how many miles per week?

Family members and friends often ask me about how to start running. There exists a myth that running is reserved only for those who were varsity track stars in their youth. I hope, by now, if you have been reading along, that I have done something to dispel this fiction. Running is a broadly accessible form of exercise with many entry points. It is beginner-friendly, and an extremely patient friend for life, if you’ll welcome it. Another obstacle that often thwarts the novice runner from pursuing distance goals is the time it takes to invest in a training routine.

When I am training for a half marathon race (as I am currently), I rarely have the time to aggressively increase the time I dedicate to running. If I didn’t have the obligations of family, work, and everything else, I would love nothing more than to run almost every morning. However, the reality is I have to be intentional about where and how I spend finite training time. Over the course of my running practice, I have learned that if I run for 20 miles a week, I am able to maintain a level of fitness and endurance that prepares me well for any distance up to a half marathon. On the days I am not running, I find at least one hour a day to walk briskly, usually along hilly terrain (I try to find the time for this walk even on running days). While the net weekly miles don’t fluctuate much (I might get closer to 25 when I am getting into the longest long runs prior to the race), the distribution of the miles across the week evolves as I get closer to race day.

Chopping up my 20 miles into different combinations also gives me variety during a training season. I can customize my week to accommodate a number of factors, ranging from weather to running route. For example, I am currently in the midst of a week with more medium-length runs. This gives me the opportunity to enjoy some different loops that are in the 5-6 mile range, including several exclusively on roads to get prepared for my upcoming road race. Next week, I will change back to a more traditional format with one long run, two medium runs, and one short run.

From left-to-right, a few examples of how I might distribute my weekly miles:

(8, 8, 4); (8, 5, 4, 3); (6, 5, 5, 4); (3, 3, 3, 3, 8)

The quantity of miles a runner needs to cover in a week is personal and dependent upon a number of considerations. For example, the overall training goal can shift plans significantly. If training for a marathon, my weekly mileage will go up steadily over a few months. If transitioning back to running after an illness or injury, I will tackle shorter runs with more frequency, paying close attention to what my body is communicating. During the spring and summer, I have more daylight to work with, so I might naturally increase my weekly mileage simply because there are more hours in the day to do so. The right formula is one that is:

-Sustainable

-Avoids—or better yet, prevents—injury

-Prepares the runner well for race day

-Flexible

Most importantly, if I finish a long run with the sense that I have leftover “pep” that could propel me for another couple of miles, then I know I am training wisely for my upcoming event. If I am hitting little “walls” and struggling to get through the miles, then I know I need to tinker with my approach, whether that means adding more medium runs to support good endurance, or examine my activities on cross-training days. While I may start out training for a race with a general outline or schedule, I find that these micro-assessments and adjustments in response to my levels of energy or fatigue really do make a difference in the overall completion of my goal.

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race recap: nookachamps 10K

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Today, I ran a 10K that I’ve done every year for the past four years. The course is hilly and most of the miles are on road surfaces. The race also served as a check in to see how I am feeling about my upcoming half marathon next month. I was pleasantly surprised by how well things went; I had to weave a little during a crowded first mile, and I took a brief walking break on a steep uphill before mile 3, but the rest of the route felt springy and fast. I finished the race within 3 minutes of my personal best at this event two years ago, and considering I was waddling the course at a 20 minute mile last year in full-term pregnancy, I am pleased with today’s result. When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I could have maintained that pace for another 2 or 3 miles. In the upcoming weeks, I am going to continue my training, but add mileage to the long runs until I am confidently running 10 miles at a good tempo with energy to spare.

 

milk & miles

one

Running and breastfeeding are compatible activities that I have had the opportunity to enjoy with two babies. Each time I’ve learned something different, especially given that I did not start running regularly until my daughter was almost one, but I went back to running only a few weeks after giving birth to my son. In both cases, I learned how to keep the balance of logging miles and making milk for babies at different stages in their development and nutritional needs. I thought I would share a few insights in case it might be useful to a fellow mama runner (or friend/partner of one) in the future.

