Benefits offered by running you may not know

Benefits offered by running you may not know

We all know that running is great for the body, but are there benefits that extend into other areas? Can running have a positive effect on your character and how you experience life?

First, let’s have a look at some of the physical benefits:

  • Improves joint and bone health
  • Helps to reduce the risk of disease including cancer
  • Boosts metabolism

Those who run on a regular basis can confirm that this type of exercise has many physical benefits. But running is also great for you mentally and emotionally, ultimately having an effect on your character. Running allows you to challenge yourself and to find and release certain individual character qualities.

Below are some ways running can help you to become stronger in both your body and mind, making you a better person. There are many veteran runners out there that can confirm how running has actually helped and transformed their characters in some form or another.

Running can help to improve Mental Strength

Many take up running after various health scares, which helps them recover or can slow down the disease process. After a while, they find that not only is it helping them physically, but there are many other rewards and benefits. Running can help build perseverance as well as confidence, as you notice results. By continuing and overcoming the initial difficulty of developing a running routine, you feel you can overcome all obstacles.

Another example – imagine having to move from one city to another. A place where you don’t know anybody, a stranger in an unknown environment. This story will resonate with many, including Alice. Her husband got a job in another city and she had to move with him to a new and different place. One of the things she regularly does is run and this is what helped her through the moving transition. Running had helped her build her strength both physically as well as mentally, thereby enabling her to adapt much faster and more easily.

Finding clarity when things go wrong

Running can be something that helps you cope with various life challenges. Think about stressful situations, like those who serve in the armed forces. There are many other instances where depression, stress and anxiety can overwhelm you. Can running help? Yes, there have been those who are going through these painful experiences but confirm that running has helped them cope.

The routine and focus it takes to run can help you to find clarity and peace in challenging circumstances. Running can become a sort of coping mechanism, which is far better than turning to alcohol or drugs.

Running helps you to adapt to change

Sometimes, you might lose control of something in your life, it could be a health issue or other circumstance. In these cases, you don’t have a choice with what is happening to you or around you. This was a case for Sarah (name changed for privacy), who wasn’t a runner, to begin with. But after suffering a health condition that caused blindness in her right eye, she decided to focus on her health more. So, she began a running routine and has kept on ever since.

She is now healthier and has even lost quite a bit of weight in the process. She also has no more health issues and has completed a few marathons since then. She is so confident in what running has done for her that she now tries to get as many friends and colleagues to join her. Running, therefore, helps you to adapt to difficult circumstances, giving you something you can focus on. By choosing to make a positive change, you are helping to overcome any feelings of helplessness.

Confidence Boosting through running

Running is a great way to build confidence. When running, you have to set goals, and this gives you a sense of achievement when you reach what you set out to do. While running, you are focusing on yourself and on the moment. Your improved health, appearance and mood are all confidence boosting. When you start to take care of yourself, you also become better at dealing with everything else in your life.

Running Encourages Creativity

While running, specifically on a familiar route, you can let your mind wander. This puts you in a position to think more creatively, a great way to improve problem-solving skills. Studies show that any moderate aerobic exercise increases a person’s creative potential. This can be seen directly after a workout as well as a few hours later.

So, running can, therefore, increase mental clarity and provides an uninterrupted time where you can think and come up with solutions to various problems. Many runners also claim that their thoughts feel a bit sluggish if they miss their daily run.

Form Friendships through running

We all know that running produces a feel-good mood, which is caused by certain hormones released in the body. This positive attitude and feeling can also affect those around you. You might be a solitary runner, even if it is in a race, you will notice the friendliness and support runners provide each other. You will always find a runner assisting another if the need arises.

For many, the comradery is what attracts them to running. There’s time before a race to chat with your fellow runners while waiting to start. Even during the race, you might find those who encourage you and with whom you can strike up a conversation. The entire running community is supportive, with a positive outlook, attracting many who wish to also experience this type of community.

Promotes Humility

Most runners will have experienced some challenging races, not finishing, having to leave a race due to injury even after hours of hard training. Running does have its challenges, these above as well as things like bad weather or difficult terrain. All these things can have a humbling effect, no matter what level of runner you are. Each runner has setbacks, but ultimately these difficulties help to build your strength and resilience. These hardships you overcome while running can help you with those difficulties that happen in your everyday life.

Run a Marathon

Run a Marathon

To run a marathon is a popular bucket list item which unfortunately most people never get to accomplish. I haven’t managed to find any accurate research on the statistics of the percentage of those that list the desire to run a marathon, that successfully go on to achieve this goal. However what I do know is that completing a marathon is one of the most satisfying bucket list or goal to accomplish.

