Thursday, November 17, 2011

Georgia Runnin'!


Greetings from Georgia! It's been a busy last week since we first took off for the Peach State. We rented a house, have gotten to know our new town--including tasting "local" food such as barbeque, skillet apples, and fried fish, and we even took a tiny road trip up to Atlanta! Oh, and I also started my new job, found a local running store and group, and did some exploring on my feet.

So, what's it been like so far? well--the barbecue is good: exhibit A: here I am tearing into some ribs on our first night in town. Yum, yum! Note to self though: the barbecue is good but it's also filling. This is not a place you can eat at every night, especially when they serve sides like delicious skillet apples.

Atlanta is not too far away and it's pretty neat. We took a quick trip there to pick up our car, and then we went to Zoo Atlanta. Zoo Atlanta was Zoo Awesome in a few ways. My favorite things were the gorilla exhibit, and the panda exhibit.

The panda exhibit had four pandas--a mom, dad, baby, and juvenile. Here's the dad, Zing Zing. He was super awesome, he came right up to the window and was checking us out, then he got up for a closer look--and I died from panda over load!

So now you know a little bit about what I've seen and eaten since arriving in Georgia, but what about running!? Well running has been--interesting to say the least. Here are the good things:
1) I've been able to get in three good runs. Two nearby my work. I work in an area that is pretty conducive to the running. It's nice, safe and there are quite a few areas to run in--including the ability to connect onto this really long running path that goes for about 10 MILES from my work!

2) I was able to connect with a group from the local running store for one morning run. More social runners! They were all really nice and also there were quite a few that were running in the pace that was good for me, which was nice.

I'm hoping to be able to meet up with some of the people from this running group for a long run Saturday morning as well.

3) I've located a few running paths that are close to our new home--and they literally go for 15-20 miles. They are pretty scenic, and you can also ride a bike alongside for bike-runs. We also found a neat park that is HUGE that has some running trails all through it--I guess the trails add up to about 10-12 miles--which is again not too shabby.

The bad:

1) My goal was to run 5 days this week. It will most likely be 4

2) Remember the path I told you about? Well it has varying levels of safety and security. This is an issue that is going to be anywhere you are--even Colorado, but I guess it really can be an issue here. I have been expressly told "DO NOT RUN AT NIGHT--EVER." I have also been told that parts of this path can be dangerous. Which makes me kind of sad...keep reading for more information on this topic.

3) This town is low on the bike and pedestrian lanes. As in, you could get swiped off the road. So, you could *possibly* run in the evening--on the side of the populated roads--but again that's dangerous. ::Insert another sad face here:::







3) These two factors make me sad for two specific reasons: After work I'd like to be able to come home, throw on my shoes and go for a run. But--it's in the evening. Thus making the bike path a dangerous option (no one wants to be robbed you know) and the roads dangerous (don't wanna be hit by a bus either). It's made getting to know the running options a bit difficult in the first week.

4) Finally, did anyone know that Georgia can have huge thunderstorms that last for hours and have the potential to morph into a tornado? I didn't know that. This actually happened this week and resulted in tornadoes that destroyed a lot of areas of the South and South East.

The way that I feel right now is that I know that running is important to me for a number of reasons, and it's a bit frustrating to have not been able to get in runs the way I want--and some of these things feel like excuses to me. However at the same time, I try to remember that this is also a time of pretty big transition in a number of ways, and I am working to manage ALL the changes. It's difficult to not harp on myself and get mired in negative self-talk because I haven't reached my weekly running goal. In the same vein, when negative self-talk arises, I remind myself of exactly all the changes that are going on, the positive things I have accomplished in running and in other areas, and to be kind to myself regarding my runs. I have tried to analyze the issues with the runs and look at what the controllables and un-controllables are for each one--and see if there are things I can change to increase my ability to get in more quality runs--and then see what is really an excuse and what I can change.

Here's what I came up with:
My solution to a lot of these issues is a multi-pronged approach (because I won't be defeated):
1) Running in the early morning, with a group--that actually worked out really well--and I also like being done with the run in the morning. It solves about 90% of these problems.
2) Finding a gym
3) Running near my work
4) Working to get to know my town better to try to find safer routes. They must be somewhere!

What I can say about this week and running is that it has been a week of trial and error. I know it's something that I have to work to settle into. New place, new home, new schedule. I have found that what I want to do is keep up my old running schedule because it provides comfort and familiarity, but it's difficult when I feel a bit displaced right now--nothing feels quite like "Home" yet! It's hard to be patient, and to know that I'll be settled in eventually--sooner than it sometimes feels and that there are a lot of things I can do to be able to still work towards my immediate, short and long term goals.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

So hard...to say goodbye...




Busy day!! The blog time line is a bit messed up, and I keep wanting to use a ridiculous time machine analogy. I'm not sure if that works or not (imagine me sitting here scratching my head and trying really hard not to go off and find pictures of Michael J. Fox right now) or if it's just cheesy.
To bring it to the present TODAY we are heading off to Georgia! Next week is my first week of work, and we are going a bit early to get set up and find a house. It's of course a beautiful morning outside and as I sit here, I'm feeling sad to leave but excited to see what's ahead.

I think I'm feeling a mixture of two songs so I'll leave you with those:




A little bit of Florence---you know, the dog days are over and it's time to run towards the future...preferably I'll have amazing red hair and blue people with drums following me.

I'm also feeling a little bit old school:



Nothing like Boyz To Men saying it's hard to say goodbye. It is hard to say goodbye! I'll miss Colorado, my friends and my family..and the good times that made us laugh.

I will miss Colorado, but it will still be here. It always has and it will always be my home, and everything I have done here has gotten me ready to go to Georgia and experience it has to offer.

So, here we go--time get moving and see what Georgia has to offer!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Extra! Extra!


I come to this blog post bearing news! As is been pretty evident, the blog has been quiet over the last month, with nary more than the race recap. In order to get you all caught up, we'll go back to the beginning of October, so step into to my time machine and off we go!

First stop--Rock n' Roll half marathon, or the beginning of the month. I had applied for a variety of jobs, ranging from research assistant positions to mental health positions to a really good opportunity doing sport psychology mental skills with different types of companies. Along with hard running training there was also hard career networking going on. At the beginning of the month I landed an interview for a position teaching mental skills at a specific company!

Imagine me doing a little happy dance, but also doing a fair amount of preparation to kick some butt. I traveled to San Jose, raced, then turned around and traveled to the interview, did my very best, and came home and waited to see what might happen.....

