Thursday, September 1, 2016

Running for My Mental Health

As I've shared my running journey, I've talked a fair amount about the physical health benefits I notice when I run. I first started running as a way to enhance my weight loss - along with changing my diet.  It was a big part of how I was able to lose a fair amount of weight about seven years ago.

I've also noticed my baseline endurance has improved significantly since I started running. Of course, if I take a longer break than I should, I lose some of that endurance. However, once I start running again, I've never had to start completely back at zero.  (When I first started the Couch to 5k plan, running for two solid minutes was a real challenge.)

What I haven't talked about much is the noticeable benefits to my mental health that running has.  This is partially because I'm still not as comfortable talking about my depression as I would like to be.  I greatly admire people that can share their struggles and stories - they inspire and comfort me.  I want to be able to do that, and I know that talking about mental health helps reduce the stigma around it.  But I still struggle with sharing it out loud (or online, as the case may be.)

There is no shortage of research that shows being active helps improve mental health (I was going to Google a wack of articles to share here - but you all can do that yourselves - it's pretty much common knowledge.)  I can attest that I feel better mentally, as well as physically, when I'm running regularly.  For me, it's not only the physical activity, but it's getting outside with fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine.  I pretty much run outside exclusively, as I find treadmills tedious and uninspiring. I know they work for others, but just not my cup of tea.

One of the hardest things about my depression is when it starts to creep in, things like running (basically anything that not essential and requires any extra effort) are the first things to go by the wayside.  I can come up with a myriad of reasons not to put on my running shoes and head outside: I don't have time. I don't want to have to wash my hair. I'll do it in the morning. My running clothes are dirty. And the one that's been winning a lot this summer - It's just too hot!

The catch-22 is, I KNOW that running will improve my mood, but my low mood makes it harder to run.  It takes a lot more work to talk myself into it.  If I'm paying attention, I can take advantage of small bursts of energy or enthusiasm, and get my behind out the door before I can talk myself out of it!

The heat and humidity we've had in southwest Ontario this summer has been a significant challenge for me to stick with my training. I don't mind running in rain or snow, but give me temps in the 90's (40's) plus humidity? Ugh, I'm melting just thinking about it. One personal motto of mine has long been: you can always put more on, but you can only take so much off!

As a result, I haven't been running as much as I had planned this summer, and I've had an unusual slump in my mood as well.  (I most frequently struggle with my depression in the winter, when I'm not getting as much sun.) Today I felt a bit of an upswing - and I went for a run.  It didn't hurt that the weather felt almost fall-like. I am already feeling the positives effects of doing so. But much like bathing, the effects don't last unless you do it regularly.

So here's to hoping that the mild temps, motivation, and mood improvement are here to stay for awhile.  Goodness knows I need to to get ready for the next race - a 10k!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Running Playlists

I can't run without music.

Okay, I take that back. I can run without music, I just really prefer not to.

I have only ever participated in one running event where headphones were prohibited (and I found out day of the event no one was really there enforcing it, but I followed the rule anyway.) If it hadn't been an amazing opportunity to run across the Mackinac Bridge at dawn, I might have reconsidered.

I've read about people who listen to audio books while they run, or use the time to think without noise distractions, or meditate, or pray.  While that all sounds good in theory - it just doesn't work for me.  Most of the rewards I get from running are at or near the end. That feeling of accomplishment when I've gone a little further or run a little longer. The burst of energy after I've finished a work out.  The weight loss and health benefits that come when I train consistently.  Most of the challenges that come with running are before or during the run.  For example, getting out of bed early to get in a run before work, convincing myself that I have the energy to run after work, and not talking myself out of stopping partway through.

Music distracts me from all the reasons not to run or to stop running. It provides motivation when I feel myself slowing down. 

During a recent run, I realized that every song that came up on my playlist had a memory associated with it. After I was finished I thought about how I not only felt great from having run, but also from the memories that came up with the music.

So below, find some of my favorite running songs - the good, bad, and embarrassing - and why they bring a smile to my face. I'm always looking for playlist suggestions, so leave your favorites in the comments so I can keep refreshing my list!

"Sexy Back" Justin Timberlake - This song will always remind me of my friend Erin's fabulous bachelorette party in Chicago. I think everywhere we went that evening we heard it played at least one. I lost track of the number of times we danced to it!

"Poker Face" Lady Gaga - I can recall many evenings of dancing to this song while out at one of the few bars in Oneonta, NY with the rest of my Baseball Hall of Fame Intern colleagues.  Okay, some of us may have done more dancing than others... 

"The Middle" Jimmy Eat World - Running is one of those things that has helped me feel better about myself and learn to accept who I am. This song helps to remind me of that.

"Call Me Maybe" Carly Rae Jepsen - PHGP dance break.    :)

"No Fear" Terri Clark - One of the few country and slower songs on my running list, this song reminds me not to let fear stand in the way of my goals.

