Thursday, July 24, 2014

Getting out of my head

I started running in my late 20s to help me work through anxiety and depression. I didn't want to take medication, and I soon learned that running did so much more for me than just help me with those symptoms. As began to run longer distances and faster times, I found a self confidence that I never had before. Committing to myself to run 4-5 days/week made me more apt to keep commitments to others. I found an outlet for my excess nervous energy and drive to succeed. I often say that running saved my life and I truly believe it.

But that isn't to say that running works for me all the time. Case in point, this week. If you follow me on facebook, you know that I experienced a very stressful event and as is typical for me, I'm having trouble moving past it. Initially, talking about the trauma of finding a cyclist after he was hit by a car was helpful for me. A day and a half after the incident, I started to feel better and wanted to let it go. But this morning, there it was again. My mind started rolling the film. My speed work session was less than stellar as I fought with my mind to focus on the run and push those other thoughts out of my head. And then there was that other runner, the guy who said something to me as he passed me. I couldn't hear it because I had my headphones in and of course, I immediately thought he said something negative to me. Because that's how I roll. The more I ran, the more my mind dragged me down.



When I went to work out with Becky for my crossfit training, I started talking about this. She sternly lectured me about needing to push these events away. "Yes, it was terrible, what happened to the cyclist," she said. "but it's over and you have to move on. You have to let it go."


I know. How many times have I heard these words. I haven't even seen the movie Frozen, and I know there is a song with that very title.

But how do I do that? How do I shut off those thoughts that run through my head?

Over 2000 years ago, Buddha described my very issue as "monkey mind".  Buddha described the mind as full of monkeys, all jumping around, clamoring for attention. Have you ever laid down to go to sleep and a million thoughts are running through your head? Or go out for a run and find your mind wandering? Do you have trouble focusing on your pace, your breathing? Sound familiar? How do I tame my monkey mind? And can we call it something else? Because I really don't like monkeys at all. Although they represent the perfect metaphor for how my mind feels when I can't settle it down.



There is meditation, yoga, breathing exercises; all calming activities for sure, but what if you can't shut off your mind to focus on these activities? I turned to my favorite resource for all things running: Runners World. And yes, they had an article on this very subject. The author takes some of the principles of meditation and applies them to running.

For example, by focusing on your breathing and your feet hitting the pavement, you can get yourself out of your head. I've actually done this before when I've worked on breathing through a side stitch. I count to 4, while inhaling and exhaling. Because I usually get side stitches on the right, that 4th breath is timed so I exhale on my left foot . I usually experience side stitches because my breathing is ragged. This breathing technique has helped me many times to get my run back on track. I have never thought about using breathing while running to calm my mind.

Another technique to calm down and get your head back in the run is to check in with your body. Are your fists clenched?When I notice this, I shake out my hands and arms.  Is your jaw clamped shut? This always reminds me of my prenatal classes. The instructor was teaching us breathing techniques and she said that you can't clench your teeth and relax at the same time. This is advice that has stuck with me for all these years. Some runners hunch their shoulders. Sometimes your legs get stiff and you can feel your feet slapping the ground. It is ok to stop and stretch, by the way! Take a few deep breaths and get your heart rate under control. Sometimes that is all you need to do. I've done this and it really helps me to refocus. By consciously relaxing, you shift your focus to those areas that need attention and out of your head.

While I'm writing this, I keep thinking about my Rodney Yee yoga video and the words of wisdom he imparts throughout. "Consciously letting go" is something he says, and every time he does, I let out a sigh and relax. Maybe I need Rodney to go on a run with me! Another bit of yoga wisdom I've heard over and over is to "be present". What does it mean to be present?

To me, being present means being conscious and focused on the moment you are in. Being present means if you are running, you are focused on that activity. Breathing, pace, stride, and generally overall how you are feeling--that should be your focus. If you notice your mind wandering, acknowledge it, and focus back on the activity at hand. Try to shut those negative thoughts down.



Negative self talk does no one any good. We all know that. Yet the very nature of the runner is one of a type A, perfectionist personality. I don't know about you, but one bad run and I'm beating myself up. Just this morning, I started to berate myself for not being able to stay on pace. Seriously. I need to catch myself doing that and stop it! I have found that listening to music while I run, especially music with a positive message, can help me when my energy is flagging. I like to listen to music with a driving beat, and so I tend to listen to rock and rap. If I can lose myself in the music--hey, isn't that an Eminem song--yep, on my playlist--I tend to have really great runs.

Eminem does say it best:

"You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime"

and

"Success is my only motherfucking option, failure's not"

and

"So here I go, it's my shot
Feet fail me not, this may be the only opportunity that I got"

and

"you can do anything you set your mind to, man"
-Eminem "Lose Yourself"


Staying positive and confident is tough. Life interferes with our ability to stay focused on the task at hand. This week taught me that I still have a lot work to do with letting go and moving on. Besides letting go of everyday nonsense, I have to let go of that bad 1st marathon. I have to trust my training. I have to trust my trainer. If I have a bad run, I need to move on to the next one. I've got it in me to do this and do it well. I just have to believe it.




