“Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …”
– David Blaikie

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Running Down Memory Lane...

I am lucky enough to live close enough - yet far enough - from where I spent most of my life growing up.  I had been thinking about driving there to run the old stomping grounds - I even have had dreams about it.  Today, I made it happen.

When I think of where I grew up, I mainly think of the early '90s, even though I graduated in 1998.  My best memories come from swimming in the backyard pool all day, playing Capture the Flag on summer nights, and spending time in my room journaling and listening to one of too many single cassette tapes from Sam Goody.  Well, there you go - I just aged myself for sure now!

There has never been any major emotional attachment to this place other than the fact that I grew up there.  But, today during my run, things were a bit different.  

I drove to the main drag across from a 711 store that was a main "hangout" during my high school days.  I parked at the local Starbucks (which apparently is a newer addition to the small town which is completely built-out and covered in shops, medical offices, and restaurants now).  It's a beautiful day here in North Texas, 80 degrees or so - the sun shining and a slight breeze.  I decided to run the path I would run when I was younger - my "long run". 

I started out slow and easy, running toward the good ol' Speedy K market and Donut Shop shopping strip to which I used to ride my bike. The extent of my mischief growing up was always contemplated on my way to these two places.  I would buy those little gun powder-filled snap-its from the convenient store along with a Dr. Pepper, then head over to the Donut Shop and buy a half dozen jelly-filled donuts and one chocolate glazed.  I would eat the glazed donut and chug the Dr. Pepper before heading back to my neighborhood.  What did I do with the jelly-filled donuts, you ask?  Well, I was a very easily amused - and very creative - little kid and thought the most comical thing on the planet was to watch a donut get smashed in the road.  I have no memory of where this idea came from, but it was brilliant at the time.  My friends and I (or even by my lonesome) would strategically place a jelly-filled donut in the middle of the road and immediately run and hide behind a bush or a mailbox.  We would cheer when the donut was smashed and laugh hysterically when it was barely missed.  This could go on for hours - I had a half dozen of them (and ewww...no one likes to actually eat jelly-filled donuts). The most epic smashing was when a fire truck completely flattened it - unbeknownst to the firefighters as they just waved at us!

I continued to run, realizing that this long run really was not going to be all that long.  I ran past some of the usual spots where the donut smashing occurred and had a few great chuckles, mainly because I have taken my own kids out to do this - and it is still just as funny.  I passed a local pond called "The Duck Pond", cleverly named because, well, there are lots of ducks there.  I passed the alleyway where I had my first "almost" kiss in 8th grade.  I passed friends' old houses and schools I had attended.  

I reached my old street and felt a heaviness in my heart.  The corner house belonged to a dear friend who had passed away in a car fire.  He was one of my best friends and I still have dreams that he is in his pickup truck telling me that he is okay.  I shifted my thoughts to all the fun we had, rollerblading in middle school, then driving all around town talking about life.  
I was in my old neighborhood and it looked so much smaller than I remember.  Perhaps it is because the trees are so much larger and fuller.  The photo to the left is of my old house - and, what we called at the time, the "Butterfly Tree"...  As I remember, it was a baby tree when we moved there in 1989 and it was sick - there was sap all over it which attracted hoards of butterflies.  I remember thinking that it was pretty special. I stopped running and snapped the pic of that tree which now covers the house!  

As I left my old neighborhood and ventured around town, I felt a flood of emotion come over me.  Perhaps it was nostalgia giving me a pat on the back and a handshake for returning; perhaps it was the fact that we remember things as we experienced them. I spent fourth through twelfth grade there - and those were years in which things seemed emphatic to my young mind, to say the least.  I was pretty good at numbing myself out when emotions would arise - I would use running to numb it.   So, today, feeling so many emotions surface all at once while running was so profound for me.  I needed to go and run there - and experience those feelings.  I needed to reminisce and remember.  I needed those parts of my mind to remind me.  There were a lot of hurtful memories that surfaced that I had not thought of in years.  I stood on a corner that was filled with memories and my mind swiftly reenacted several moments that I wish I could get back and speak up for myself or make a different decision.  But I can't.  