A week went by and life was continuing on. During this time I was also still running AND still recovering from the Stage Five Clinger cold. I had a couple mediocre practices and was recovering from the half marathon. Finally, in the evening after a good workout--one in which I finally felt awesome, and was having a great time with my teammates--I returned to my car to a message: one that told me the good news that I also got the job! I sat in the car, feeling a mixture of emotions: happy, sad, scared...a lot of choices now weighed on me and my husband!

The next day, I found out more about the job, including a huge factor: this job required a move. We wouldn't know where exactly unless and until I received an offer. I listened on the phone as they made the offer...and said where we would be going...Georgia. Wow. Speaking of a change. My husband and I had to weigh many options...In one hand...we love Colorado, the lifestyle, our friends, and family. My husband is in school...We didn't know anything about Georgia except it was in the South! On the other hand, an amazing job and opportunity, in a new place--a new adventure.

We needed time to talk it over and make the decision....To make this story simple, after much discussion, and weighing as many options as we could, we decided that we should take a leap of faith and move to Georgia!

So. There you have it! We are making a very big and very exciting change in our lives! Within the past month we have already begun transitioning, telling our friends, saying goodbye, packing up and getting ready for this new adventure. All the while I have also been running!

The next few blog posts will help catch up the blog on our move--and how I have kept up on running while making the transition! It's an exciting time so hopefully you find these next few blogs interesting!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Long overdue--Race Review--San Jose Rock n' Roll half!


Wow, it's been busy month with no blog updates! For the record, I have been busy--which also for the record means that means there has been blog fodder, I've just been both choosy about posting as well as--too busy to post!

On October 1st-3rd my race support-AKA my husband and I traveled out to San Jose, CA for the Rock n' Roll half marathon. I'd been seriously looking forward to this race, and had a goal in mind to run a 1:20-1:21 half. I had been feeling pretty good, prepared and excited to go. The course was flat and fast, a bunch of my teammates were going as well as my coach who was ready to help pace a small group of us to around this time. It seemed like a perfect storm for good runnin.'

Well sometimes when you predict a perfect storm you get one--but not what you had envisioned you know?

A week before the race I also went up to Breckenridge, with the team for a weekend of running and bonding. It was a pretty fun weekend, but by the end..something wasn't right. I came home and my throat had that scratchy feeling, I had a headache, aches, pains--and a pit in my stomach. The pit that told my brain.."You might be sick." By Monday I knew it was true and I was rushing to the doctor. It turned out I had a pretty nasty cold..and all I could do was rest, rest, rest and try to get better (Check 1 in the minus box)

I ran less--no working out, nothing extra (no weights or plyos) and tried to get better..but the cold started rearing it's ugly head at night, making sleeping hard (check 2 in the minus box).

The husband and I talked about our options--including not going, but I still wanted to race--and I thought I could run through the cold. So Saturday came and off we flew to San Jose--and by then I was at least a bit better. In my mind I was still telling myself that my goal time of 1:20-1:21 was realistic.

We arrived in San Jose, I did the pre-race routine and run with my team--and felt okay, as ready as I could...and still telling myself my goal was realistic.

Sunday came, the race started and I ran the first 3-4 miles at the 1:20 pace (6:15). Right away the race felt really fast, and really hard. Generally speaking I know how to settle in, run a little slower at the beginning and pick it up in the later miles. Right from the start it felt HARD. I felt disjointed, that it was struggle and out of control. The concept of "Settling in" was non-existent. Not only that, usually where my music helps me get in the groove (literally) it was distracting me. By mile 5 I was actually asking myself if I should stop..which is just odd. Even stranger was that at the 5 K I had run 19 min, which isn't horrible and on pace, and at 10K I was 39 min, which again is on pace, but it felt as though I was doing HORRIBLE.

The upside was until about mile 7, I was running with another teammate and she was helping a lot, I knew we both had similar goals and unfortunately we were both struggling--which sucks but at least we were together. I thank her for her support in the slog.

By 8.5 miles I knew something was just off--and I actually STOPPED. I had to pull over, and have a personal talk with myself. I honestly had to re-evaluate what was going on...and let go of my goal. It absolutely sucked to have to stop to do that...and I'll be honest here--I've never done that before, so I'm not sure how I would do this again without stopping--but it cost me a lot of TIME in the race--so I've spent some time asking myself and thinking about how to re-evaluate mid-race, if this happens again.

I started running again, and rolled into the finish at my new pace of 6:30-40. I ended up officially running a 1:27--but take out my stop and I ran a 1:25.

As I finished I also realized my feet were hurting. A lot. After the finish, I took off my shoes to find three huge blister covering my feet.

I hobbled over to the "medical tent" ( I use this term lightly as the "medical help" I received included a dry paper towel--they weren't prepared for blisters--at a huge road race--go RnR).


I sat down, and immediately got a migraine. I think the term "For the Win," is probably appropriate here.

I have had migraines since I was a kid and it's always a possibility that I will get one but I rarely get one at or during races--given that so much was going wrong, including the inability to concentrate and settle in, the "distracting" component of the music and the fact that I got the headache about 5 min after finishing I honestly feel the migraine was right there--and I feel so, so lucky I didn't get it DURING the race. I would have freaked out. I also think that the migraine in combination with the cold obviously pretty much hampered my ability to perform at my best.

Honestly it sucks to go and want to do your best, and then things just start going wrong, but I also feel as though I learned some pretty valuable lessons:

1) Goals are flexible for a reason--seriously don't be afraid (or stubborn) about re-evaluating them! I hardly ever get sick, and I didn't understand how much things like lack of sleep and "illness" can sap it out of you when you try to race. I know it sounds naive, but when I get sick it's strep or flu--where it totally knocks me out completely and I didn't really know how to readjust. I thought I could just push through. Um. No, I actually couldn't. If I had been more realistic and also kinder to myself, and said, "hey new goals are run strong, and run 1:25, and have fun," I think it would have been a lot more realistic and also fun.

2) Remember the good: I imagined a different outcome, but some stuff went wrong and that didn't happen. I still ran a 1:27 (1:25!) and I got 3rd in my age group...and I would be willing to guess I'm in pretty good shape. That's how I'm looking at it!

3) Learn to be present and non-judgmental: Okay so I'm working on this one! A lot of times when I'm running if I'm not feeling it--even if it's just hard, or I'm tired or sore, I will totally start saying things like, "Why's it so HARD!?" "Why am I so SLOW!?" "What's going on!?" And then inevitably start pushing harder and harder and harder--forcing the run. This also happened in the race. Sometimes, that pace is just what your body needs to go--for whatever reason--and this concept of telling myself that this is where I'm at today, and it's okay...and then for instance looking at the scenery or enjoying that place or even just going with it and not beating myself up=super hard. This also refers to an ability to re-evaluate goals. In closing, flexibility, and releasing the Type A!