In the first six weeks of life, a newborn’s stomach is very small and breastmilk is metabolized quickly. Furthermore, so much of nursing fulfills needs far beyond nourishment. Hormones catalyzed during nursing sessions accomplish tasks ranging from bonding to shrinking the uterus and helping internal organs shift back into place. Skin-to-skin contact is important, the mother and baby should really smell one another in the holistic sense to keep these biochemical changes progressing. There are very few people who could jump up and go for a long run right after giving birth anyway (most of us are still in our adult diapers scarfing lukewarm meals one handed while crying over everything), but, needless to say, I think this is a time when breastfeeding should really take priority over any type of routine exercise.

During the fourth trimester, the first three months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding begins to hit a more routine stride. With my son, I started to really pursue running once he was about 2 months old. At this point, I could tank him up with milk before a nap, leave him snuggled with his dad, and enjoy 3 miles around the neighborhood without worrying. I planned to go back to work with both kids, so I began pumping pretty early on. As the months progressed, I felt confident going out for longer runs knowing that my partner could always give the baby a bottle if I wasn’t there.

two

In my experience, by about 7 or 8 months, a baby is getting nourishment from some solids/table foods in addition to breastmilk, although breastmilk comprises the majority of the diet. This is when I felt like I could really enjoy longer runs without the pangs of worry about missing a nursing session. The challenge during this period for me with both babies was maintaining ample milk supply in the context of working and pumping. So I was pretty intentional about nursing both before leaving for a run and when coming back to keep my body in that routine (breastfeeding is, at a simplistic level, supply and demand). For longer race days, I’ve found that a small hand pump and cooler bag stashed in my gear bag has provided relief and or peace of mind when I need it. By the way, I have seen many nursing mothers pump before the start of races (you start to see it when you’ve done it!).

With babies and toddlers one and older, daytime nursing becomes more infrequent. I stopped pumping at one year with my daughter, and plan a similar schedule with my son, with the commitment to nurse at night/when I am home as long as we are both enjoying it. As a runner, I look forward to this chapter of the nursing journey because I inevitably earn back a lot of bodily autonomy and the logistics of pumping and nursing become nearly inconsequential. Keeping up good hydration and nutrition is the key to maintaining a milk supply for as long as is desired.

three

Breastfeeding eats up about 500 calories a day, and quite a bit of fluid. I find it is much easier to become dehydrated when training and breastfeeding, so drinking a lot of water is really important. I start the morning by drinking 16 ounces minimum, right off the bat, before any coffee or other beverages. I also eat a lot of nourishing calories frequently through the day. Protein is often elevated to star status when we talk about diets for athletes, but carbohydrates and fats are foundational for both the glycogen stores one requires for regular running (especially distance running) and the ability for a body to make and sustain milk supply. Some of my staples in addition to complete meals are homemade banana bread with peanut butter on it, Greek yogurt with granola, hummus and pita, avocado and corn chips… you get the idea. I am constantly snacking, especially at night before I inevitably spend a few of my wake-ups nursing.

There is anecdotal data out there about how running changes the taste of milk, or how one should shower before nursing because the smell/taste of sweat is somehow a barrier to the baby nursing, but I’ve never experienced any issues. Supportive and comfortable sports bras are always important, but especially for a lactating runner as underwire or constriction can cause clogged ducts and other minor (albeit obnoxious) complications. Most of my running shirts already have a quarter zip at the neck, so nursing in my gear is usually simple. By the time a baby is approaching toddlerhood, they are usually too busy to demand nursing right away, anyway. Lately, I have enjoyed that transition as I now come home from my runs and cherish, with gratitude, the fact that I can take a hot shower uninterrupted before doing anything else.

four

Running has made many things, including motherhood, so much healthier and more enjoyable for me. There is no reason why breastfeeding should be a barrier to maintaining a running practice; in fact, best practices for proactive self-care when nursing perform quite a bit of double duty for keeping a runner healthy and happy, as well.

return to distance

I am settling back into the routine of training for a half marathon after taking a year and a half away from distance running to be pregnant, give birth, and recover. There were a few races sprinkled in there, with running at shorter lengths comprising an increasingly regular part of my exercise schedule for the past year. I have to say that I am both glad I waited to embark on distance training, and that I am also filled with joy about being back to this beloved journey of gradually building endurance and physical strength to go long.