"Krazy" Pitbull ft Lil Jon - There are many songs on my running playlist that come from Zumba classes I have taken. Inevitably, they make me think of all the fun times I had with Allie trying not to make fools of ourselves....

"Waka Waka" Shakira - I don't know why I like this song. It makes me smile, it's catchy, and I have it in my head for days after I hear it. I'll probably be singing it for rest of the day just because I read the title. You're welcome.

"All Day" Girl Talk - This is my absolute favorite track for longer runs. It's a mix of songs, all with good running beat, that runs for over an hour. Free to download, I like this ones for races because I can just start it and let it go.

"Boogie Shoes" K.C. and The Sunshine Band - This song always reminds me of dancing with my mother-in-law Debbie and sister-in-law Jenn.  It's a regular in the playlist of my father-in-law Chuck's band.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions. I know I'm not any more likely to stick with changes I want to make in my life just because I made them on January 1.  However, when I came across this 2016 Reading Challenge at the end of December, I was intrigued. I had been reading quite a bit over the holiday season - especially since we couldn't travel - but I was in a bit of a reading rut. I liked the idea of challenging myself to complete a certain number of books over the year, and stepping outside of my reading "comfort zone" to explore different genres.  This challenge has different levels - Light (13), Avid (26), Committed (52), and Obsessed (104).  I figured Committed would be a challenge for me, but an achievable goal, so that is what I settled on.

I spent the better part of New Years Eve choosing which books I wanted to read for each category. I'm a planner, and for me picking out the books was part of the fun. Along with the designated categories I knew I wanted to focus on including books that I own and haven't read, as well as recommendations from my favourite librarian/blogger Nomadreader.  I also made sure that all my selections (that I didn't own) were available from the library.

As I was compiling my list, I discovered that there was a group on Goodreads for people doing the challenge. This has been a great space for getting suggestions, updating progress, and sharing good finds.

At 23 books completed, I am a bit behind schedule (I should be at 26 since we are halfway through the year.) However, I did get a little behind during rehearsals, as memorizing lines took precedence over recreational reading. (Now to get a little head before rehearsals start for the next show!)

Below you will find my list. I've linked the books I've finished to my reviews on Goodreads. Some reviews I have included comments, some just star ratings. I would like to go back and add more reviews, that may or may not happen. My brother also gave me a notebook for reviewing books that I read, but I'm reserving that for the ones that I really enjoy.

I'm always looking for suggestions for my next book. Feel free to leave yours in the comments!


Monday, June 27, 2016

Run the District - Run to the BBQ Report

I would guess that pretty much every runner has a preferred activity post-run.  Maybe you hold a few yoga poses while downing Gatorade, or you're a morning runner who hops in the shower after grabbing a coffee.  Personally, post-run I'm usually downing water while stretching, and trying to convince my dogs not to lay on me while I'm sweaty. However, last weekend and switched things up and after the Run to the BBQ, I opted for some beer and pulled pork post-race.

The Run to the BBQ coincided with the Western Fair District Beer & BBQ Show.  As part of our entrance fee, we were given tickets to get into the show as well as a few tasting tickets.  Last year the race was set up so that after crossing the finish line you were directed straight into the show.  This year they switched things up a bit, and upon completion runners received a ticket to get into the show that was good for the entire weekend.  This was a nice change, so that if you didn't want to go to the show all sweaty and in your running gear you didn't have to.  Normally, I wouldn't opt to go to a public event all sweaty and in my running clothes, but I figured since I would be one of many smelly ones wondering around it would be okay. Plus, hopefully people wouldn't be able to smell me over the BBQ....

The route for this race took us through the Old East Village neighbourhood - in fact we ran past our house twice.  I was glad that this was a single-loop route, and though we did overlap for the first and last kilometer, it was still really nice. There was even a very enthusiastic group of children with signs and cheering everyone on.  The route was mostly flat (though we did run through the Florence underpass again - like on the Chuckle Run) and partially shaded, which was nice since it was a warm evening.

It is June, which means it was hot and humid, though not as bad as it could have been. The race started at 7 pm on Friday evening, and it was about 80 F (27 C).  There was a bit of a breeze and as I mentioned the course was partially shaded, so it wasn't too bad.

I looked pretty much identical to the last race, with my running capris, Run the District Ambassador shirt, and Brooks Adrenaline 13 shoes.  After this race I do think I need to invest in some good compression running shorts.  I like the support that the capris give me versus the other running shorts I currently have, but it would be nice to have something with a little less coverage for hot days.

Thoughts Along The Way
For this race I was concentrating on my two goals, running the entire time and (hopefully) beating my time from the Chuckle Run. So those were the things dominating my thoughts while I ran. I spent a good deal of time people watching in the neighbourhood, as a lot of people were out walking or out in their yards watching the runners.