So, there you have it a bit of a blog update with a Rock n, Roll San Jose, with lessons learned.

What races have you done lately?

Has everything gone as you envisioned or have you had to re-evaluate?

How did you do it if you did have to re-evaluate?



Monday, September 12, 2011

Where does motivation "come from?"



Recently a faithful reader suggested that I put a "button" on the blog so that if you had a question, you could email me with your question, and I could answer it or blog about it. I've never made a button before, but after doing some googling, I figured out the html code and walla! If you take a quick glance to your far right--there is now a cute envelope "Button" that you can click and you can email me! Pretty nifty huh.

A little while after I put up the cool envelope, my very first blog email arrived! It was pretty exciting. Kind of like when you get a package in the mail--but more virtual. So maybe a little less thrilling than a real package.
(source)

Anyways, the question this lovely reader had was a training and motivation question.
They found that they have two modes: Training and not training. When they know they have a race coming up, they are motivated and focused, but when the race is over, they have found it's hard to get out there and get their runs done. They wanted to know "How do you stay motivated when you aren't training for something specific?"

I would say this is a pretty common question. But, perhaps another question to ask is,
"What is motivation?"

Motivation is an area that is highly researched. A quick search on my college library of the term "motivation," puts out over 60,000 journal article results! I narrowed down the results to sports and motivation and got it down to a more reasonable 571 journal articles, but as you can see--if you want to know more about this subject there is a lot of research out there and ongoing.

Self-Determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) proposes that motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic in nature. Intrinsic motivation can be described as coming solely from within and is not affected by any external rewards. It's really just the pure internal joy you get from the activity. Intrinsic motivation comes in three forms:

1) Motivation to know (The joy you get from learning)
2) Motivation to surpass YOURSELF (Motivation to run a little further than you did the day before)
3) Motivation for aesthetic and sensory pleasure (Running on a new trail or route) (Vallerand, 2004).
I like to think of intrinsic motivation as your personal motivation-it's like the little core of light inside...You know how E.T. had that little beam of light that showed his heart--and it glowed with love? That's what I think of when I think of intrinsic motivation. I know it's weird but it really helps me make the distinction.

When a person is extrinsically motivated they derive their motivation from an external source. It's not just the pure pleasure driving them (Vallerand, 2004). If you get out and run because you are looking for the "rewards," that is external motivation. Fame is external, but so is weight loss or getting first place in your age group. I think of extrinsic motivation as anything that really is not the little glowing light. It's all the things outside me that push me and get me going to run--but it's NOT the little light.

Extrinsic motivation can be a tricky thing because it can end up reading as pressure and actually drive down motivation and performance....BUT! When an athlete perceives it in another way--extrinsic motivation can have a positive motivation on performance. See how it's kind of confusing? I thought so too at first.

Extrinsic motivation has been found to be self-determined or non-self-determined (Mageau & Vallerand, 2003).
Translation: If the person has accepted that those external reasons for doing the activity are their own.. then that extrinsic motivation is self-determined--and that's good..basically--It's their choice!

Non self-determined motivation happens when an athlete feels pressure or guilt to do the activity. This can happen because of a coach, or they feel internal guilt ("Gah, why am I missing so many workouts!!?" "I HAVE to workout" )

What you want is to foster the little intrinsic motivation "light" and that self-determined external motivation.

So. Now that I've *hopefully* gotten you thinking about what motivation is (but possibly confused you!)..
We are back to the
"HOW do I stay motivated when I don't have a race to focus my training on?"

Remember a few seconds ago where you read that it's important to foster your intrinsic motivation and your self-determined extrinsic motivation? No--well I just said it again to remind you and I put it in the bold :)

When you get done with your training, and the race is done...how do you continue?

Here are some suggestions:
1) Take a break: Yep. I said it. One way to look at training is a cycle, and within that cycle you have periods in which you build up the intensity both in terms of mileage and in workouts--then you enter a race phase--and then you wind down, and you rest. Rest is good. It's good for your body and your soul. If you have spent 12-16 weeks (or longer) preparing for a big race--take some down time and don't run. Do other things and enjoy the time off! Full on rest and recovery
(source)

helps prevent injury and burnout and it's an important part of the training cycle.
I'm not sure why, but in my own personal experience taking downtime has allowed me to rest and recover--but also remember my little light as to why I love running. It helps to miss it.

2) Explore your intrinsic motivation: Run for fun. Training for a race is an extrinsic motivator. When you aren't training--it's kinda down to the nitty gritty, asking yourself "WHY am I running?" Which can be kinda scary--if you love racing but hate just running--you might have to really work at some of these--and that can be HARD. But not training allows you to figure out what you love about the sport.
So--use this time to go out, and explore a new place--without the confines of "I gotta get in this much mileage!!" Or "I have to run this pace!" If a run is short but gorgeous, and you cleared your mind after a long day at work...well then. Good job.

3) Continue to set goals: goals don't always have to be based around a race. Goals can be short, medium and long term. Goals can set up your entire training plan (SMART goals) but a goal can also be very simple, "Today I will run 5 minutes longer than I did yesterday." or "today I will run up this hill I've never done before." These are extremely short term--almost immediate goals that are achievable and make the run interesting--and worth celebrating. I still remember the time I decided on a run in San Diego that I was going to run up a giant hill...I worked my way to the top and was rewarded with a gorgeous night view of Pacific Beach and the ocean. I wasn't "training" and usually balked at the hill--turning around, but this night I decided, "Why not?" It was so worth it.

4) Get creative with your workouts:
  • Try leaving your watch at home to run for fun--be mindful of the environment, your breathing and tune into your thoughts--and the feeling of the run.
  • Try running at a different time--I know this can be hard with schedules, but if you run in the evenings--try a morning or vice versa. The weekend is a great time to try this out.
  • Continue to challenge yourself--throw in speed or a hill or two into your runs. You aren't "training" so make it up--just don't be a loon and kill yourself--that is my disclaimer (okay--know thyself and what thyself can handle-there)
5) Do more than run. Being active is important! If there is another activity you would like to do--and you aren't feeling the run--do it. Cycling, skiing, swimming, soccer, ultimate frisbee, rock climbing, golf..the list goes on and on. It might be tempting to stay on the couch--but ask yourself "What else can I do instead of a run--for 20-30 minutes today?" And do that.

6) Race occasionally: It's okay if you aren't in your tip top shape every time you go to a race. You can use races for all kinds of practice. You can use them for a fun workout, a social occasion, or a way to practice other important skills. Try out a shorter distance. Go to a race with a goal to focus on your pre-race physical and mental routine--and evaluate how that goes. It's tempting to focus on the time as all that matters at races, but it's perfectly acceptable and good practice to focus on the process of the race--and celebrate that, because when you are ready to race again--those skills you practiced will be there for you to call upon.