I kept running, remembering, experiencing, and feeling the feelings that I was supposed feel in the past.  There are chunks of my life that I remember so vividly it is as if it just happened.  There are other times that I cannot remember a thing - and it is frustrating.  Coming back to a place where so many memories were created was helpful for me - and also maddening (what was the name of so and so who lived on this streetWhat was I into at that time of my life?  Why can't I remember?!).

I returned to my starting point and looked at the clock.  That long run was not long at all - just like the neighborhoods were not as large as I had remembered them. However, the distance between memories in my mind covered many more miles, for sure.  Distance truly lends perspective...

I am so glad that I decided to go for a run in my old hometown today.  Today, I remembered things that I had forgotten (either purposely so, or involuntarily).  The things I tried to forget surfaced as quickly as the memories that I still laugh about or cherish today - and I felt all the feelings.

My runs these days are not to numb the feelings, but to evoke them.  Cheers to almost twenty years since my high school graduation - and cheers to the memories I can hang onto!

Today's Run:
Distance: 5 miles
Anxiety Level: 1
Biofeedback: Stiff a bit from lifting legs yesterday - running it out will feel good!
Pre-Run Thoughts:I wonder how many square miles this whole town is now?
Intra-Run Thoughts: So. Many. Feelings.  
Post-Run Thoughts: What a profound moment during my run!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Good Morning, Moon...

Apple iPhone cameras do not take good photos of the moon. 
This picture does it no justice.
Let's preface this by saying that it is not a good idea to stay up late chatting and laughing most of the night with your significant other when you plan on going for a run early the next morning.  Oh well, it was worth it.

This morning, my alarm went off at 5:20AM and, honestly, I had to hit snooze one time.  I stayed in bed for another five minutes, but the moonlight was so bright, I decided it was time to get up and go for a run.   

As I ran, I reminisced, thinking of my Ninja Running days: running in all black in the dark to remain incognito to the critters (and humans), or so I thought! I used to run in the middle of the night as well as very early in the mornings when I was training for long distance races.  Oh, the stories I could tell! There was this one time (no band camp involved) when...

  • ...I was chased down by a javelina on a dark road in a Phoenix suburb, Arizona.
  • ...the fog was so thick I couldn't see six feet in front of me, but once it cleared, I saw an alligator crossing the road in South Florida.
  • ...someone pointed a gun at me as I ran down a street in Houston, Texas.
  • ...I hallucinated when the sun was coming up during a 100-miler and thought I saw Jabber Jaws, the great white shark, mocking me.
I am still here to tell the tales.  That superior unknown presence has some sort of purpose for me, the proof is that I am still here, trying to live each moment to the fullest.

Today's Run: Distance: 4.1 miles
Anxiety Level: 2
Biofeedback: New shoes always make my feet happy! Currently running in Merrel.
Pre-Run Thoughts: Ready, steady, go!   WOW - look at the moon!
Intra-Run Thoughts:Hearing the sounds of the early morning: bugs, frogs, water fountain on the pond, a dog walking his owner...
Post-Run Thoughts: My mind is refreshed.  I feel like any trace of anxiety has been cradled and lulled back to sleep.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thought Storms and Running

Recently, we have seen the horrific damage that Hurricane Harvey inflicted upon our beloved Houston.  We cannot control Mother Nature and her wrath.  We have the scientific rationale of warm waters and conditions that create higher potential for hurricane activity; throw in the Texas coastline having a major city that, in fact, is at and below sea-level and we have major destruction.  With the elements of the coastline and warm waters - it makes these tragedies highly likely, but nonetheless, they are unimaginable and we cannot do anything to stop the actual hurricane.  People can prepare for the worst - but, again, cannot stop what nature generates.

When it comes to negative thinking, many people believe that, like Mother Nature, the thoughts cannot be controlled.  Defeating the negative thoughts, as a great friend of mine posted recently, .."is extremely hard, but not impossible."  For me, negative thoughts are triggered by the lack of taking care of myself.  They filter into my mind when I am hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (the concept of H.A.L.T.).  The first and last letters of H.A.L.T. (Hungry and Tired) are actually what will cause the Anger or the feeling of Loneliness.  So, as long as I am nourished and am getting adequate sleep, I am good to go.

