Week 1: Zen and Shin Stress

In the first week of this year, I strove to be more quiet, simple and meditative. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I’m happy with some changes I’ve started. I reduced time spent outside and on Facebook and the Web. I read more fiction, less news and gossip. I devoted more time to my breathing meditation, the Pentagram, Vipassana walking, and other spiritual exercises. I talked less to people outside my immediate family. I talked less at home too. I threw away a lot of clutter. I rearranged some furniture. I changed all the curtains. I cleaned.  I cut my short hair even shorter.

And I didn’t run in the first seven (!!!) days of the year. Considering how running-crazy I was in the previous month, this was a major thing.

runkeeper dec-jan

As a result, my January mileage is pitifully small compared to my December total. (But this month has just started, so I can definitely add more kms in the next weeks.)

I did go out to run on January 5, but it turned out quite differently from what I had planned. At around 5 am, I went outside with my running shoes on and my new water bottle. I walked from our house, then jogged a bit, as was my habit. But before I could even complete 1 km, my shins started to feel like heavy irons. They made even slow running very difficult. There too was a slight pain on the top part of my feet. I had to stop running and walk for a few minutes. I tried stretching a bit, and loosened my shoelaces. Then I started jogging again, but with the same result. After about 20 minutes of this, I decided to give it a rest.

If this happened last month, I would have panicked. I would have worried that this might be an injury that would spell disaster for my February full marathon.

But I didn’t become upset. Instead, I thought I’d listen to my heavy shins, “honor” them, and let them be. Then I focused on my breathing, and gave thanks that I could breathe. I also attuned to my walking stride, and gave thanks that I could walk. I walked on, and the sun came out. People started to fill the streets. I watched and listened. The increasing activity was almost palpable, like the city was literally waking up and getting on its feet. The sun on my skin also felt warmer, and I headed home happy.

I ran again yesterday, this time with more success. I went to UP after seeing the girls off to school. (It was their first day back, and so there was some drama and anxiety before they unwillingly left home.)

At the UP Oval, I first did a 10-minute warmup jog, then proceeded to do 4:1 run-walk intervals. Alas, the same heavy-legs syndrome reappeared! I found it quite hard to run, even when going slow. Some walking also felt difficult. Both my legs felt really heavy and tired, and after dragging them around for about 30 minutes, I thought that was enough. I wasn’t exactly happy, but I was thankful that at least I completed a half-hour workout. That’s good enough to get started, I thought. I could come back again, no worries.

As I was doing my warm-down walk, I felt the urge to run again, just to see if my legs could manage it. Surprisingly, the heaviness was gone this time. And so I continued running around the Oval, until I finished another half-hour of straight running. My legs felt fine, apart from the normal fatigue from the run. Now, I was really happy.

When I got home, I read up on this running problem, and found out it is quite common. It’s been called “heavy-legs syndrome” and is attributed to these possible causes:

  • over-training
  • insufficient rest
  • poor nutrition
  • improper shoes
  • menstrual-period-related (for women)

The problem doesn’t seem to be as serious as shin splints or ITBS, thank goodness. Usually, resting and going more slowly will take care of it.

So, it’s been an interesting start to the new year. I wonder how my future runs will be. I wonder what my TBR Dream Marathon will turn out to be like. There’s a lot in store in the coming weeks, but right now, I’m happy where I am. Right here, right now. I am present in the Present, and I am savoring the moments.



Running in the Dark

I tried something new when I ran last night. I used the GPS-powered running app called RunKeeper to track my run. That meant two things: one, I had to bring my phone (which I prefer not to do during any run), and two, I had to turn on its cellular data connection to have GPS. I was worried I’d stack up major phone charges, but lo and behold, after the run, I checked my balance and found out it cost me zero pesos. As in, nada, zilch. Was there a glitch? I had my data connection on for 1.5 hours, and that cost nothing? Well, maybe it’s because I used it just for GPS. I guess that means GPS use costs nothing–which definitely is great news. I’ll probably be running more with RunKeeper or the GPS-enabled version of Nike+.