A race is actually an external motivator. When it's over, the question becomes "Why am I running?" When you aren't training for a race it can actually be a special time. Time to rest and recover, have fun and switch up workouts and do more than focus on running and time goals.

What are some ways you stay motivated when you aren't training for a race?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Performance and Process goals to complete workouts


In the past month I have started running with a local training group and this has represented a bit of a new beginning for me. This group has been really great for me in a lot of ways. I really like the coach, he has a lot of knowledge about distance running and he does a great job of creating a fun and positive environment for the group.
I also am really liking the group members! Running with a group I think has been beneficial for me in a number of ways: 1) working with the group has helped me see where I am at in terms of my peers. I used to run alone a fair amount, and I really wouldn't be able to tell exactly where I was until I was racing, and that seemed to add a bit more pressure to the actual race. Working out with others allows me to see where I am in a practice situation, where the pressure is low; 2) in the same vein working out with the group helps push me. There are people in the group who are the same pace as me and of course faster than me. They all help me get the most from the workouts. I think it's important to have internal motivation, but that extra little healthy competitive push from your peers is great too! 3) Working out in the group lets me practice mental skills on the regular. For instance, I practice composure and focus to maintain the pace I know I need to do in order to complete workouts--rather than get caught up in a competitive moment and go too fast--and then not be able to finish the entire set or worse--the workout! This translates into the composure and focus on pacing at races. I love that I get to practice this now!

The last, and best thing about the group is that they are all really nice people, who are all encouraging and welcoming. I've enjoyed getting to know them in the past month and am looking forward to getting to know them better as time goes on. They all have a lot of knowledge to share on topics running related and not running related and that's been great learning about them.

I also appreciate that the group members can give good ideas for how to handle tough workouts.




This morning we met for a workout that consisted of a 4 Kilometer run at half marathon pace, followed by rest, then 2x 2Kilometers at 10K pace. Admittedly I went into this workout with the mindset of "hold on to the group," and running a specific pace for each repeat. This workout felt pretty difficult and the mentality of "just hold on," was pretty strong. With this type of mentality there really isn't much of a process either. It becomes almost more of an outcome of just finishing.

We completed the first 4K and the first 2K. After the first 2K, during the rest, one of my teammates mentioned that he had set a time goal for the first 2K repeat. Oddly, I hadn't even looked at my watch for the first repeats to see what my total times were, I was completely focused on finishing and what my pace was..the coach asked what my time was and I responded with a brilliant, "huh?" I decided to set a time goal as a performance goal for the final repeat, and see how that felt. My time goal was to finish in 7:30-7:40, with a goal to push the final 500 meters to the finish. We started out, and focusing on the overarching total time as something to shoot for really seemed to help. Suddenly I had more of a purpose it seemed. As I approached the final 500 meters, I reminded myself of my process goal to kick the final 500, and I used some cue words, telling myself "speed's the thing," to push to the finish. This actually worked! I dropped my pace in the final 500, and I made the time! 7:35 for the last 2K. What I really loved was that my teammate made this offhand comment, but it was so incredibly helpful.

Sometimes, it seems easy to get caught up in one way of doing something--or even worse kind of going through the motions. This can be heightened when you work out alone. In a way it can make you a bit inflexible--and can limit you. In this case I really had only thought of MY way of doing things (going by pace) and didn't think any other way was possible. It made me start to slog through the workout. Having other people around doing the workout with me not only provided that automatic social support (it's always nice to hear someone say, "good job," or "keep going!" and return the favor), but also when someone in the group--even in the offhand mentions a different perspective of how to get through a tough workout it really can change the outcome. In this particular workout, I never would have thought about focusing on a simple, short term performance goal, coupled with another simple process goal, but I'm so glad my workout partner had that idea and shared it!



What are some of the ways you get through tough workouts?


Do you workout alone or with a group?

What do you see are the benefits of your style of working out?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Race Review: Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon



On Saturday I raced in the Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half-Marathon. This race is one of my favorite races for a number of reasons. I like the course. It's a net downhill and it starts and ends in pretty places. The course itself runs along a frontage road along Clear Creek which is also creates nice scenery and because of the net downhill there is an opportunity to get a relatively fast time despite the fact that you are starting at an elevation of approximately 8500 feet and ending at an elevation of approximately 7000 feet.

This year was also fun because some of my friends came up and also did the race, which is always a fun time. My friend Lauren who is awesome came, and she brought her friends Emily, who I've done a couple runs with and her other friend LeeAnn who is also really nice and is training for a marathon. Emily's boyfriend ran, and Lauren's boyfriend Tim and LeeAnn's husband Ken and of course my husband Trent were all on the cheer squad. So this wasn't one of those lonely races where you just show up, do everything alone and then sadly come home. This was basically a small party. It was awesome.

Trent and I got up early to drive the hour and a half up to Georgetown. We had time to make one quick stop in Idaho Springs for a bathroom and coffee stop at Starbucks. I'd like to give a shout out to this Starbucks and their nice, clean, single stall bathroom. I think you contributed to a great race.

The race started at 8AM sharp, and we arrived about 7:10--which was plenty of time to do a 2 mile warm up, pin on my number, and start to feel appropriately nervous (Read: I kept telling Trent, "I'm about to throw up," to which he responded with eye-rolls and asking why given that distance running is not an adrenaline sport). During the warm up I also practiced some mental skills, mainly self-talk, telling myself I was ready, reminding myself to be controlled at the start, and that I knew the course and what to do. I saw Lauren and Emily and we finished our warm up together. It was interesting because I told them I'm always afraid the gun will go off and I'll just be standing there! Like I forgot how to run (external self-talk) and Emily said she was afraid she'd just run out and run 10 min miles or something. Even though we both had these external negative self-talk moments, we both ended the conversations positively by saying that this had actually never happened. I always started running when the gun went off, and Emily had always started at right pace for her--so we refuted our negative thoughts.

I had some pretty specific goals for this race:

1) Start near the front--okay so you probably won't see my little face in the "Start" promo picture but you know, a few rows back...

2) Time goal: 1:23-1:25=6:20-6:30 mile pace

3) Be controlled and conservative in the first 3 miles--in a half marathon you can make up time, but your can't get the first few miles back so if you blow those out you really risk the rest of your race

4) Finish strong in the final mile. The final mile of this race has consistently been hard for me (as in I've been pretty sure I was going to die and I dropped the pace so I wanted to do better here)

We all lined up together to start--and as for Goal #1--being in the group of people actually helped a lot. Lauren, Emily, LeeAnn, Emily's boyfriend--we kind of made such a big group it was easy to be like, "Hey we're here...and we're in the front.." Goal accomplished.