Did I know this about myself three years ago?  Absolutely not.  I had to diligently, rationally, and logically break down every single thought and figure out if it was a destructive or a constructive thought.  There were many times I reached out to a supportive and trusted person and asked, "Hey, is what I'm thinking a thought or a fact/truth?"  Most times, it was an irrational or illogical thought due to being hangry (hanger is actually past the point of hunger and merging in with the "A" for "anger" in H.A.L.T.) and/or tired.  Hell hath no fury like a Robyn who goes to bed too late on an empty stomach!

Just like hurricanes have patterns and trends that are studied by scientists to better prepare for the next storms, the thought storms in the mind can also be examined through patterns and trends.  YOU have the power to do this.  As I had mentioned, I know, now, what my trends tend to be that may instigate the negative thoughts to infiltrate.  I have even taken it deeper in that I know exactly what behaviors or familiar coping mechanisms may arise when a certain negative feeling or emotion strikes.  For example, when I am feeling slightly anxious, I will fidget - usually tapping my foot on the ground or sway if I am standing.  Movement, for me, eases anxiety.  This exertion is not destructive, therefore I utilize movement during those low anxiety times.  On the other end of the spectrum, I know that if I am in fight-or-flight-anxiety-mode due to thoughts (not actual danger, although my body often dumps adrenaline in a state of perceived danger), then I know that my past patterns and trend of taking off running, in order to numb the anxiety or just get it under control, will be the first line of defense.  Why is this the first line of defense in very high stress situations?  Because it is the most familiar.  The problem with utilizing that old familiar coping mechanism is that it just numbs and temporarily alleviates the high anxiety - and it will, ultimately, be destructive: We cannot outrun negative thoughts.

So here comes the analogy: Think of a road or highway on which you travel to work or to school everyday.  You take the same roads, often see the same cars with their weird stick family (or bragging rights bumper stickers), see the same street signs, same billboards, etc.  This is the most familiar path from point A (your house) to point B (your workplace or school).  Most people can attest to the fact that they go into "autopilot" when hitting the road and driving to the same daily destination. Have you ever been so lost in thought that when you get to where you are going, you forget how you got there? You think, Wow - that seemed fast - I don't even remember sitting at any red lights today... when in reality, you sat through two red lights and may or may not have ran a stop sign just to get on that familiar highway.

Your thoughts and, in turn, actions can either take that familiar pathway or you are going to have to work hard to build a detour and teach yourself to think (drive) on a different set of roads to get to where you are going.  My mind didn't just have a few roads and a highway. Over 21+ years, my mind had created a superhighway system with a bullet train and I was not paying any attention to notice if there were any other pathways to take.   For most of my life, there were no other pathways for my thoughts to travel.  I had to start building...brick by brick, layer by layer: Familiarity is comfortable and can be destructive if not acknowledged mindfully. Change is uncomfortable but can be liberating and constructive - and change is inevitable.  

What I must do now, in order to keep my healthy pattern construction in place, is the opposite of what my old patterns would have dictated.  At first, it was awful.  I would wake up in the morning in fight-or-flight mode and physically crave hitting the hills and running to get my heart rate even higher in order to bring 'her' back down!  The negative voices would start to scream at me like a demonic drill sergeant, Get the heck out of bed, you lazy sloth! Or, even worse, the voice of negativity would disguise itself as a competitor in a death race, You know if you don't get up and run, then that is a wasted day and someone else out there is better than you...you are never enough and never going to be enough, so just run yourself into the ground - you are worthless. Instead of giving in to that pressure, I sat in my bed, heart racing, body shaking.  I was introduced to TRE, which stands for Trauma Release Exercises (click link to learn more).  This helped me work through the need to cope by moving.  I realized that by doing the opposite of what I wanted to do, I was able to actually work though those negative thoughts in a different way - creating that new neuro-highway for my thoughts to travel.  I realized that there are other ways to deal with negative and destructive thoughts other than taking something that is supposed to be healthy and abusing it.  Many other ways.

After the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Houston will rebuild, but it will never be the same again.  As a Texan, I have faith that it will be built stronger.  Many of the highways will have detours and a few uncompleted access roads during this time. There will be brand new pathways created, safer for the citizens to travel. 