Training for a marathon is so much more than the physical work. And I'm a work in progress.

30 comments :

  1. Ok, you just won the coolest mom ever award by having Eminem on your playlist! All the tricks you do to calm yourself down when running are very similar to the things I do when I'm swimming. I focus on my breathing and a pay attention to my stroke. I am gliding enough? Am I rolling enough? That sort of thing. The next thing you know, I"m calm and the swim is almost over, ha ha.
    You've totally got it in yourself to do this and do it well, of that I'm certain!

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    1. My 17 year old actually looks for rap songs he thinks I might like. LOL! I just have to work on training my head as much as my body...this is what I realized today.

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  2. I am out of town this week and not on FB as much-I didn't know that happened to you. How awful-for both of you. That is really traumatic and I would think normal to be thinking about it still. Give yourself some time.

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    1. Thanks so much. I'm trying so hard not to dwell on it because I need to get back on track for marathon training. It's funny how it can just pop into my head out of the blue!

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  3. With something as traumatic as that accident, I think it's natural to replay the events in your head...to a point, but they should gradually fade away. Remember running should be fun. Constantly worrying about pace just isn't worth it. One bad run doesn't define you. Trust that you know how to do this. Because you do.
    Any update on the extent of the guy's injuries?

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    1. I need to get back to that--chalk this up to a bad week--and have fun again.

      I know that he wasn't hospitalized, so I assume nothing life threatening, which is what I thought at the scene. Sadly, tho, the newspaper guy is back delivering papers, in a different car. I called the Daily Herald to complain, but clearly their priority is delivering papers, not safety.

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  4. My mind is like yours. Mulling over the same thing again and again, always expecting the worse. Sometimes I try to tame it by exhausting it. But it's still hard.

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    1. I think we need to train our mind like we train our bodies!

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  5. We're all a work in progress and trying to enjoy the journey! I'm all too familiar with the monkey mind but yoga and meditation are helping a lot with that. Some things take a little more time than others before you're able to move on. Give yourself that little bit of time :)

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    1. Thanks for your advice! I've never been good at quieting my mind. It is always a work in progress!

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  6. Oh man do I ever have "monkey mind"! So many thoughts running through my head all at the same time. Sorry you had to go through that:(

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    1. What do you do to clear your head?

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  7. Things take time especially traumatic situations. Do you best to work through it and not dwell on it either - that also isn't healthy.

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    1. I have to move on--I've got a marathon to train for! :)

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  8. I had a traumatic situation happen at work two years ago. It left a lasting impression on my mind for quite some time especially when I ran. I would replay every single moment. Eventually it started to go away with time but every so often it pops into my head even today.

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    1. I'm curious what you did when it kept popping into your head. So hard to get those thoughts to go away!

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  9. Mind training is so important for running and for life!

    Meditation can help - if nothing else, gaining awareness of your thoughts/emotions, identifying/labeling them and the realization that they are just temporary, can be useful. You take a breath, redirect your attention and begin again. You can always begin again.

    I don't do as much meditation as I would like, but even a little, or even reading about it, can be helpful. Let me know if you want book/resource ideas.

    Wishing you the best and a quick trip through this temporary rough patch!

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I'm am definitely going to read that book you recommended by Sage Rountree, but if you have any other sport related books, that would be great. Yoga helps me a lot. Just focusing on my breathing is a big help.

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  10. We are all a work in progress. I have the same problems. I can be very high stress and have a tendency to not let things go. I've tried meditation but for some reason it's really hard for me. Yoga has really helped. And I've tried to get rid of all of the stressors in my life, drama that isn't necessary. But definitely a work in progress.

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    1. I have my ups and downs...sometimes I think I've got it all together and then boom! something happens to shake me up! Thanks for sharing with me!

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  11. I had so much fun reading your post. Although I'm not a runner myself I can feel like you are having such a fun adventure whenever you are training. I wish I have the motivation like yours about running a marathon or just any exercise. I've always wanted to have a physical activity like running but I just can't fully commit to it, I would try something for a couple of days but then I would just get lazy as the days go by. I really think it's so cool of you to have Eminem on your playlist, that song is a great motivational song when working out I get pumped just listening to it. I think you might just have inspired me to give running a second shot and of course I'll listen to lose yourself while I'm at it so I'd be reminded of you.

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    1. You should try it! After a while it becomes an addiction...

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  12. My husband and I both run for similar reasons. I'm so thankful to have discovered this amazing outlet!
    The wandering mind is very annoying..especially at bedtime.
    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Isn't running just the best? Thanks for checking out the blog!

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  13. Thanks for sharing these thoughts! Great post. Thanks for joining the link up. Susan (Mom Swim Bike Run)

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  14. That's one of my favorite running songs! It really pumps me up. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for linking up with us this week.

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    1. I wonder if Eminem knows how much his songs speak to us runners!

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  15. Running is much more mental than physical. It is easy to train the body, training the mind is HARD!

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    1. Oh yes! It is definitely my biggest challenge!

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