We offer advice for the couch potatoes starting from scratch, to those casual joggers who desire to run a marathon. Almost without fail, most people go through a difficult period, however with the right determination and burning desire it is very much attainable.

More about the Marathon

The marathon has become a tribute to the legendary Pheidippides, who was a Greek soldier who ran from the ‘Battle of Marathon’ all the way to Athens where he reported victory. Today, this long-distance race is usually run on the road, with runners having to complete a distance of 42.195 km or 26 miles. The marathon is a race meant for running, but many have employed the technique of run/walking in order to reach the finish line.

The official distance, as stated above, was only decided upon in 1921. Before this, records show that the marathon was part of the Olympics in 1896. There are hundreds of marathon races held each year, all around the world. Many of the participants are runners who do it for recreational purposes, which is why many of the events have thousands of entrants each year.

The History of the Marathon

The origins and the word marathon comes from Greek legend. Way back in 490BC, when the Persians decided to invade Greece. The citizens of Athens and the Persians met on the battlefield, which was on the plains of Marathon, a part of northeastern Attica at the time. It is said that the Greek messenger Philippedes also known as Pheidippides, ran all the way from the battle to Athens. Upon reaching Athens, he rushed into an assembly and shouted, “we have won”. Unfortunately, he had so exhausted himself, he fell down and died.

The entire incident was recorded and shows up in an essay by Plutarch, with the heading ‘On the Glory of Athens.’ This appeared during the first century AD and is cited from the lost works of Heraclides Ponticus, a Greek Philosopher and Astronomer.  Here the legendary runner is referred to as both Eucles and Thersipus of Erchius. Another mention of the famous runner can also be found in the writings of Lucian of Samosata, in the second century. The Syrian satirist mentions the famous runner as Philippides.

Herodotus, who was a Greek historian, also mentions a messenger, using the name Philippedes. His comments refer to a messenger who ran from Athens all the way to Sparta, where he requested help. The messenger then ran back to Athens, which would add up to more than 240km both ways. The historian does not mention anywhere in writings about a messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens. He does mention that a large part of the Athenian Army, having beaten the Persians, marched on towards Athens, in order to protect the city from a potential naval attack. So, there seems to be a bit of a debate on the entire story. Robert Browning, an English poet and playwright, penned a poem about Pheidippides in 1879. During the 19th century, his works became popular and the story became legendary.

Considering the route that Philippides ran, he would have had to run around Mount Pentelicus. Now, nobody knows which route he may have taken, but there is a path he could have chosen, which today follows the Marathon-Athens Highway. This exact same route would have been about 40km long (original marathon distance), during the time the Olympics re-emerged in 1896. Philippides could have also taken another route, this would have been shorter, but it would have been a tough climb along the slopes of the mountain. Whatever the distance route, or real story, this famous legend inspired future generations to challenge themselves, all running their own marathon.

The Marathon in the Modern Olympics

The modern Olympics came into being in 1896. Those in charge at the time needed to come up with an event, which could become popular amongst the masses. This is where the idea of Ancient Greece came into play. The marathon race itself was suggested by a man named Michel Bréal. His desire was to have the marathon event appear in the first 1896 Athens Olympic Games.

Pierre de Coubertin, the organizer and one who came up with the idea of a modern Olympics, supported Bréal’s plan. Not only that, the Greek citizens welcomed the idea. The first step was for the Greeks to have a selection race, which was won by Charilaos Vasilakos (he won in 3h18minutes). The modern Olympics began on the 6th April 1896 and the first male marathon winner was a Greek named Spyridon Louis. He won the race on the 10 April in a time of 2h58minutes and 50 seconds.

Many years later, in 2004, the Olympics was again held in Athens. The marathon race was run along the famous route from Marathon to Athens, the finish line being at the Panathinaiko Stadium. This stadium was also the main venue, which held the original modern Olympic in 1896. An Italian, Stefano Baldini won the 2004 Olympic marathon race in record time. Later in 2014, Felix Kandie won the Athens marathon race on the same route and beat Balbini’s record by 18 seconds.

Before, these types of marathon races were run by males only. The first women’s marathon only came into being in 1984 at the USA, Los Angeles Summer Olympics event. The race was won by an American woman named Joan Benoit (2h24minutes52seconds).

Over the years, there has bee a tradition where the men’s marathon race is run on the final day of Olympic events. Also, the race traditionally ended inside the chosen Olympic Stadium, but there have been a few deviations on this. For example, during the London Olympics in 2012, the start of the race, as well as the end was in the famous ‘The Mall’ road located in the city of Westminster.