The gun went off and off I went...for the first mile I ran about a 6:35-6:40. You a loop around the outskirts of Georgetown and it's a wee bit hilly so again conservation is the key here. Ironically enough at 1.5 miles I saw a girl laying on the side of the road grabbing her leg and screaming in pain--clearly with some sort of cramp. She was way in front of me and I can only think she had been running pretty fast. Remember what I said about running conservative in the first three miles? Thank goodness we were still near the ambulance.

I was feeling pretty good and having a fun time, the first two miles are cool because you loop back through the start and everyone is cheering for you--including the cheer squad.

As we left Georgetown I was starting to get my groove. My "mental plan or routine," that I had set my mind to was simply consistency counts, control, and positive self-talk. I had some cue words to work with and I really locked into those.

For miles 3-5, it seemed pretty consistent that I was about 6:20-6:30 pace which was right on. This part of the course rolls a fair amount. It has some nice longer downhills combined with some flats and even some shorter gradual uphills.

I hit the halfway (10K) mark at around 41 minutes which I was comfortable with. Actually, I was pretty happy with it, considering it's a better time than I ran at the BolderBoulder--and it's in a race heehee. This course is sort of interesting because if you are locked into checking your Garmin consistently, the mile markers and the Garmin don't match up. For instance my 10K mark was about 30-45 seconds before the course had marked the 10K. This was consistent up until mile 10, where both my Garmin and the mile marker were right on. The only thing I can think of is I was cris-crossing the course--and the mile markers are placed as if you ran the course from point to point--NOT crossing the road etc. etc.

Right at 10K I also whipped out my mid-race snack. Raisins and some water. I choked down the raisins because I had to but all I can say is, they were pretty dry and thank goodness the water was there to help wash them down. I'm glad I ate them though because by about Mile 8, I definitely felt that little push!

Mile 7-8 are run on a little dirt path right down by Clear Creek. I think this is a really fun part of the race. It's kind of like cross-country here. The creek is right beside you, it's nice and wooded and shady, I really just like this part of the course. Interestingly here I was also firmly running in the 6:20's.

Mile 9-10 are the hardest parts of the race it seems. It was here that I sort of started thinking, "wow, I'm about ready to be done," and I had to keep following that up with "you're getting work done," and "you can do it. You're running your goal, don't stop now!" It was also about here that I met up with another lady. Until this point I had been mostly running with guys and also these guys had been pretty content to run with me or simply let me pass without too much of a fight...however as I started to move up closer to the faster women--they are all competitive, and they all worked like me to get to the front--let's just say these ladies aren't going down without a fight. For the rest of the race I was going to be running close by this lady...back to the race. Despite the fact that Mile 9 and 10 felt hard, I somehow managed to drop approximately 6:15's here--which I suppose is why they felt a little harder than my cruise pace of 6:20-6:25!

Mile 11 drops you down a consistent long hill, and again the pace was about 6:15. It's hard to not start to get excited for the end--it was also here that I was still consistently battling the lady..I'd pass her, it seemed like I dropped her but no--she'd suddenly pass me and run three steps in front of me--NOT dropping me--I'd run on her side (it's three steps why can't we work together?) but no, that didn't seem to work for her either--so I'd let her go and then she'd drop the pace again and I'd pass but not be able to drop her. To say it was frustrating was a bit of an understatement. This is part of racing, and it's an area where I really have to stay focused and practice composure. The temptation I suppose is to 1) either drop the pace off to lose her, but that can be a temporary solution when you still have between 2-4 miles to run (drop the pace too much and those last few minutes will suuckk--you risk them passing you back anyways) or drop the pace off and go slower and let them go--but again you risk your race--it's playing THEIR game. The only thing I could really do here was check the ole' Garmin, and realize I was still on my pace, and whatever she did was out of my control. It sounds so easy to do that. I did it but it wasn't exactly easy to just tune the lady out!

Mile 12--sweet mile 12--you turn this long sweeping corner and come into the town. The town has some rolling hills and in a running delusion they kinda make you want to cry...in the past I've really struggled on this last mile, but in this race--I came around the corner and firmly told myself, "here it is. Last mile. 6 min and 20 seconds. You can do anything for 6 min." I knew this because I've actually recently done some 6 min fartleks and didn't die, so I knew this to be true. I told myself, "6 min fartlek...let's go...you don't have to change anything now..just keep going.."
The next thing I knew it was 3 min to go and I was able to tell myself "3 min to go! You can do anything for 3 min--even work this hill." I felt pretty strong and actually smooth...

In this race you run basically a huge straight away to the finish and then turn a corner run 100 meters and there is the finish. So..that's what I did.

I ended up finishing the race on the gun time of 1:24:01, with my chip time being 1:23:54..That was a 4 minute PR for me! As I crossed the finish line I felt really happy--and really tired. Running is hard.
I ended up getting 7th overall, and 3rd in my age group.

I have a small confession to make..one other reason I really like this race is the trophies. Yep. I'm that person. I'm motivated by the external reward of the trophy.

But see--the trophies are these little gold pans that have a piece of fool's gold with a little carved stone big horn sheep on them. I've been close to winning one the past two years but no dice--finally--FINALLY this year I got one! It was a big moment for me.

Oh, and the lady--she was in front of me. We were running up on another girl and she got that girl too...I passed two guys--but couldn't catch either lady..what a bummer huh? Well. It was kinda a bummer, but in the end I still had a super fun time at the race--I felt like I achieved my goals, I got to run with my friends and I won my little gold pan!

As for a review of the "race." I think this race is pretty well managed overall. Last year I missed the start due to a combination of bad timing on my part and a serious lack of bathrooms on their part. They acknowledged that this was a problem and did a great job of having more bathrooms at the start this year...also as a result I learned a lot of lessons about pre-race routines..so yeah. Lesson learned there :). I think the course itself is really nice. I've heard a few people who don't like it--but I do. I like the downhills, I like the dirt path, I like running by the creek. It's on a frontage road and they completely close it off--it's totally safe and the entire road is yours. I really like that.

The course support is also pretty well done. There is water/powerade at miles 2,4,6, etc. The stations are run by different groups in the Clear Creek School district and you are supposed to pay attention to them--and then vote for your favorite at the end. The only one I remember was the Wrestling team--because they had a banner :/, but the idea is nice!

At the end of the race you go into the high school football field and they always have fresh watermelon, bagels, yogurt, and all the sponsors. This race supports the Clear Creek booster club and really the people who put on the race are so nice and friendly.

