out my hips so nicely.  I've not done much yoga in my life, but I feel like these stretches are easy to do and hit all the major running muscles.  Finally, this psoas stretch is incredible.  It really stretches the quads and hip - it hurts so good!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Evening Out

Last night, my husband and I enjoyed an all-too-rare evening out without the kids.  We headed to a nice restaurant on the Hill, a famed Italian neighborhood nearby, and I pulled some dressy clothing from the recesses of my closet for the event: cute little black dress, strappy sandals, coordinating jewelry.  Yet while we were driving to our destination, we passed a woman running, and I would have traded her outfits in a heartbeat.

Italian food done right: the Hill boasts St. Louis' best Italian restaurants and bakeries.

Of course, I had a wonderful evening and enjoyed some much-needed adult conversation, but for a brief moment, I wished we were going for a running date instead of a dinner date.  As that thought crossed my mind, I knew I was miles away from the woman I was last year.  I must really be a runner if I would consider trading penne and candlelight for running shoes and a sweaty sports bra.  Maybe we'll have to plan a running date in the future - followed by pasta carryout from our corner Italian eatery, of course.  Best of both worlds!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Who is Kate?

I'm Kate, a 30-something mother runner from St. Louis, MO.  I started running last year because I needed to find something in my life that was just for me.  As a mother of two toddlers with a husband who worked long hours at a job he despised, I longed to find brief escape from the daily pressures of life.  I craved me-time and decided to create that time for myself through running.

I began the Couch to 5k training program on June 21, 2011, the longest day of the year.  Out of necessity, my workouts had to take place at 5:00am, so I began on the day that the sky would be brightest at that early hour. The first workout was incredibly hard for me.  Those 60-second intervals felt endless, but I pushed through and felt elated at the end of the workout.  Now nearly 12 months later, I ran my first 10-miler last weekend.  What a difference a year makes!

I'm proud of my running accomplishments over the past year, and I'm even happier about the balance running has provided for my life.  When my husband was unjustly fired from the aforementioned terrible job, running gave me an outlet to release stress and find a bit of peace.  The predictability of running kept me grounded during the subsequent months of unemployment and the resulting financial uncertainty.

For me, running is a metaphor for life.  There are runs when I'm sure that I cannot possibly go one more step, but I dig deep and run just to the next tree...and then the one after that and one more, and before I know it, I've covered my distance.  The same goes for life.  When I face days of seemingly endless frustrations, I know that I just need to dig in, put my head down, and soldier on.

I hope to use this blog to reflect on my running life, my life as a wife and mother, and anything else that may seem important to this mother runner.  I hope you'll join me!