If you can relate to this post and have experienced negative thoughts that have you using and abusing running as a destructive punishment, rather than a constructive privilege, please take some time to take inventory of why you run (or exercise, drink, use, or whatever your familiar, yet destructive, coping device may be).  If you find that you have to run in order to keep negative thoughts away, I challenge you to challenge yourself by doing the opposite. As I mentioned before, it is very hard and takes time, but it is not impossible.  This is the perfect moment to start rebuilding a new pathway of thought. Examine your old patterns and trends and decide if they are helping you or hindering you.  Create new patterns - write them down. YOU have the power to rebuild yourself stronger and indomitable, just like Houston will.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

7.5 Miles and a Bit More Perspective

Another run completed today.  My skin is shining and clear; I am standing up straighter; I have more energy; the mind fog has lifted.  Today, I listened to my music on shuffle and did not skip any songs.  I was in my zone - a happy place, comfortably jogging.  I did not time myself.  I did not set a pace. I stopped and took some pictures along the way...I explored.   I could have explored down the rabbit hole and ignored everything around me - lost in the tunnel of thoughts.  But, I gained a bit more perspective as I ran mindfully.  This is running free....

Today's Run: Distance:7.5 miles
Anxiety Level: 1
Biofeedback: Cruisin'
Pre-Run Thoughts:I am looking forward to a break from sitting behind the computer!
Intra-Run Thoughts: So many creative ideas flowing - like the breeze today.
Post-Run Thoughts: My body is tired - and I am glad.  I have been struggling with falling asleep at night - being tired is what I crave.  My soul is refreshed.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Awareness is the New Euphoria

"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness...." -James Thurber

If I could ingrain this quote into my subconscious mind, fore-consciousness, and all the other consciousness I may possess, that would be grrreaatttt.  How do you relate to these words?  Let's let Robyn's inner high school English teacher out of the box for a second and break this quote down into parts:

"Let us not look back in anger...":  When I look back into the past at hurtful, or anger-provoking memories, how does that serve me in the present?  Since this is a running blog, after all, I will relate it to the topic at hand.  If I look back at the level of running I used to perform (at the surface level) there were some awesome achievements made - and for good causes.  The fact is that I ran very long distances (marathons and beyond) for quite a while (officially and unofficially).  The memories are a different experience because they are that delusional grey area between facts and thoughts - oh, and throw time in there to blur some of those facts and thoughts, because why the heck not, right?!

When I was forced to take some time off, I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest - I actually had physical and emotional withdrawals, which I will never go through again, thank you very much!  During that time, I felt excruciatingly hurt, which was masked heavily as anger.  I counted down the days until I could run again.  The day finally arrived, and I couldn't get my running shoes on fast enough.  I ran with my exercise therapist next to me on a treadmill.  I had written a journal the day before about how euphoric I would feel once I could run again!  But...guess what?  It was not euphoric.  It just was.  I ran a little longer - waiting for that high to hit and for me to blast off and feel like I was running on a cloud, numb and void of feeling all biofeedback and emotions.  Buzz kill:  it did not happen that way.  I just ran a few miles, hit "STOP" on the treadmill and carried on with my day.  I was puzzled and confused because it was not how I had remembered.  Sure, it felt nice to get the lungs and legs working hard and my heart pumping, but that numbing sensation was absent. 

Depending on how you read that last sentence, it may make you sad, or it may make you think, "Hey, I really need to get to that point because right now, I have to run otherwise I feel my emotions way too much and they are too difficult for me to handle, so I run...and thus, the Merry-Go-Round keeps spinning.  

"...nor forward in fear..." Now that I have allowed a plethora of time to lapse in between being the running addict and breaking up with the addict part, I look forward to what is to come.  It has been almost three years since that day I got on the treadmill and was reintroduced to running again with a healthier mindset.  THREE YEARS.  Before this point in this crazy journey, I would look fearfully into the future when running was mentioned or considered: fear of never being able to run again; fear of not being a credible coach or source for running information; fear of judgment of never running enough.  That fear gave birth to anxiety, which often happens when we look too far into the future.  I have worked very diligently on creating the balance that I personally need in order to have it back in my life.  I handle anxiety in other ways that do not include running - we need to feel those emotions; become emotional wave surfing legends!  Surfers cannot be numb...

