čtvrtek 2. listopadu 2017

Running like a gazell across the fields of Africa

So it's been more than 3 months since I started running and I'd like to share a bit of what's been on my mind.

It all began this summer when I was on my way back home to the Czech Republic with the intention to spend my 8-week-long holiday in my dearest little village, Háj ve Slezsku, with my nearest family and friends.
I was travelling from Stockholm and apart from my hand luggage full of lovely summer dresses, I was carrying a backpack stuffed with an organic, well-fed, free-range depression - too bad the security check didn't detect that one, I'd gladly surrender and leave it at the airport.

When I came home, my mind was all over the place. I had been agonizing over the same things over and over again until I got to the point of exhaustion where I had to run away from this self-torture and when I say run away, I mean literally run away.
I was feeling so bad that I put on my mum's running shoes and ran towards the fields and forests that surround our little village. 
The warm summer air was a blessing - soothing my soul and smoothing me on my skin; I cared neither about the pace, distance nor about how many calories I'd burn, I just ran and it felt as the burden on my chest was lighter and lighter with every step I took.
As if all the agony and useless thoughts couldn't keep up with the speed of my feet and so it all fell on the road and I left it lay there.
I rushed farther towards the grassy hills in front of me and it felt just right - I was not hard on myself so when I felt that I needed a break I switched into walking, drank water and kept walking until I regained more energy to run again.
Don't get me wrong though - it was painful and uncomfortable too. The air was stinging me in my lungs, I was wheezing and breathing heavily, my body was a little confused and not used to this unusual physical activity but as I knew this was something that does more good than bad to me, it was easier to put the effort in it and get over the uneasy part. 
My aim was a tiny little chapel* that stands up high on a hill right between our and our neighbour's village, and despite the ascending road and my heavy steps and breaths, I kept rising up towards the chapel.
And so I reached it. I stood there high up on that hill all sweaty with the heat pulsing my face, it was getting dark already and the fields - oh the fields smelled so sweetly.

*alright, I don't know the official definition of the word chapel but the one I'm talking about is called "kaplička" in my language which should be "chapel" in English and yes, it is this teeny-tiny little white building with a cross on the top and for some reason it is allowed to be called such a noble name. Hit me for more unuseful information about Czech religious buildings built on hills!
When I knocked at the door of our house later that night, my dad opened it for me and this little thing has become our tradition for the rest of my stay - me coming back from running all sweaty but happy and him opening the door for me in the middle of the night - no words, just the understanding look in his eyes that only dads have.
And so it all began - when I felt like my thoughts were taking over me, I put on my running shoes and off to the alluring, summer-scented fields!

Now, for those of you who might be interested in what helped me to keep my running routine I decided to write down several recommendations that might help you as well:

1) It's not the Olympics. 
It is your body and it deserves your respect and kindness.
If you struggle with pushing yourself too hard, try imagining that it would be your 3-year-old-self running for the first time. Would you try to push them if they were in pain and getting out of breath? No. So why would you do that to yourself now?

Here are 4 misleading thoughts that might cross your mind:

a) I am weak and get out of breath too easily.
When you're getting out of breath your body is basically telling you "Hey, I'm not catching up, this is all new to me and I need to take it slow." So slow down.
You will eventually see that you're getting better with time and your breath is going to last longer as your body gets fitter because practice is the key to improvement and you can't expect top results in your first week or even month, remember - patience brings roses.

b) I am too slow.
Well, that's just your ego calling. Hang up and keep your body moving at your own pace because if you start sprinting just for the sake of being faster, not only that you'll exhaust yourself and will need more breaks which will make you even slower eventually, but your body will stop enjoying the time and will try avoiding these situations, which will lead to you skipping your regular runs or in worst case giving up running completely.

c) I should run more.
You see all the people who train for marathons or simply master longer distances than you do? 
Well, they are not YOU and their preferences don't need to match yours. 
Comparing is useless so don't waste your time on it and set your own bar as high as you feel comfortable with it.
When it comes to routine, the regularity wins over the length, which means that you will be more likely to keep it if you run 2 km every other day than 10 km once a week.

d) I look weird when I run.
Let me tell you one important thing: NOBODY CARES.

This little video sums it up quite well:

2) Try breathing through your mouth
Some people prefer inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth which was what I used to do and it is absolutely okay to do so, however, trying breathing through the mouth might surprise you with its results and you might find it even easier and more efficient.
I have always been afraid to breathe through the mouth during winter because I thought I'd catch a cold easily, but recently I tried my own way to breath through the mouth which looks like I'd be saying the word "you" and it makes me feel like I'm inhaling the air through a straw - it might sound silly but it works very well for me, I don't get out of breath as easily and for some reason I am no longer afraid that I'll catch a cold anymore :))

3) Consider using a running app but also mind the disadvantages of it
I started using Runkeeper with the simple intention to track my runs and I still use it, however, there are some flaws that go hand in hand with the concept of simply tracking your results with an app.

It wasn't until I came back to Stockholm and continued with my regular running routine here when I realised I got significantly faster and Runkeeper rewarded me with a personal record every time I used it. 
It felt great and my ego got an instant boost which, let's be honest, is a feeling hard to resist, but that was a first step towards falling into this big fat trap.
I'd push myself a little too hard to be a second faster than the day before and fooled myself into believing that I was fine with it.
I was blinded by the heady feeling which I got every time I saw my new personal record on the screen and I didn't realize that I was enjoying my runs much better when my average pace was around 7:30 min/km than at the current speed of 5:47 min/km.
I also noticed that I was more willing to skip a day than I'd usually be but I didn't attach much importance to it.
Fortunately, my body intervened. One day I was rushing up the street that I find the most demanding on my regular path and even though I usually slow down in this section because it is too steep, I pushed myself to run it up as I believed slowing down would be inconvenient to my Runkeeper results.
It took about 20 seconds until I experienced a sudden pain which I'd compare to a knife stabbing me in the lower rib area. Every time I'd inhale the pain would come and stab me in my ribs so I had to walk and breath slowly for good 10 minutes until it went away.
A similar case occurred a few days after when my calves wouldn't cooperate and would cramp anytime I'd try to speed up.
It was enough for me to understand what I got myself into and since then I try ignoring the numbers on the screen and focus rather on how good I feel when I run.
I also changed the voice coaching settings so that I'm not reminded of my pace and distance every 5 minutes because again - hearing my pace that often triggered the need to speed up.
Speaking of Runkeeper's voice coaching - I tried switching to the "My conscience" mode recently and I'm encouraging you to give it a try as well - you might like it if you like the title of this article :))

Alright guys, this is all for today! 

With love, your Karolína

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