Mind Over Fear

I am training for the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon on November 5th. I trained for the same race last year but was sidelined about 6 weeks beforehand for an IT band injury.

This year, I’ve done everything right. I’ve been diligently doing strength work with a trainer for six months. I’ve had a very slow and steady build-up in mileage. Tart cherry juice. Rolling. Stretching. Turmeric. Massage. Beet green smoothies. Positive affirmations. More rolling.

It’s essentially become a part-time job.

So, you will understand why I had a meltdown a couple of weeks ago when that pesky IT Band started to flare up (this time on the left leg). It just so happened that this flare-up occurred after I ran 15 miles, which was the longest run that I achieved last year. Coincidence?

This year, though, I knew the ropes. I backed off training, ramped up all the stretching/rolling/massage, etc. Turns out that not running is harder than running.

But, after a couple of weeks, I was feeling better. Mild stiffness, but nothing that was changing my form.

I started to feel optimistic that I could resume training and started to look ahead to this past weekend’s 16-mile run.

16 miles.

The farthest I’ve ever run.

2.9 miles more than a half-marathon.

10 miles less than a full marathon.

I did the math over and over. I ran the route in my mind. My fear became a meditation.

The thing about distance running is that it helps to strip away every distraction, every bit of ego and expectation, so that you are left with no choice but to meet yourself on the road. That’s what makes it beautiful; more than exercise.

After nearly three hours of running (I’m slow), I found that all my fears and worries were just that. I made it through.

As I started the last mile, I was overcome by a strange euphoria. I started to cry tears that were a mix of joy, pain, and exhilaration.

I felt completely and utterly alive.

I must have looked insane.

When I think about why I want to run this race, it comes back again and again to overcoming my own fear of failure. I can suffer through the temporary pain. I can prepare my body. But, do I really have the mental toughness?

This Saturday, I succeeded in running this race, no matter what happens in November. I am not afraid anymore.

Everything the internet has to say about IT band syndrome

I signed up to run the NYC Marathon in 2016 with Team UNICEF. After a few successful half-marathons, I was pumped to run my very first full marathon. I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon in the spring and began training with plenty of lead time. I got up to a 16-mile long run and then something went way wrong… the dreaded IT Band syndrome. I would run about a mile or two and get this awful tightness that stopped me in my tracks. I desperately tried everything I could think of…supplements, massage, foam rolling, chiropractic, stretching, rest, ice. Finally, I went to see an orthopedist who confirmed the IT band issue and sent me to PT. As the time elapsed, it became clear that the marathon was not happening for 2016. ARGH. Well, here I am a few months later and starting to prepare for the 2017 Marathon. I still get some mild IT band pain but I’m much more proactive this time around. We shall see. In the course of all of this, I’ve read A LOT on the internet. If you are a fellow runner struggling with IT band syndrome, here’s my list of the best resources I’ve found online to help you in your journey:

Explanation of ITBS

  • http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/it-band-syndrome
  • http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/itband.v2.html
  • http://www.drpribut.com/sports/spitb.html
  • https://www.physioadvisor.com.au/injuries/knee/iliotibial-band-syndrome/

Treatment

  • http://www.active.com/running/articles/how-to-aggressively-treat-it-band-syndrome
  • http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/knee-pain/iliotibial-band-syndrome
  • http://strengthrunning.com/2014/12/curing-it-band-pain-exercises-to-treat-illiotibial-band-syndrome/
  • http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-treatment/treating-itbs

Rehab and Prevention Exercises

  • http://strengthrunning.com/2011/02/the-itb-rehab-routine-video-demonstration/
  • http://running.competitor.com/2015/03/injury-prevention/10-exercises-to-treat-it-band-syndrome_125083
  • http://www.runnersloveyoga.com/new-blog/2016/7/24/4hipstrengtheningexercises
  • http://blog.mapmyrun.com/7-exercises-to-treat-and-prevent-it-band-syndrome/
  • http://www.runningonhappy.com/2016/01/iliotibial-band-rehabilitation-or-itb/

Happy Foam Rolling!

Running Mindfully

I am a runner. It took me about 2 years to own those words. I started running in my mid-thirties in an attempt to get back in shape after having two kids. As a younger person, I definitely scoffed at running…why do it unless someone is chasing you? Then, I got hooked, I mean really HOOKED. Now, I am training for the 2017 NYC Marathon after being sidelined from last year’s race due to an IT band injury. This blog will, in part, share my running adventures and my very first running post  will address the why of running. 

I call this blog Mindful Striver because I feel that it capsulates the sometimes opposing, often complementary parts of my psyche– a duality to which I think a lot of people can relate. On the one hand, I am a striver. I’ve worn the label ambitious as a badge of honor, knowing full well the the contempt it ascribes when given to a woman. I went to school part-time for an advanced degree and take my job very seriously. At home, I’m always casting about for what needs to be done. Even when I’m left to my own devices entirely, I’ll make a list of things to do and get going. If you have ever put “take a bath,” “take a nap,” or “paint nails” on an actual to-do list, then we are spirit animals. This aspect of who I am serves me very well much of the time, but it can also get in my way. I find it very difficult to slow down and quiet my busy mind. And that, my friends, is where running is so perfect for a Mindful Striver. Running is the very definition of doing something. It scratches all of my itches for goal achievement, measurable success, demonstrative improvement etc. But, it is also a meditation in and of itself. I know, I know, it’s not Oooomfindacomfortableseatandcomeintoyourbreath meditation, but it is definitely a meditation. Consider this:

Running Clears Your Mind

There is nothing like a hard run to drown out everything but your feet hitting the pavement. The first mile or two of a run I’m pretty focused on the discomfort in my body or calculating how long I’ll be out. But, after about 1-2 miles, I calm down and just run. Sometimes I’ll start out a run feeling especially worried or stressed about something and after a few miles it all just seems so much clearer. And, it turns out, there is good science behind this head-clearing feeling. Your brain functioning really does improve markedly from aerobic exercise, with benefits ranging from improved memory to actual brain growth.

Running Focuses Your Breath

So much of meditation is about focusing on your breath and letting everything else slip away. Running gives you this in spades. The breath is a runner’s touchstone. If I can breath comfortably, I know that I’m in the right zone to go the distance. Sometimes, I’ll take out the headphones and just listen to my own breath and my feet hitting the ground. It’s rhythmic, hypnotic even. And the great thing is that endurance training improves your lung capacity and helps your body create a more robust circulatory system. Who doesn’t want more Prana in their system?

Running Binds You to Nature

Meditation helps me to feel connected to the earth and all living things. So does running, in a very tangible way. I live in a very pretty area with stately old trees, beautiful gardens, and wooded areas teeming with wildlife. Running brings me up close and personal. Early morning runs have put me face to face with all manner of creatures, including deer, raccoons (creepy, but alluring), skunks (they look just like they do on TV!), and hedgehogs (those guys are big). I once took a run through a nearby nature preserve and felt like Snow White with all the birds singing and squirrels running around. It is more than just taking in the scenery, my runs remind me that I am part of an delicate and vibrant ecosystem. I finish my runs feeling truly connected to, and more responsible for, my local environment.

Running=Lightness

Runner’s high. Endorphins. Prana. Connectedness. No matter what words I use, it comes back to the same thing. I feel the same way after a run that I do after a meditation session. Because running is meditation. That’s not to say that I don’t get something qualitatively different and important from sitting quietly and breathing. It’s just a reminder that really anything you do with total focus and devotion is a meditation.

Mindfulness is not narrowly defined. It’s a way of thinking. Of being present and unattached. Running is just one way that I get there. How do you get there?