There are a couple things that I think the race can improve on: 1) They used to have volunteers walking around with jugs of water as you finished. This year there was a big sponsor--Milk..and they only had milk at the finish--not water volunteers. I really, really missed them, their water and their smiling faces..and their water. I'd bring them back. I didn't want milk. I almost barfed when I saw it.

The other thing is there consistently seems to be some timing or placing issue. They do their best but each time I've done this race I've sort of walked away going--"Was that really my place?" "What was my time?" They usually get it worked out, and each time in the end their times match my times so I've learned to just shrug and go "hey, it's fun," which is good for me.

Overall this is one of the few races I've consistently come back to and I really enjoy it so I definitely give it two thumbs up.

Oh and as a PS Mario Macias who is running awesome right now won the guys race..."Great" you say..well he broke the course record AND the state record with a 1:02:50.







Monday, August 8, 2011

Putting it all together: Mental Routine





After a short break, we've reached the end of the five-part series on mental skills: the Mental Routine. The mental routine is the plan you create to help you get ready for practice and performance. It can integrate the cardinal skills of relaxation, concentration, imagery and self-talk to provide instruction and reinforcement to help you get mentally and physically ready to perform at your best.

A mental routine is different than a superstition or a ritual! Superstitions and rituals control you. Thinking, "Oh no! I'm not wearing my lucky Smartwool socks! I can't race!" is different than "The night before my race, I lay out my favorite Smartwool socks so in the morning, I can wake up, and be ready to go. Even if I forget (which I won't) I know I'm ready to race well." Note the difference in the use of self-talk.

Mental routines can help prepare, regain focus deal with adversity and increase your performance consistency. They are helpful in controlling the effects of both positive and negative influences because they help increase self-awareness.

There are four times when mental routines are typically utilized:

Pre-performance: Incorporating a mental routine into the warm-up before practice or competition

Pre-execution: This is different than pre-performance in that it is done before a specific situation, for example the routine a diver might do right before dive off the board, or the routine a sprinter performs as the prepare to get into the blocks.

Between play: in between specific situations. For example the mental routine a baseball pitcher performs in between batters.

Post-execution: after the specific situation. For example, a mental routine might be used to help refocus a gymnast after she has fallen off the balance beam.

When considering putting a mental routine together, it's important to remember that practice makes perfect. Here you are combining the other skills (that you have already been practicing right!?) and thus this represents the advancement of putting it all together. Practicing on your own and with a sport psychology professional until the routine becomes automatic will help get the most from the skills.

Here are some examples of mental routines:

As a pre-performance mental routine, a runner practices an imagery script to help narrow their focus, get energized before they begin their warm-up for a 5K race. As they are warming up they are working through 3 specific positive self-talk cue words that help them to focus and relax. They tell themselves they are "Ready, relaxed," and "To have fun."

A soccer player is sitting on the bench in between plays. He has just missed a shot for a goal and feels frustration. In order to regain focus on the play and task at hand before he goes out for the next play, he utilizes the self-talk key words, "Review, Respond, Release Refocus," to help remind himself that he needs to review what happened briefly, respond by understanding how to move forward, release what happened and then refocus for the next play.

A diver stands at the top of the 10M platform. Before they move to execute the dive, they perform a pre-execution routine in which they close their eyes and physically mimic the movements of the dive--using imagery combined with the movement. This helps them understand what they will do and give them confidence. Immediately afterward they perform the dive.

When thinking of post-execution routines, utilizing attentional cues to help bring back your concentration and focus can be helpful. In the post about concentration, I spoke about how I used attentional cues to help keep me going up hard hills. If you think of the hill as the execution of a specific situation, as I come to the top of the hill, I might use an attentional cue to also help get me back on track. It's easy to dwell on how hard the hill was, and possibly think "Legs. burning. no. strength! How. much. further!?" But instead, I can always use an attentional cue as I work hills--every single hill I come across, I tell myself, "Keep pushing, push hard!" right at the crest of the hill to focus on moving forward, rather than the pain in my legs.

In each of these examples of mental routines, it's again important to note that they are practiced each and every time the situation occurs. Before each race, before each dive, in-between plays and upon each hill. The repetition makes the routine strong and sticky :).


So, here we are. The end of the mental skills series! I've introduced the four cardinal mental skills of relaxation, concentration, imagery and self-talk and now I've talked about how to begin to combine them into a routine throughout practice and competition.

I know that I have enjoyed writing about the skills and I hope that you have enjoyed reading and learning about them. Even though this is the end of the mental skills series, and it's kinda sad (okay maybe not that sad), it's also exciting because now you have new skills to think about and learn about that can help you perform at your best, possibly opening up many paths for your training.

As always, to learn even more about mental skills and how to integrate them into your physical training plans it is best to work with a sport psychology professional in your area.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mental Skills Series: Self-Talk


Part four of the mental skills series covers Self-Talk. Self-talk is the internal dialogue you engage in with yourself. It can be giving yourself instructions and reinforcement or how you interpret what you feel and perceive (Hackfort & Schwenmezger as cited in Williams, 2006). I've mentioned one of my own experiences with self-talk before in a previous blog here, as I was working my way back from my stress fracture.

The dialogue can happen out loud (e.g. mumbling) or inside your head. Self-talk is an asset to performance when it is enhancing your self-worth, it can help change your thoughts, regulate your energy levels and anxiety, stay focused and cope with difficult situations. On the flip side, self-talk can be detrimental when it's negative or distracting to the task you are working on or if it is so loud and frequent it is disrupting the automatic performance of your skills (Williams, 2006).

Self-talk can affect self-esteem. If a person consistently ascribes positive labels to themselves, they may begin to act in a positive way--and likewise if they ascribe negative labels.

Self-talk is really common! It can be an interesting exercise to become more aware of the type of self-talk we are engaging in, just how much--and then how it really is making us feel and act.

There are several ways to identify self-talk including retrospection and self-talk logs.

Retrospection: Retrospection is basically reflection on situations in which performance went particularly well or poorly. You then re-create those thoughts and feelings that happened prior to and during the performances, and then identifying the common themes in both types of performance (Williams, 2006). Focusing on the thoughts during these performances is the goal, including expectations and feelings of self-esteem.

Using a Self-Talk Log is another way to become more aware of both positive and negative self-talk. Writing down what you say at practice, competitions, work etc but also reflecting on what was said before, during and after good and poor performances and how frequently you said those things. When things were frustrating did you depreciate yourself and what did you say? When things went well--what did you say?

As identification of self-talk happens, what's next?

There are several techniques that sport and performance psychology consultants may use to help with self-talk that is also self-defeating including thought stoppage, and changing negative thoughts to positive.