The start and finish were also different in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which was in a parade area known as the Sambódromo. Another tradition includes handing out the men’s medals for the marathon event at the closing ceremony. One of the countries that have produced many successful track and field runners, is the African country of Kenya. Many of the runners come from the Rift Valley Province.

The birth of Marathon mania

One of the more popular and well-known marathon events is the Boston Marathon. This marathon road race was inspired by the first Modern Olympics Marathon and first began in 1897 and now occurs annually. The route begins in Hopkinton, a town located in Massachusetts and continues onto Copley Square, a public square in the city of Boston. Marathon running grew in popularity in the United States, due to the American Johnny Hayes, who won the Summer Olympics in 1908. What is known as ‘Marathon Mania’ or an obsession with such events followed in 1908, starting with the Empire City Marathon in New York. What followed was a number of non-professional events, all held in the city of New York. All of these marathon races fell on or close to important occasions, such as New Year’s Day, and Lincoln’s Birthday etc.

There was an even bigger attraction created for the sport in 1972 when Frank Shorter won the Summer Olympics Marathon held in West Germany. In 2014, it was estimated that 550.600 participants finished a marathon event held in various location around the United States. Marathon events are now held, sometimes weekly, in many different countries around the world, each with thousands of runners participating.

Women Marathon Runners

Marathon running, for many years, was a male-dominated sport. The first women to run the distance was Stamata Revithi in 1896. She was unfortunately not mentioned in the official results. The first woman who was officially recognized was Marie-Louise Ledru, who ran and finished a marathon race in 1918. Finally, the first woman to have been formally timed in 1926, was Violet Piercy.

More Firsts for women:

  • Arlene Pieper completed the Pikes Peak Marathon In Colorado, she was the first women to finish a marathon in the United States in 1959.
  • Bobbi Gibb unofficially ran the Boston marathon in 1966. She has since also been acknowledged as the female winner for ’67 and ’68.
  • Katherine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon and was the first women to be officially recognized (having a number) in 1967. She was later disqualified because she ran in a race, which was meant only for male runners.

The Distance of the Marathon

To begin, the distance for a marathon race wasn’t clear, but during the first Games, 40km or 25 miles was considered the race length. This was the estimated distance from Marathon to Athens, along the longer route, during those times. Today’s marathon distance is set at 42.195km and was decided upon by the International Amateur Athletic Foundation or IAAF in 1921.

The races today do allow some leniency, but the final distance measured should be 42m over the official distance and not under. Those who are responsible for marking out the route, usually add about 1m per kilometre onto their measurements, in order to prevent any errors in the distance that might land below the required length.

IAAF rules govern the following:

  • Runners must be able to see markers, displayed in kilometres along the route.
  • World records will only be recognized by races that fall under the rules of the IAAF.
  • Professional events: timings must be issued at the midway mark, as well as at every 5km splits.
  • Runners can be recognized for world records, obtained at distances less than the full marathon. The distance must be endorsed by the IAAF, for example, a participant can be recognized for a world record at 20km, 30km etc. The participants will only be recognized for this if they run and complete the full marathon.

Popular Marathon Races

There are many marathon events held throughout the world every year. Many of these are organized by the AIMS or Association of International Marathons and Distance Races. This organization began in 1982 and since has organized events all over the world.

Marathon races worldwide:

  • The Biennial World Marathon Series: includes cities like Tokyo, New York, London, Chicago, Boston and Berlin. They award quite a large sum of money to both female and male participants.
  • Runner’s World nominated the ‘World’s Top Ten Marathons’ in 2006. These included marathons in Paris, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Honolulu amongst others.
  • The world’s oldest yearly marathon is the Boston Marathon, held annually since 1897.
  • Europe’s oldest marathon includes the Košice Peace Marathon, held in Slovakia.
  • The Polytechnic Marathon was held in or close to London, but due to increased traffic in the area amongst other issues, caused organizers to withdraw in 1996.
  • There is the Athens Classic Marathon, which follows the original Olympic route and finishes at the Panathenaic Stadium.
  • You have the more challenging destinations like the Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø in Norway.
  • There are even events being organized in areas like Antarctica, or in desert terrains.
  • Other extraordinary areas where marathon events have been organized include the Great Wall of China, amongst the wildlife in South Africa, the Great Tibetan Marathon high up in Northern India and how about the Polar North Marathon in Greenland.
  • The International Istanbul Eurasia Marathon: Here participants will run in two continents, in Europe and Asia, all in a single race.
  • The Detroit Free Press Marathon: runners pass over the Canadian and US borders twice.
  • The Niagara Falls International Marathon: This event includes one international border crossing.

The Wheelchair Division of the Marathon

Today, many of the marathons also provide opportunities for wheelchairs. Those who participate in this event, usually begin their race a bit earlier than everyone else.