I have always framed running practice as a long-term relationship; there are seasons of life when other responsibilities and activities take priority over training, and then there are the openings that present themselves to return to a deeper commitment of time and energy. After a challenging fall of colds and sickness; one that required the patience to rest (admittedly something with which I struggle), I started to enjoy that natural paradigm shift, that changing orientation to possibility. The reward of returning to regular long runs is tremendous. I missed the self that emerges only during those solitary journeys—I missed that old friend inside of me. I missed the quiet—oh, the quiet! I love my children, but I think most mothers of young kids would agree that there is nothing like an uninterrupted thought. I missed the nothingness, the plateau of hitting the zone, when time and effort recede to the background hum, and the flight of the body becomes one with the mind.

I am revisiting a half marathon I ran three years ago, when I was at my fastest speed. I do not expect to touch this record. Bodies evolve and goals shift. I desire two things: to run the entire course, and to finish. And while the final outcome of race day excites me, I have to admit that the process of getting there is my prize this time around. One foot ahead of the other, breath locked in relaxed rhythm, the changing landscape ahead welcoming me along.

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Postpartum Update

snow walk

I am writing you from the other side of the pregnancy journey—our baby boy made his appearance three weeks ago on Groundhog Day. I was able to experience another natural labor and birth that was thankfully free from complications and relatively easy-going. Labor itself was more of a marathon than a sprint, with prodromal labor for days leading up to the birth, and everyone expected the real deal to move quickly. Instead, I spent the night at the birth center with an active labor that kept starting and stalling. I dilated to almost 9 centimeters without my water breaking, and the baby’s head couldn’t move down and engage. As the sun rose, my husband and I ended up taking a walk around the neighborhood and getting coffee. When we returned without any changes (other than bagels and mochas), I elected to have my water broken. About one intense hour later, Ruben emerged from some fast and furious pushes. I was relieved to be done with pregnancy and birth!

I learned from my older child that the first week postpartum is the true test of survival. Therefore, I took it very easy this time. I shunned away visitors and stuck to my bed. Even so, I had an itch to get fresh air every day, and by the end of the week, I was doing a little mile loop around the neighborhood. As I continued to heal, I resumed my walking practice, and now I am happily up to my pre-birth daily mileage. When I head out to walk, baby snuggly resting in his carrier, I feel like I am putting on an oxygen mask. It is soothing to connect with nature, get my blood pumping, and return to my favorite hobby—observing the minutia of the changing seasons (we’ve had everything from sunshine and blossoms to snow storms the past two weeks).

I am finally starting to feel up to testing out a return to running in the coming days. I plan to ease in with short distances, and a run/walk combination. In addition to walking, I am working on rebuilding core strength (especially after pushing out a 9-pound baby). I feel like my body is gradually falling back into place. I put myself to bed very early, and sleep when I can. The experience of birth is often described as a fog, and I find the comparison to be quite accurate. Day by day, the misty cloud cover dissipates, and the surroundings come into a slightly clearer view. The newness becomes normal, and a return to routine is found. I continue to feel as though an active pregnancy and postpartum recovery (as soon as I was able to return to activity) facilitated a much easier transition this time. I look forward to running some miles in the very near future!

Active Pregnancy: A Retrospective

running retro

At 35 weeks pregnant, with the baby the size of a honeydew melon, I truly feel as though I am in the home stretch. This pregnancy was different from my first in a number of ways. Most of the “you’ll see” advice about second pregnancies feeling less monumental I received turned out to relatively valid; I felt, and continue to feel, more excited about the baby at the end of this journey rather than my changing body. However, this experience has been punctuated by moments of grounding myself in and truly appreciating the fascinating process of growing a human life. Despite the aches, pains, and exhaustion, I find myself quite proud of my changing body, the work it has undertaken to sustain me and the growing baby.