Finishing & Results

I'm happy to report that my improved training paid off, and I accomplished both of my goals.  I ran the whole race (it wasn't fast, but it was running) and I beat my previous time by nearly two minutes. I also physically felt a lot better at the end of this race than the last one, so it's nice to see the improvement.  I'm keeping up the training and hope to see an even better time for the next race.

The Beer & BBQ Show was a lot of fun, and the beer was quite refreshing after the race. I'm looking forward to the next event -  I Run for Ice Cream - which, you guessed it, ends with ice cream!  Hey - if you have to run in July, at least you can finish with a cold treat!

If you want to join me for the next race you can register here!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Run the District - Chuckle Run Report

Yesterday was the first of the Run the District races - the Chuckle Run. Each race is themed with something relating to the Western Fair District - this one because that is where Yuk Yuks Comedy Club is located.  Some of the themed elements included a rubber chicken race medal, three comedians performing along the race route, and a man in a chicken suit leading the fun run. Each participant also received a free ticket to Yuk Yuks, and since Doug and I haven't been there yet, we're looking forward to using them!
I've never really recorded a race report, but read an good article about them recently, so I thought it would be a great way to capture my Chuckle Run experience.

2016 Chuckle Run route
As expected, all the Run the District events take place in the Western Fair District and surrounding neighbourhood. This year, they switched up the Chuckle Run route to give participants a "behind the scenes" look at the district. The course was a 2.5k loop that started in the Agraplex and took us around the fairgrounds - including on the race track. This set-up allowed for three race length options - 2.5k, 5k, or 10k.  Since this was my first race of the season, I opted for the 5k route.  I'm not a big fan of routes that are loops or out-and-backs, as I like the scenery on my runs to change.  But at least for this one I was exploring areas of the fair that I hadn't seen before so it was "new to me."
2015 Chuckle Run - rain!


The event was on Sunday, with a start time of 10:00 am for all three distances (9:45 for the kids fun run.)  Fortunately, we had some rain on Saturday which brought the temperature down a bit on Sunday morning. It was still pretty warm, and humid - I believe the "feels like" temperature was around 80 F at the start - but a breeze helped, so it was bearable. This was a huge change from the weather last year, which was cold and rainy.  Neither extreme seemed to dampen the spirits of participants and everyone was having a great time.
I'm official now!


Pretty much regardless of the weather I wear the same type of running capris. Particularly when it's hot and humid, I need to have the right fabric covering my thighs - nothing worse than uncomfortable chafing after a run! I planned on adding fun socks for the run, but given the heat....?  I didn't realize I was going to get a special Run the District Ambassador shirt, so that was a pleasant surprise!  This was my first race in my new running shoes, but I had several training runs to break them in. I was really pleased with how my feet felt at the end of the race.

Thoughts Along The Way

I was not prepared for this race - I talk a bit more about that below, so I won't go into it much further, but I have to mention it because most of my thoughts were along the lines of keeping myself going. I started out the right way, pacing myself not trying to go to fast. When I started out I kept telling myself I just wanted to run the whole thing - it didn't have to be fast, I just wanted to keep running.  About 1/3 of the way in, Doug had to walk for a bit. This wasn't a big surprise, he's been having some knee issues and we knew this would likely
Just before we started!
happen.  I managed to keep going though. There were two unexpected hills (well, technically four, as I did the loop twice), as the route took us under a road twice, but my usual "head up, chest out" mantra my brother taught me got me through those.  After finishing the first loop, I didn't think I was going to be able to keep running for the entire race. I made it up the first hill on the second loop and had to slow to a brisk walk.  I was disappointed, but I was still going. I changed my goal - finish running and run all the hills.  I managed to do both. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face, knowing that a few years ago I wouldn't have even attempted what I had just completed.

Finishing & Results
Posing with the finishing bell.

I did a whole post about how I'm training for these events. Admittedly, I wasn't as far along in my training as I had planned to be for the Chuckle Run.  I took a break from training while family visited and during the run of the show I was in. As a result my time wasn't the best, and I wasn't able to run for the entire race. That is always my first goal, but I just hadn't properly prepared. Lesson learned - I have recommitted to my training schedule and will be on track for the Run to the BBQ!
The "official" results aren't in yet, but I did check the unofficial ones yesterday. I finished in about 37 minutes.  While far from my best 5k time, it was also not my worst. I'm looking forward to the next race and seeing the improvement with consistent training!

On a personal note, writing about this experience at all is kind of a victory for me. In the past, it would have been hard for me to publicly admit to a shortfall, or not meeting a reasonable goal I had set for myself. Not that it was easy to talk about going off my training schedule and having to walk during the 5k, but to recognize it as a learning opportunity and to admit it is a big step for me. Maybe I am on my way to being a grown-up...