Advanced Running?

Whether you run to relieve stress, maintain weight, or simply get out of the house, you are sure to come to a point where your motivation is lacking.  You will find yourself wondering, “Now, why am I doing this again?” You know that feeling:  Waking up with no energy and even less interest to lace up your (once favorite) running shoes.  My first year of running was fueled by the eagerness to continue beating my personal records (PRs).  I bought all the new toys and apparel looking for that added edge.  As I’ve gained mileage (and speed), it has become more and more difficult to top my greatest achievements.  Not impossible, just more work.  It’s not a matter of physical ability obstructing my path.  It’s my mental condition that is keeping me from reaching my peak performance.

Running should be a form of stress relief, not anxiety provocation.  You will encounter times where taking a “rest day” will be beneficial.  Your body will let you know.  However, if your mind is doing the talking, there are ways to combat its negative persuasiveness.  As a runner, our minds can be our worst enemies.  In Jennifer Armstrong’s article, entitled “The Zen Zone”, from the April 2013 edition of Runner’s World Magazine, she speaks a little on how the mind of a runner operates.  She refers to the inner dialogue as “monkey mind,” which is a good description for the aimless (and absurd) self-talk we do.  When that dialogue goes haywire, it can completely ruin your running experience.  Her answer, which is that of ancient Buddhists, is to tame the mind with peace and tranquility through meditation.  Before setting out to hit the pavement (or trail), take a moment to look inward and still your mind.  Take a few deep breathes, sitting in place, allowing the mind to sync with the body.  Relax your muscles, letting your arms and legs go limp.  Take your sights off the goals you have set for yourself, and onto the environment in which you are about to experience.  Imagine the beauty in your mind, as if you are already well on your way down your favorite trail.  If you find yourself still battling “the monkey”, take more time.  Mindset is possibly the most important part of the running equation.
We should look at running as an adventure of the mind, body, and spirit.  It can be fun setting new PRs, wearing the newest tech-gear, sporting the advanced shoes and apparel.  But with all of that on our minds (and body), we have lost sight of the true experience.  We have removed the element of enjoyablility.  It is no longer the rush we knew when we were first getting started.  Today, a common checklist for runners might look something like this:
The right shoes… check
Compression socks… check
Weather-appropriate clothes… check
Music downloaded and put onto iPod… check
Earbuds… check
iPod charged… check
Garmin watch… check
Nutrition gels… check
Water… check
Map… check
Boy, whatever happened to just going for a run.  I’m willing to bet that when you first started, these concerns were non-existent (aside from water).  Wasn’t that more fun?  Now that we have adapted to what we think of as advanced running, we have become a slave.  It has become a tedious juggling act.  We have bought into the hype of industry marketing and no longer remember what it means to go out for a run, leaving behind the stresses of everyday life.
Now, I must mention that not all products are bad.  Some play an important part in the advancement of one’s personal training.  It is not my wish to discourage anyone from trying new things, things that may improve their running career.  I simply hope to broaden your mind to the idea that running has evolved dramatically.  So much that it may be doing more harm than good.  
Frank Shorter, 2002 Boston Marathon
I started thinking about this today as I was looking through one of my favorite running magazines.  As I flipped through the pages, I saw an abundance of ads offering products that promised to help me do that which God had already granted me the ability to do.  People have been running forever.  Why do we need all of these accessories now?  Short answer – We don’t.  In 1972, when Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon, enthusiasm for running grew.  With this growth, companies such as Nike saw a potential for profit.  They began marketing new shoes and apparel, making running a mainstream sport and putting a lot of money in their pockets at the same time.  This began the era of new running technology.  Running would never look the same again.
For the past few weeks I have digressed back to a more natural way of running.  I have replaced my running shoes with barefoot shoes.  I swapped my sports gels for raisins, almonds, and dates.  I no longer plot my runs with a map.  Often times, I simply take off out the front door in a random direction and return when I feel content.  Most importantly, I don’t stress about my pace times.  Sometimes you may even see me without my earbuds.  Listening to the sounds of nature can be a thing of beauty.  With all of these changes, I’ve noticed that I am happier, more relaxed, and (believe it or not) often faster.  God gave us the ability to run.  Don’t let the deep pockets of sports corporations take that away from you.
My Runkeeper Activities
As I mentioned before, some technology can be beneficial.  I often use the Runkeeper application on my smartphone to keep track of my runs.  It records my time, pace, elevation, calories burned, and so on.  I use this information to improve my performance and track my progress.  Besides, it posts my activities to Facebook which provides me with a little added motivation to go farther and faster.
I would suggest that if you are beginning to feel bogged down or anxious about your runs, take some time for yourself to get back to the basics.  At least once a week, enjoy a natural run. Do some pre-run meditation.  Try going without the Garmin or Runkeeper.  See what it’s like to listen to the sounds of nature.  Put a few dates or raisins in your pocket and ditch the hydration belt and running gels.  Experience running the way it was meant to be experienced.  Do this for yourself and you will notice improvement, not only in the psyche, but in your overall performance.
[Running is one of the most basic functions of human life.  Ancestors of mankind developed the ability to run four and a half million years ago.  The first known competitive race was in Ireland during the 1829 BC Tailteann Games.] 
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