I started out this pregnancy with the intention of remaining as active as possible, and I am glad that I maintained this norm throughout. During the first trimester, running felt almost unchanged; I adjusted now and then for energy levels and bathroom breaks, but remained relatively steadfast in my daily miles. During the second trimester, I continued to run, but started to incorporate walking and hiking much more intentionally. My hips and pelvis were starting to widen; and as my organs shifted around, I found that running lost some of its comfort. When I began to face diminishing returns on those feelings of freedom and euphoria during a run, I knew it was time to slow down and taper off. By the beginning of the third trimester, I was ready for a hiatus from pounding the pavement. Almost organically, and perhaps in exchange for scaling back my running, I experienced a second wind in my mental focus. By writing every day during the months of November and December, I was able to complete a full draft of my dissertation by the year’s end. I continue to walk at least 5 miles a day (more on the weekends), which has been an amazing gift to my health, fitness, and mental stability. I have found other ways to encounter the joy and connection with nature that sustain my resilience. Last week, I ended the year by walking a trail half marathon. For me, this experience reaffirmed that my body and brain are strong and capable, and that the return to running is out there, waiting.

My midwives have provided encouragement and listening ears through my seasons of active pregnancy. They understood that my temporary disengagement with running is, at times, bittersweet. I ache to run, deep in my bones. I see other runners and I want to spring forward and join them. This is a time of recognizing that absence does make the heart grow fonder. Perhaps some of the most affirming words during this time, came from one of my midwives who encouraged me to visualize my life after birth. “Just think,” she said, “after your body heals from the birth and you creep out of that newborn fog, there will be buds and blossoms on the trees. The days will be longer. The birds will be chirping. And you will be running again… what a wonderful time to start.”

I straddle the present and the future. As I continue my daily walks in the woods, through the dreary January rains, I focus on the beauty of nature surrounding me. I feel a connection to this cycle of nature, of turning inward and hibernating, of doing the invisible work, underground, only to emerge in several weeks’ time with a fertile openness. And in quiet moments, especially in the dark hours of the early morning when I am inexplicably unable to sleep, I soothe my mind by imagining the sound of my feet and the roll of the jogging stroller along my backyard trails, under the pink hue of cherry tree branches and the gold catkins of the alders.

august update

running

A little update about running and this pregnancy. At 16 weeks, I am feeling really good—pretty much my normal self. I am glad to experience higher energy levels and endurance once again. I am back to running 4-5 times a week, which is of great benefit to my mood and my body. I try to fit as much movement into the day as possible, even with a desk job. Even before this pregnancy, our family made it a goal to be in the habit of walking after dinner, and that routine continues to keep me feeling good through the evening. Running itself is more comfortable in the last few weeks, as my physical body acculturates to pregnancy. Earlier on, I carried a lot of bloat and running felt sloshy and off-kilter. Now that my bump is actually uterus, my body mechanics feel more coordinated. I am paying close attention to drinking a lot of water, eating a well-rounded diet, and getting as much sleep at night as I can (it is really difficult for me to nap).

My running practice has always helped to pull me, a very future-oriented person, into a greater appreciation for the present. In this sense, the ability to run more lately is bringing me a sense of harmony with this season of pregnancy. It is tempting and natural for me, right now, to want the fast-forward button. Though infants bring their own challenges, I have, admittedly, felt impatient this time around. For several weeks, I mourned a perceived loss of body autonomy. I am less process-oriented with this pregnancy and sometimes anxious about external expectations to emote/demonstrate/perform differently. However, running cools those flames of worry and also, perhaps most refreshingly, reminds me that I am still the woman inside of me. In a society where pregnancy is often contextualized as medical, delicate, essentially feminine, and perfectly acceptable for objectification, running brings to the forefront several antidotes: strength, resilience, ownership of self and body, independence, and health.

The wildfire smoke haze that dominated much of the month is gone, and last night I woke up to the sound of an unexpected nighttime rain. The breeze touches the skin with a hint of crispness. Dead, dry leaves line the trails, but the ones attached to their branches are starting to redden. Shortening days usher in an earlier golden hour of sunset. I find myself smiling nearly every run these days, because I am here in this movement, and because I am here in this space between seasons.