Ordinarily, I just use my teeny-weeny iPod Nano in my road runs for tracking. It has the Nike+ running system built-in for music lovers who also love to run. The Nano clips on any clothing, and it’s very light. And so it’s very convenient. All I need are earphones to go with it, and already I have my running music (indispensable!) plus all the stats I could ever need: the distance I’ve run, pace, calories expended, and so on. The Nano also gives me regular voice feedback all throughout the run; it lets me know how long I’ve been running and how many more miles or minutes is left for the run. For years now, this has been my preferred run tracking system.

Last night was dark, and so I had to watch out for bumps and trash on the road that could cause me to slip. But the weather was perfect. Other than a very light drizzle at the start of my run, the cool pre-Christmas weather was ideal for a long run. I started out with a target of one-and-a-half hours, just to get past the one-hour runs which I have been logging lately. I also thought if I did more than 10k, I’d be ready for the Pink Run 16k which is just a few days away.

I ended up doing 12.7 km, according to my iPod Nano. (Yes, I also brought it with me, in addition to my phone).

LSD pre-Pink Run

On RunKeeper, my run distance varies a bit, registering 12.46 km. This probably is more accurate because it’s GPS-determined. Another bit of info I got from RunKeeper is this route map.

route Fairview

I don’t usually see other runners on the street at this time of the night. But this time, I did see two of them. We ran different routes so I only had a quick glimpse of them and then they were gone. (Or I was gone, haha.) There were a few bikers, still a lot of cars and trikes (but not nearly as much as you’d see in the daytime), and some strollers with their little children or pet dogs in tow. I’d pass by trike drivers waiting for passengers, and I’ve gotten used to their comments and stares. They’ve probably gotten used to me by now too, so I felt less stared at lately, thank goodness. I’d also often see the night-duty guard at GSCS, the school where two of my girls go to. Sometimes we’d wave at each other. I’d also pass by guards keeping watch at the gates of subdivisions. It makes me feel safer knowing they are close by. Because it’s dark and I’m running solo, and it’s almost Christmas season, there’s always the danger of being mugged. But Fairview is generally a safe place, and I’m thankful I’m able to run here.

Fairivew night run

When I got home, I was tired but happy. The “runner’s high” I always get is definitely one of the reasons why I love this sport so much. Apart from the endorphins, I also love the solitude, the freedom, and the me-time that running affords me. Another bonus–from the tiredness–was that I didn’t have the energy or the appetite to sit down for a full dinner. I just ate mangoes and drank lots of water, and that felt enough. Hmmm. If I wanted to lose some weight (and I do!), I should probably do this more often.

On the downside, I found out that sleeping was difficult. I read somewhere that night workouts may interfere with a good night’s sleep, and this, unfortunately, is oh so true. Oh well, I guess you can’t have everything.

Just the same, I won’t exchange this experience for anything 🙂

My Run United 1: Great Balls of Fire, Master Yoda, and a New PR

Early this year, I had to take a break from running because of an injured right knee. During this break, I missed an important race I was previously, and aggressively, training for (the Condura Skyway marathon). Staying inactive is probably any runner’s worst nightmare, and so I was very glad when my knee finally seemed to have healed and I could get back to running again.

My comeback race was a half-marathon in the very popular Run United (RU) trilogy. (This first leg of the series is dubbed RU1.) Needless to say, I planned to take it slow and not put too much stress on my newly recovered knee. I thought I’d just enjoy the race as much as I could. If my knee started hurting, I’d walk and jog. And if it didn’t, I’d be grinning all the way to the finish line while thanking my lucky stars. I wouldn’t even think about PRs and finish times.

Another strategy I planned to adopt for this race was to make it meditative. I’d meditate on how fortunate I am to be running again, among other things. In this race, I’d be thankful, prayerful, and celebratory…in my own fashion.