Thought Stoppage: Thought Stoppage is very much like it sounds, it can involve telling yourself "Stop that thought!" or a physical action--snapping your fingers when a negative thought comes.

Changing Negative Thoughts to Positive: While it would be nice to stop negative thoughts all together, that may not be the most realistic of solutions--changing negative thoughts to positive thoughts offers a nice alternative. Working to throw out the negative thought as it happens, and then replacing it with a positive thought takes pressure off the idea of controlling all the thoughts that pop into your mind. While you might not be able to control that very first thought--it may be easier to control your next move, and to set a goal to gradually reduce negative thoughts over time (Williams, 2006).

It's important to remember that negative thoughts and anxiety aren't unusual. Tom Courtney, who won the 800 meter run at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne was quoted as saying, (photo courtesy of usatf.com)

"As I stepped onto the track I felt my legs go rubbery. I saw over a 100,000 people in the stands, and before I knew it, I had collapsed onto the infield grass. "Can it be," I remembered thinking, as I lay there gazing up at the sky, "that I'm so nervous I'm not going to be able to run?" Then I realized how ridiculous I'd look, flat on my back on the grass as they started the race. I guess the humor of that image made me lose my nervousness. I was able to recover, get up and jog to the starting line" (http://www.runtheplanet.com/resources/historical/runquotes.asp). It's important to see that even though athletes may get nervous and have negative thoughts, they don't hold the thoughts in a place where it creates a mental block--that impedes their physical performance.

Here is another example, a clip from one of my favorite running movies--"Run Fat Boy Run."


Dennis hits the wall, he hears the negative talk that has been holding him back up until this time, he acknowledges that he hears it but he doesn't let it stop him. Instead you can see Dennis physically "Stop" the thoughts, and push through--breaking the image of his wall.

Here we are, at the end of part four of the mental skills series, remember, self-talk is the internal or even external dialogue we engage in that reflects how you interpret what you feel and perceive. It's a normal process! It can be an asset to performance when it builds self-worth, regulate energy, help keep you focused or cope. It can also be detrimental to performance if it takes away from your self-esteem, or is distracting. Using retrospection and or a self-talk log are two ways to become more aware of when and what types of self-talk you engage in.

Thought stoppage and turning negative thoughts to positive thoughts may help control negative thoughts.

Even the best athletes and performers have some negative thoughts, but it's their reaction to those thoughts that ultimately may affect their performance, it may be helpful to make the final thought in a string of thoughts positive!

Remember that this is an introduction to these skills, and working with a trained sport and performance psychology professional and working with a trained sport and performance psychology professional provides many more resources and an individualized plan that is suited for the sport and the person.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mental Skills Series: Imagery

Today's topic in the mental skills series is Imagery.

In performance situations, "seeing is believing." This can be literal: as in actually watching something happen (watching Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France or Dara Torres win a silver medal in the Olympics) or physically accomplishing something yourself: running further or faster or reacting to a strong tennis serve. Of course when you physically experience an event that belief is right there. You saw it, or you did it!

With imagery practice, you don't have to physically experience a skill before you believe you can do it. Imagery is different than visualization in that it uses all your bodily senses (think: seeing, hearing, smell, taste, feeling) to create or re-create a positive experience in your mind, whereas visualization focuses on your sense of sight. What is amazing about imagery is that with practice, imagery can become controlled and vivid. During a vivid imagery session a performer's brain activity can look very similar to what it looks like when they are physically performing the same task (Holmes & Collins, 2001; Jeannerod, 1994).

Imagery is a great skill to practice simply because it is applicable in many areas of performance. It can be used to help learn and practice new skills, aid in concentration, help solve technique problems, aid in energy management (get psyched up or calm down) and even help recover from injury.

When you are physically learning a new skill--the adage "practice makes perfect," comes into play. You have to physically do the skill over and over and over again. I like to think of when I was learning to snowboard--and I spent an entire weekend falling down the mountain trying to learn what toe-side and heel-side were. The result was I was completely sore, but also physically and emotionally exhausted! With imagery, when you are learning a new skill, you can practice it perfectly in your mind, with the added benefit of no physical fatigue. So, while nothing takes the place of physical, deliberate practice (even taking a tumble down a mountain)--mental practice is better than NO practice whatsoever, and it often complements that physical practice (Williams, 2006).



(photo courtesy about.com)


When practicing imagery there are two main ways in which the scene may be viewed.


Internal Perspective: when you view see yourself from the inside looking out--or just as you would normally perform)

and

External Perspective: when you imagine yourself from the outside looking in. As if you were watching yourself perform from the stands or on television (Williams, 2006).
(photo courtesy of inquisitor.com)

There isn't a right or wrong perspective, but it is interesting to take note of your dominant perspective and try the other one to see how it feels for you.

When integrating imagery into a routine, a performer or athlete can create scenarios in which they see themselves mastering the situation. This is called mastery imagery.

Another way to create a routine is to imagine a situation which has caused difficulty or anxiety in the past. The focus in this type of imagery is not the situation itself, but your reaction to it. Your reactions to these difficult situations is optimal, integrating the skills and preparation into a good performance. This is called preparatory imagery.

I have used both mastery and preparatory imagery.
One thing I like to do is think back on a race that I had where everything seemed to go well for me. I use all my senses to re-create that moment in my mind. I see the course, feel the road under my feet. I can feel the temperature of the day and I definitely can feel the positive emotions I felt as I was going through the process of the race. I focus on what helped me perform well and why they were there that day. I think about how I got ready for the race. This image is obviously pretty positive and it helps give me energy on those days when it's hard to get out the door. It reminds me of why the hard work is worth it to me.

At the beginning of this entry I mentioned imagery practice. Imagery, like all the cardinal skills and the physical skills of optimal performance takes consistent and organized practice Once proper imagery techniques are learned they can take as little as 10-15 minutes to practice and there can be many benefits to performance! Imagery, like the other skills is also quite individualized. What works for one, may not work for all.

And here we are, the end of part three of the Mental Skills series. I hope everyone is enjoying it so far and finding it helpful. As we move towards the end of the series I want to continue to remind everyone that this series is an introduction to the skills and working with a trained sport and performance psychology professional provides many more resources and an individualized plan that is suited for the sport and the person.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mental Skills Series: Concentration

(Photo courtesy of excitebuzz.com)


Part two of the mental skills series will focus on concentration.

The ability to concentrate is not only important to sport performance but performance in general. Doctors, musicians, lawyers--you name it all must have the ability concentrate on the task at hand in order to perform at their best.