Happy trails!

july update

13 weeks 2

Here I find myself, pregnant with my second child, and continuing my running practice. The past several weeks have been both exciting and exhausting; challenging in ways I can foggily remember, but also novel in their own unique season. I remain curious and appreciative about what seeing my running practice through a pregnancy will bring. Reflecting on the first trimester, I am very thankful that I knew to keep moving in whatever way I could. Some weeks, running was too unsavory. Even through that slump, I could still find joy in long walks. However, as the flu-like symptoms of early pregnancy subsided, I began to regain my tolerance for running. And then, just as I resigned myself to several months of a more complicated relationship with running, in a fortunate turn of events, running began to feel both joyful and fun again.

I feel like my running practice fits so well with this pregnancy for a few reasons. It brings me strength and clarity during a time when other parts of my biology sometimes feel out of my control. Especially recently, running provides me with that really wonderful combination of endorphins that makes me feel happy and comfortable. This time, pregnancy feels so much less process-oriented; the details and the concerns of the first time are not present, and would also seem almost repulsive at this time. I find I want to just be, and to be peaceful. In my life, a run or a walk in solitude equates to a gift of peace.

In a practical sense, as I near the end of gestation with my other baby, my dissertation, running gives me that mental space to play with ideas. I am particularly grateful for the creative and intellectual energy spun up through locomotion. I am finding and focusing on renewed hunger for zooming in, being present, and grappling with my projects and goals day-by-day. In some ways, this change in my physiology is shifting my mental habits to be more thoughtful, less decisive, and increasingly open to variation.

I do not have grand expectations or ideas of how the next 6 months will unfold, but I am pleased with the balance I currently have. My intention is to honor the practices that make my body and mind feel healthy and strong, even if those evolve from running to something else. In one way or another, many miles and milestones to go.

while you were sleeping

morning run

Image description: Morning sun ray shines through tree branches. A crow flies above.

I woke up early this morning. The light was fading into my eastern-facing bedroom window by 5:00 AM. I was up even before that, mentally busy and reflective. I remembered how, six years ago, I would watch the dawn slowly creep into the house as I listened to my sleeping newborn, soaking in the precious stillness of the time between night and day. The days were lonely and the nights were tiring, but the in-between would always bring a smile to my face. This morning, stirring from the covers, I turned off my alarm, trudged to my closet, and grabbed some running clothes. I could either be awake and horizontal, or awake and on the road. I decided to ditch bed and greet the morning on foot.

There is a great peacefulness in leaving a slumbering house at daybreak. The roads are clear of cars, and the crossing lights turn immediately in my favor, as though my fingers shoot out electricity. The dew glistens on grass, the clouds part away to frame slanted sun rays, and the birds indulge in the day’s first mating songs. As the run progresses, I encounter a handful of other runners. They are smiling, too. We share a secret euphoria. No troubles from the day are being hashed out or replayed; they simply haven’t happened yet. Traversing the streets of a quiet town evokes the euphoria a child feels on a snowy morning; that sense of stillness; that sense that my surroundings are my own private treasure.

Eventually, I glance down at my watch, and realize it is time to head home. The morning begins to ripen. Car doors open and shut and silhouettes are seen in kitchen windows. The neighborhood is waking up. I return, quietly, through the back door. Gently removing my shoes, I softly walk back up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom. Sitting down at the foot of her bed, I watch her slowly stir from sleep. Her bright green eyes flash open. She takes her warm hand, placing the palm on top of my knee. “Mama! You’re home.”

Nourishing the process

Yet, we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate… It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sails, hull, wind, and the sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins… Contrary to what we usually believe, movements like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)

Self-esteem…is something completely different in the incremental system. It is not an internal quantity that is fed by easy successes and diminished by failures. It is a positive way of experiencing yourself when you are fully engaged and are using your abilities to the utmost in pursuit of something you value. – Carol Dweck (Self-theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development)

tunnel

Image description: Spring green foliage peeks through a dark sandstone tunnel.