I’ve been reading up on the topic of meditating while running, and putting into practice what I’ve learned during the short training period I had. It required some getting used to. My usual style was to turn on my iPod and lose myself in the music, zone out, go blank, let the endorphins flow. But if you want to meditate properly, zoning out is a no-no (I think). You have to be present and be aware–of your breathing, the motions of your feet, and more or less everything that your body is doing. This is “union” of mind, breath and body, which is what yoga literally means. At times, you can shift your focus to your environment and what’s happening around you. But at all times, you have to try to be mindful and present in the moment.

Well, it seems that if you think positive, and if you let go of pressures and expectations, things do work out quite well for you. I didn’t feel any pain at all in my knee during the whole race, and I didn’t have cramps. Those were the two worst things that could happen to me. Thank God they didn’t!

I even got an unexpected bonus at the end of the race: a new PR. My official chip time was 2h:19m, my best so far. But even better than this was feeling so wonderful, almost ecstatic–and strong!–at the finish line. Sure, I was tired too, but in the nicest possible way.

My 21k run on Nike+

Post-race, after the euphoria had worn off, I got to thinking, what exactly happened? How did I manage to run my fastest 21k when all I planned was a slow, meditative, don’t-hurt-your-knee run?

A huge chunk of the answer has to be the race route. It was as flat as any route could get. It had no flyovers, no hills, no slopes at all. If my memory serves me right, all my previous 21k races (there were seven) had hills of varying gradients. The most challenging one passed through at least six flyovers, and it took me a little over three hours to finish. In RU1, the route was all flat roads. Sure, some parts of the route had problems (such as congestion and car fumes), but no one could refute its flatness.

It also helped that the race was very well managed. There were plenty of hydration stations that served not just water but also sports drinks. I stopped in maybe half of all these stations. I also saw some bananas for us runners, but I was content with the energy gels I had brought along.

I must say that focusing on my breathing really helped me a lot too. Just being aware of the inflow and outflow of your breath is in itself a simple yet powerful form of meditation. While running, it is doubly helpful because it can be your guide to slow down, speed up, or maintain your current pace. In this race, I really watched how I breathed. And based on my respiration pattern, I got to know when I was running just right–not too slow, and not too fast either. If I went under or above a particular breathing level, I knew I had to make adjustments, and I did.

I admit I got tired of watching my breathing all the time, so I shifted focus every now and then. I would try to “attune” to my legs, my stride, the rhythm of it, and the feeling of my feet touching and leaving the ground. As I “felt” my legs, I would naturally progress to thanking them, praising them, and “sending” them love and energy. It sounds funny and weird as I write this, but that’s how it really is. Meditating for me means, among other things, communicating and communing with your body.

At other times, I’d focus on my core. By “core,” I mean the general area where the solar plexus is, above the navel and below the ribcage. (I don’t know if this is the same “core” that fitness experts refer to.) I would imagine in this area a glowing ball of light and energy, which sustained and energized me. During the race, I experimented with making this ball of light brilliantly blue, then white, then orange. I found out that blue and white were the colors that seemed right for me. Whatever I imagined its color to be, I visualized this ball of light to be a source of unending energy and vitality. When I felt tiredness in my legs, I would imagine the ball of light in my core to radiate strength outwards, reaching my tired limbs and energizing them.

At other times during the race, I’d visualize my core to be the seat of love and compassion. From this center, I’d radiate those feelings outwards, until they filled my entire body, and spilled outside to embrace my surroundings and the runners near me. At one point, I saw a fellow runner who seemed to be cramping, and I visualized sending him love and strength. I felt very peaceful and serene at these moments, almost forgetting that I was running.

I must confess I got a bit wild in my visualization sometimes. That’s when I imagined Master Yoda (from Star Wars, of course) to be seated in my core, driving me and pushing me forward. This made me smile. But it worked very effectively! It really helped to propel me forward. What can I say, the Force was with me.

So there, that’s my version of meditating while running. I drew from the traditions of Buddhist Vipassana, Rosicrucianism, and pranayana–some areas that I dabbled on in years past. It’s a continuing process, and I’m learning as I go (or as I run, if I may say so).