When things don't turn out the way we wanted them to, a frequent comment may be, "I lost my focus," or "I just couldn't concentrate!" But what does that mean exactly? Well, the major component of concentration is the ability to selectively attend to appropriate cues in the task at hand such as environmental stimuli or internal stimuli while also being able to screen out those distracting external OR internal stimuli (Williams, 2006).

When you think of external stimuli that might be distracting, it could be the audience booing, a bad call from an official or...say for example focusing on what other runners are wearing and deciding if the they are fast based off their outfits . (Photo courtesy of Sofiahedstrom.com)


Internal distractions may include distracting body sensations that lead to thoughts and feelings such as, "Gahhhh this hill is so hard, my legs are dying!!" or, "That girl looks pretty fast while doing her warm-up drills..." Even though it may seem like internal and external stimuli might seem to be different, they are always working with each other, holding hands and affecting one another (Williams, 2006).

When thinking about strategies for building concentration skills, an athlete can work with a sport and performance psychology consultant on techniques such mental rehearsal, mindfulness and attentional cue training.

The reality is that with all these mental skills there is a component of individualization that must be taken into account. The goal is to find a positive level of concentration during performance.

Mental Rehearsal: Mental rehearsal is a lot like visualization. In this instance mental rehearsal is used to practice competition concentration skills to learn to not react to intentionally induced external distractions.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is defined as an "open-hearted moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness" (Kabat-Zinn, 2005. pg. 24). Mindfulness is a bit different than other techniques in that instead of attempting control or attain an optimal state of performance, mindfulness based techniques suggest that optimal performance does not require control, but instead is looking for non-judgment (ie. not good, not bad) moment-to moment awareness and acceptance of one's internal state--no matter what that state is--and furthermore a focus on the task-relevant external cues and behavioral choices that will support one's athletic endeavors (Moore, 2009). It's a little bit different than what we are normally taught, but it's an interesting way to think of athletics--and life. A way that I have used mindfulness to help maintain concentration is at races. As I have said, this is a place where distractions abound for me. I try to tune into how I feel at the present moment, be aware, and even if I AM anxious--I try to tell myself that doesn't have to affect the outcome of the race.

Attentional Cue Training:
If you do lose your focus or concentration, visual, verbal, and kinesthetic cues can help bring you back to the present moment
(Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Guardian)

("see it, hear it, feel it") and avoid those distracting thoughts and feelings. Much like mindfulness, it is helpful to find cues that are positive, are present-centered, and focus on the process rather than the outcome (Williams, 2006). Attentional cues are an interesting thing, because they are pretty individualized. Some athletes work very well with a lot of cues, but some people only need a few.

One attentional cue I use all the time is when I'm going up hills. When hills are long and drawn out--it's easy for me to get distracted on the pain, the length--and well..the pain and the length.
It's also easy for me to want to go fast up the hills (who doesn't want to get them over with right?) but I've learned pacing is important and on hill climbs that are say, more than 3 min, when I start to feel that distracted feeling, wanting to quit--I tell myself "Just go your pace, your pace, your pace." It sounds strange but saying that helps me focus on the process of moving and nothing else, and it actually works well for me, but as you can tell--it's very simple and individualized for the setting and goal.

So, there you have it a bit about concentration, and an introduction to some techniques for improving concentration. As before there are a lot of great resources out there for learning more about concentration, including working with a professional sport and performance psychology consultant.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mental Skills Series...

(Photo courtesy of Iseekgolf.com)

Recently I've been thinking about doing a series on some basic mental skills that are applicable to running, so the next five posts will be an introduction to mental skills that can be used not only in athletics but also daily life. The topics I'm going to introduce are Relaxation, Concentration, Imagery, Self-Talk and developing a Mental Routine. These skills can be learned and may help towards achieving a specific performance goal. I hope this series is interesting and helpful!

The first topic is Relaxation

Athletes use their muscles for strength, movement and stretch. Muscle tension can be caused by a number of factors including muscle fatigue, anxiety, worry and stress. If the muscle is tense, the amount of power, movement and stretch is limited. Developing awareness of what level of muscle tension, fatigue, anxiety or stress is best for individual performance is key. If one is too relaxed they might feel sluggish while if one is too tense, their performance also suffers. Athletes and performers are looking for that place where they are appropriately excited, and maybe even anxious about their event--moderate levels of arousal has been shown to be best (Williams, 2006).

Relaxation techniques take two different forms:
First there is mind-to-muscle. Mind-to-muscle relaxation includes techniques that as the name suggest begin with your mind and in a trickle down effect move to your muscles. Meditation is actually a form of mind-to-muscle relaxation. Visualization is also a mind-to-muscle technique that can be used for relaxation (Williams, 2006).

The second group of techniques is called muscle-to-mind. These techniques start from a specific, targeted muscle or muscle group and help increase the relaxation response in the mind. Breathing exercises and a technique called progressive relaxation are common, but not the only muscle-to-mind exercises.

When thinking about runners, they need a lot of energy and endurance from their muscles to propel them in practice and in races. If their muscles are tense, that’s diverting energy into that “tension” that could be used for propulsion. It’s very common to see runners of all levels pull their shoulders up, arms in and then drive their arms across their bodies. Two other common "tense" moves in running are either leaning forward or backwards and also what I like to call "the turtleneck." Which is basically super strain in the neck muscles. These things happen as runners get tired. It takes energy for the body to be tense like this and it’s essentially wasting that needed energy for movement forward. The ability to be aware and identify overly tense muscles and then systematically relax them is a skill that can be quite helpful for runners in all of the phases of training and competition.
While many of the techniques are best practiced after a workout or competition, some may actually be utilized during a run. (photo courtesy of Coastal Hills Running Club)

When doing relaxation techniques in running, I have found Progressive Relaxation to be helpful.
Progressive relaxation is an exercise in which specific muscle groups are contracted and held for 5-7 seconds and then relaxed. This exercise progresses from one muscle group to another. The contraction phase helps develop awareness and sensitivity to what muscular tension feels like, while the "letting go" phase teaches an

awareness and sensitivity to the absence of tension. Through regular practice, athletes can become proficient at recognizing unwanted tension wherever it may exist and then know how to release that tension (Williams, 2006).

I use an abbreviated form of Progressive Relaxation while I'm running. Basically I do a quick body scan. I quickly "check-in" with myself, scanning my body from head to toe. I only stop at muscle groups where my own tension level is too high. I consciously release that tension and then continue to scan my body. Usually, when I'm tense--I start to carry my arms higher, and my neck and shoulders are tense, so I know to focus on those areas.

So, there you have it. A brief introduction to the mental skill of relaxation. There is lots of information available about relaxation and various techniques out there. When first learning and then practicing it is best to work with someone who has been trained in the techniques to learn them properly--but then practicing on your own increases the benefits.