The quest for Optimal Experience is a hunger that I share with many of my closest friends and family members. As an introvert who is completely at peace with introversion, I do not require many in my circle to feel connected and uplifted. However, when individuals radiate intrinsic motivation, I am immediately attracted to their presence. Striving to achieve something in the long-term as an incremental journey is at the core of how I stay motivated. Living in a society that worships instant gratification, short-cuts, and quick fixes, it is sometimes challenging to find opportunities to nurture the internal locus.

When we watch the flames of a bonfire lap up, curving around the logs and branches, they seem chaotic and impulsive. But as Judy Brown reminds us, “the flame that knows just how it wants to burn can find its way.” The seemingly fickle fire is, in many ways, a metaphor for motivation. We often describe motivation as a finite resource, something that is either earned or depleted—or, in a broader extension—the overall label of an individual’s value. “He’s completely unmotivated!” is a phrase I’ve heard rattled off numerous times during my career as a higher education professional. We identify motivation as a quantity, as a measure of judgement. I challenge this assumption through a belief that motivation is an intrinsic and malleable asset we all possess. Like many other dimensions of personality, ranging from grit to empathy, motivation is muscle that must be exercised intentionally and regularly for the purpose of building its strength.

Given that belief, I turn to the idea that motivation, like the flame, finds its way. As stewards of our minds and bodies, we maintain some control over how we stack the logs and feed the fire. We also develop, through patience and observation, the retrospection and experience to understand that obstacles are not failures. Usually, when I am building a fire in the back yard (especially on a windy spring afternoon), it takes several attempts to get going. Then, after the fire establishes itself, it still requires care and attention in its infancy. Each fire is different, depending on temperature, the air, and the moisture of the wood… and while it is tempting to douse a dying flame with lighter fluid, the magic of combustion is short lived. Slowly but surely, the fire becomes a great experiment, as the creator identifies the nourishment that is needed.

Therefore, one cannot claim intrinsic motivation without keeping a watchful eye on what various dimensions of that motivation require. There is a gap between aspiration and practice. Those of us who are future-dwellers may mistake a lofty and distant idea for an exercise in incremental growth. Setting our sights on a hard-earned achievement is futile without daily dedication to the path leading to it. In my life, this often amounts to finding different portals for engaging with my goals. For example, I use this space to reflect on my running practice. Of course journaling is different from logging miles. If I only wrote about running but never laced up my shoes and went running, then I would be deficient in my running practice (and you would likely wonder what I thought I was doing!). However, if we flip the situation, if I ran without reflecting, then I would still lose. Why?

Because for me, writing and pondering is how my running fire likes to be fed. I do not always have time to publish my reflections on this blog, but I frequently journal about the spiritual and emotional dimensions of running. It helps me connect those dots in my mind. Like other humans, my brain works tirelessly to craft a narrative, to find purpose, and to understand the relationship between experiences. These are the building blocks of motivation. Through making meaning, we find it.

I believe it is worth it to reflect on how we are successful in certain ways and why. Remember, our society maintains an extremely myopic definition of success. Think about what produces pleasure, satisfaction, fulfillment, and brings you back time and time again, even when there are episodes of difficulty. Even when not everything works out perfectly. A few examples from people in my life I admire:

-Hand-weeding and tending of a restorative habitat garden

-Regular composition of poetry

-Lifelong practice of Bach’s solo works

-Writing soap opera scripts (for personal enjoyment) for more than a decade

-Recreating and preserving folk quilt patterns

-Regularly participating in a bowling league

-In-depth and ongoing study of maps and geography

These long-term journeys, nourished through intention, appreciation, and hard work, are the successes. It is easy to feel discouraged, to feel left out, and to feel cheated that we haven’t “arrived” at some grand conclusion of happiness and success. As I reflect on these feelings, however, I realize that the process of listening to what fuels my endeavors and passions is the true reward. Here’s to the incremental, the slow, the steady…  to knowing we can find our way.