"....but around in awareness...." I make sure to take inventory of biofeedback, thoughts, and anxiety level before I set foot outside and consider running.  This is an important process for me, and one that I must stay hyper-aware of.  Running liberated means being aware of surroundings, all senses being utilized, and the thoughts that ebb and flow.  One of the purest aspects of running is the ability to think of anything, everything, or nothing while you run.  It has been one of my favorite parts of the sport.  I heard a beautiful analogy once about thoughts:  Imagine yourself at an airport luggage carousel.  You are an inspector, of sorts.  There are many suitcases and packages slowly passing by.  You can choose to stare at one, study it, even open it if you dare, but YOU have the power to choose.  Those suitcases may be full of memories, amazing clothing from all over the world, or they could be filled with trash, spoiled food, or dangerous, poisonous, items.  YOU have the power to choose!  The suitcases and packages are your thoughts.  You can choose to inspect them closely or let them drift on by.  Most likely, you will see some of those packages pass by again - and you will need to practice that awareness as to which ones you decide to inspect.  This is awareness....

All in all, I hope someone reads this and gains a bit more awareness, which, in turn, will give that individual more power over thoughts. It is truly liberating.  

Day Two of Running:
Miles: 3
Anxiety Level (1=none, 10=debilitating): 2
Biofeedback:  Calves are tight, so better to stretch first...but at least they are not screaming!
Pre-Run Thoughts: It is going to rain and how awesome will that be!  I used to love running around in the rain!
Intra-Run Thoughts:  I actually listened to the Armed Forces Cadences today for good footfalls and stride.  I sang along so the thoughts were minimal.
Post-Run Thoughts:  Simply grateful and blessed to have a strong body and the ability to run - and feel.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sing it, Willie - I am On the Road Again.

Today is DAY ONE of easing my way back into running long distances.  Why?  I want to prove that once you break through the emotional sediment, there is a gold mine of opportunities to truly enjoy the things you used to enjoy - before the thought storm took over and left everything in shambles.

Exercise addiction is a curious thing.   I went to many "Anon" meetings, trying to relate to the addiction piece, but this addiction was so much more complicated to explain in these meetings.  Many addicts and alcoholics turn to exercise to fill the void.  What do exercise addicts turn to?  Alcohol and drugs?  Sometimes they do....

I have worked very hard - and mindfully - to be able to get to the point that I can include running back into my life regularly.

If you find that you are ready to start running again after a hiatus due to injury or medical complication (or life throwing poo at you and, in retaliation, you throw an epic pity party, oh, wait, is that just me?) follow along as I get back on the road.  If you find that running IS your life and you cannot properly function as a human being, please take inventory of WHY you run.

Day One Complete:  4.2 miles
Anxiety (scale of 1 = none to 10 = debilitating): 2
Biofeedback (what my body tells me during the run): Hey, this feels pretty good - but tomorrow your calves are going to wake you up in the midst of your deep slumber and want some major attention, "Charlie Horse!"
Pre-Run Thoughts: Hell, why not!?
Intra-Run Thoughts: Did I forget to blow out the candle?  Did I lock the door?
Post-Run Thoughts: I am  glad I am writing this - documenting it for myself and others.

Monday, August 7, 2017

It's Been A Minute or Two...

Hello!  Helllloooooo!  Echooooo....echooooo.....!  It has been quite some time since this running blog has been updated with fabulous (and cringe-worthy) running experiences.  I am happy to be writing again.  Whether you have stumbled upon this blog because you were searching for a race report, or you are interested in a unique 24 hour treadmill experience, or you heard about that lady who ran 100 miles when she was still breastfeeding her twins and wanted to check it out for yourself, I welcome you.

I am finishing up creating a unique and thought-provoking form of coaching runners called Liberation Running which has helped me immensely during my hiatus from the long distance running scene.  I am currently coaching beginners as well as very advanced runners, and everyone in between!  I am honored to be able to apply my experience to help others reach goals - and avoid the costly mistakes I have made in the past! 

Please check out the tabs above to learn more about my personal running experience, my favorite charities, and coaching styles.

Again, I welcome you - and hope to see you out on the road someday soon!