Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Any progress, is still progress!

Are you ready for a half marathon recap?! Of course you are! It has been awhile since I have done a race recap so I am happy to report that I had a great run this past Sunday. I ran in the 2012 Parks Half Marathon that started in Rockville, MD and ended in Bethesda, MD.  I ran this race in 2011 so I was prepared for the course and had a time in the books to beat!
The race started at 7 am which meant an early morning for me. I have run plenty of half marathons prior to this but for some reason I was nervous about this race the night before. I didn't sleep at ALL. I had that fear of sleeping through the alarm, or not having time to take the dog out, or not having time to cook myself breakfast...all these things running through my head until my alarm went off at 5 am.  Luckily the race day adrenaline helped mask any fatigue and I was out the door with plenty of time to spare.

The weather could not have been more perfect. It was crisp fall morning. People were even bundled in jackets prior to the race.  Nothing screams long runs like a cool morning.  Besides the logistics of actually getting to the race on time, I was actually nervous about running this race. I have not been doing a great job of weekend longs run or even week day speed workouts, so I wasn't hopeful for a great performance. I just went out with the goal of clocking 10 min miles and aiming to stay under 2:15.

Normally, I do not care about pace groups. I usually rationalize that all I need is my garmin to know my pace and know how fast or slow I need to run, but this time I put myself between the 2 hour and 2:10 pace groups. Boy, what a difference that made! People were passing me all around. Normally, I try to break free from the group to make room for myself but I couldn't keep up with anyone.  So I did my best to find a comfortable pace and stay with the group the best I could. I was doing pretty good at keeping a 9:30 mile/min pace. I think the pace group really helped me keep up the speed and not slow down even though I would get tired.

I was impressed that I was able to keep this pace throughout the entire 13 miles! There were a few hills that slowed me down, I stopped at every water break, and my hydration belt fell off 3 times. So there were certainly a few things that slowed me down, but I did a good job of picking people out in front of me, catching up to them and then leaving them behind! I picked off one. at. a. time.

As you know, I have a goal of running a half marathon in under 2 hours. Well, I am sad to report that it did not happen this time. I finished at 2:03.  I was SOOO close and was so disappointed when I watched the 2:00 come and go on my Garmin.  But despite not meeting my goal, I was still really  happy with my time. I set a new PR for my half marathon time (previous PR was 2:08) AND I ran this exact same race last year and finished in 2:27. Now that is improvement!! Big time! So I will take that and be very happy about the progress I am making.  Now I just have another excuse to sign up for another half marathon and do a better job of training! I just need to chip away 3 mins, easy, right?!

Here are my times for all 13 miles (not sure what happened during mile 12, it was a long mile):

So another half marathon in the books! It was a great morning and I crashed pretty hard after the race and possibly finished a whole watermelon by myself.  It was well earned! 
Overall it was a strong run, there was great weather and I had an exciting finish. It was also the motivation I needed to keep moving forward with my plans to run the Marine Corp Marathon next month! October will be here soon, I better get running. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

National Yoga Month

Did you know that September is the official National Yoga Month? It is a designation that the US Department of Health and Human Services gave to educate people about the health benefits of yoga and inspire a healthy lifestyle.
To celebrate National Yoga Month, thousands of yoga studios across the country are offering free yoga classes for a week! That means you can try yoga for free! I highly recommend this! Not only is now a great time to start yoga if you have never tried it before, but having access to free classes allows you to try out studios you might not otherwise visit. For more information about a free week of yoga visit the Yoga Health Foundation.  A little nervous to try yoga? Take a look at my post "Thinking about Yoga".  Or take a look at these 10 reasons to practice yoga:

1. STRESS RELIEF: Yoga reduces the physical effects of stress on the body.
2. PAIN RELIEF: Yoga can ease pain.
3. BETTER BREATHING: Yoga teaches people to take slower, deeper breaths.
4. FLEXIBILITY: Yoga helps to improve flexibility and mobility, increasing range of movement and reducing aches and pains.
5. INCREASED STRENGTH: Yoga asanas (postures) use every muscle in the body, helping to increase strength literally from head to toe.
6. WEIGHT MANAGEMENT: Yoga (even less vigorous styles) can aid weight control efforts by reducing the cortisol levels as well as by burning excess calories and reducing stress.
7. IMPROVED CIRCULATION: Yoga helps to improve circulation and, as a result of various poses, more efficiently moves oxygenated blood to the body’s cells.
8. CARDIOVASCULAR CONDITIONING: Even gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.
9. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT: Yoga helps us to focus on the present, to become more aware and to help create mind body health.
10. INNER PEACE: The meditative aspects of yoga help many to reach a deeper, more spiritual and more satisfying place in their lives.

To celebrate national yoga month, not only am I practicing more yoga at home and in my gym, but I have volunteered as a teaching assistant for a kid's yoga class.  I learned about a local organization called YoKid. Yokid is an affiliate of The George Washington University School of Public Health.  Yokid provides yoga classes to children to foster self-awareness and to help children realize their full potential, mentally and physically. Yokid has found that children who take yoga classes are less angry, more relaxed and show improvements in coordination.  I started assisting in my first class last week. I help with a class of 3-6 yrs olds every Thursday afternoon.  I will admit to not really knowing what I was signing myself up for. At first I thought it would be fun and I would get to hang out with kids and be crazy for an hour but as my first class came closer, I realized I had no idea how to teach kids yoga or how to make them even interested in yoga concepts. Luckily I have the leadership of a seasoned teacher and I have been able to watch her capture the kid's attention and make yoga relative to their lives.  At the beginning of each class we focus on breathing. Quick, rapid breaths and slow, deep breaths. The kids love the movements of their arms and love the opportunity to just let loose.  It is also fun to move through different yoga poses with them because so many yoga  movements mimic animals. Downward Dog. Cat-Cow. Cobra.  When was the last time you did cat-cow and let out a little moooooo or meow..... Try it, it will surely put a smile on your face. 

I have only had two classes, but have learned so much.  The class is small but every single student has their own personality. There is the wild child that likes to roll up in their mat or run laps around the room, there is the silent, motionless child that isn't really sure about all this moving and would rather just sit and watch, there is the talking child that has something to say about every pose, and there is the bored child that thinks yoga is pretty dang boring and is ready to move on.  All these different personalities make for an interesting and challenging class. Each class is different and I learn more and more about my students each week.

One of the things we do at the end of each class is lie on our mats, close our eyes and picture the perfect place. The students are told that their place could be anywhere with anything. Ice cream, swimming pools, toys, your family, your best friend...whatever you want.  As we talk them through this visualization you see their faces light up and little smiles start to peek through.  This is my favorite part of class and what keeps me coming back each week.

Happy National Yoga Month to you!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

30 day meditation challenge

Happy Labor Day weekend! There is nothing like a 3 day weekend to rest, recharge and catch up on the ever expanding to-do list.  I'm excited that we are now in the month of September.  Fall, my favorite season EVER, is right around the corner.  I love fall for many reasons, but this year I am particularly looking forward to the temperatures cooling down and all this yucky humidity going away.   In addition to cooler weather, I love that fall brings back everything in a pumpkin spice or apple flavor. As I type this, I am sipping on my first pumpkin spice chai of the season. DELICIOUS! It is like a slice of pumpkin pie in a cup.  Since it is still 80 degrees outside, it may be premature to be drinking hot beverages, but the Caribou Coffee shop I am sitting in has their air conditioner up really high, so I think they wanted me to order a hot chai! No complaints here. 

As I wrap up August and my failed Whole30 attempt, I look at September as a new month and new opportunity to take on another challenge. One of the blogs I read daily, RunToTheFinish, is hosting a 30 day meditation challenge. While I am all about taking on challenges that push me physically (ie. marathon training), the thought of a meditation challenge actually sounded a bit scary to me.  Sure meditation is just taking the time to sit with your thoughts for a finite amount of time, but have you ever tried to meditate? IT IS HARD STUFF!  For me, I sit down, get comfortable and close my eyes and within seconds, I have a million things running through my mind.  "What am I going to have for dinner?" "Did I send that email?" "Is my phone ringing?" "My foot is falling asleep"..etc, etc, etc. My brain is constantly going, so meditation presents a big challenge for me. 
Additionally, meditating for a long period of time is intimating. Who has an hour to just sit there and do nothing? Obviously, there are more productive things you could do with that hour, so who wants to just sit and do nothing? This is a hard concept for my "getting-it-done" personality to accept. 
But the truth is, meditation, when done correctly, can be the best thing for your mind and body. If you are able to sit and get your mind to a place of complete relaxation,  the benefits are endless.  Here are a few: 

INeedMotivation.com lists 100 benefits of mediation, here are just a few:

5- Leads to a deeper level of physical relaxation.
8- Decreases muscle tension
9- Helps in chronic diseases like allergies, arthritis etc.
12- Enhances the immune system.
14- Enhances energy, strength and vigor.
15- Helps with weight loss
30- improved performance in athletic events
31- Normalizes to your ideal weight
32- harmonizes our endocrine system
33- relaxes our nervous system
39- Helps control own thoughts
40- Helps with focus & concentration
41- Increase creativity
50- Increased Productivity
56- Develop will power
69- Require less time to fall asleep, helps cure insomnia
72- Decrease in restless thinking
73- Decreased tendency to worry
78- Grows a stable, more balanced personality
80- Helps keep things in perspective
81- Provides peace of mind, happiness
95- Helps living in the present moment

After reading this list, who wouldn't want to meditate?  Well, easier said then done. 
Meditation takes practice and for me, it will take a lot of practice.  And the ironic thing about meditation is when you need it the most, you will most likely be unable to meditate if you have not been practicing. When you are super stressed and you just need to sit a meditate, you will be too worked up to be able to calm down. That is why constant practice is so important. When you find yourself in a state of chaos, it will be easier to find your zen if you have practiced meditation before and now the feeling and place that you need to go to mentally. 

So yesterday was my first day and I am starting slow. 5 mins a day for now. I downloaded the Yoga Nidra Meditation app. The free version guides you through a 5 min meditation which is perfect for me now. Listening to a voice guide me through the 5 mins helps me with my concentration and keeps me from peaking at the clock every 5 mins. 

Do you practice regular meditation? If so, what are you tips?  If no, try it out. Let me know how you were able to bring our mind back to focus when it started to wonder. 

You can follow the other 30 day challengers on Twitter at: #meditate30
Photo from RunToTheFinish

Happy September everyone!