Some interesting facts about the wheelchair division:

  • Ohio, 1974: This was where and when the very first wheelchair marathon took place.
  • Bob Hall won the first wheelchair marathon race in 1974
  • Hall then participated in the Boston Marathon in 1975, from then this division was included in the race. The event was then named the US National Wheelchair Championships from 1977.
  • Ernst van Dyk has won the Wheelchair division race in Boston a number of times and also holds the world record.
  • Jean Driscol has won eight times for the women’s wheelchair division and also holds a world record.
  • The prize money for first place in the Master Division is $10 000
  • Some of the fastest wheelchair athletes include Thomas Geierpichler from Austria and Heinz Frei from Switzerland.

New York City had a shaky start for wheelchair participants and was actually banned in 1977, due to safety issues. However, Bob Hall was allowed to compete, because the Division of Human Rights demanded the marathon organizers give reasons for the ban. It was also decided that wheelchair participants could compete in the New York City Marathon in 1979, and the New York Road Runners Club was directed to accept these athletes in the race. This was later settled in an appeal the following year.

Unfortunately, the State Supreme Court pronounced in 1981 that prohibiting wheelchair athletes was in no way discriminatory because the marathon was actually founded as a ‘foot race’. Due to the perseverance of some wheelchair athletes who still competed in the race over the next few years, their persistence earned them an official wheelchair division in 2000.

I hope that all the history and information about the marathon has motivated you to take on the challenge of running a marathon.

The top 5 reasons for not losing weight – and what to do about it

The top 5 reasons for not losing weight – and what to do about it

In my 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have never, note NEVER, met anyone who could not lose weight no matter how hard they tried. Unfailingly, clients who could not lose weight were making crucial mistakes that were preventing them from success. Unfortunately, many people are in such denial about their exercise, eating and lifestyle habits, that they convince themselves they are doing everything they can to lose weight, while deep inside (deep inside) they know this is not the truth.

Here are my top 5 reasons for lack of weight loss:

You have no patience. Someone somewhere- maybe a fitness magazine, or an ad for a weight loss supplement, or maybe Biggest Loser, convinced you that losing 3-5 pounds a week is doable and expected. NO. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Expect no more than 2 pounds per week of real fat loss, and also expect staggered weeks of no weight loss, then loss. I have seen so many people GIVE UP on weight loss just before the body is ready to give the fat up. Your body does not shed fat easily- have patience. Eating well and exercising daily are their own rewards, but weight loss will happen if you do the work and maintain consistency.

Your job and life are sedentary. The biggest impact on metabolism and calorie expenditure is from our day to day activities- not exercise. It is amazing how many people will exercise one hour a day, but then sit, literally sit, for the remaining 13 hours. If you are trying to lose weight- then become a calorie expending machine throughout the day. Jog to the car, jog up stairs, walk an extra loop around the parking lot, fidget, get up and down from your chair. Do not conserve energy- expend it! Then, add vigorous exercise to top if off.

You walk as your primary source of exercise. Unless you are a true beginner and very deconditioned, walking is not a great calorie expending form of exercise. And, to boot, most people walk at a very slow pace, and pay no attention to how hard they are working. The harder you work- the more calories you burn, and the more likely you are to raise your metabolism. Weight loss necessitates HARD exercise- where your heart rate is up, you are sweating, and you feel like you are really exerting yourself. If you walk for exercise and do not feel like this- then you need to change things up. Research has shown that high intensity cardio intervals are a much better way to expend calories, are much more time efficient, and are safe for most everyone, even the deconditioned. You WILL need help designing an interval program, so ask a fitness professional how to begin.

You do not lift heavy enough weights while weight training. Big problem here. Women are especially prone to this error. Weight training is one of the two keys to weight loss success (key #1 below!). You should be lifting maximally- to failure in some cases, and not just your arms, or the parts you “don’t like”. You must create systemic stress working the major muscles of the body to create changes in body fat and lean tissue to create weight loss. For example, squats, rows, bench presses, lunges, dead lifts are all multi muscle group exercises that crank the metabolism and change bodies. The inner and outer thigh machine will never do that!

And, the #1 reason you aren’t losing-can’t/won’t lose-weight:

You do not pay close enough attention to nutrition. It is amazing to me what people think is “good nutrition”? Not eating all day, skipping breakfast, eating bagels and low-fat muffins? Or, you go on a ridiculously strict regimen (because you have no patience -see #5) and then crash and burn and overeat for days. Or, you are great all week, then overindulge on the weekends (research has shown most people overeat by 35% on weekends), thinking you “deserve” it. Healthy nutrition ALWAYS results in achievement of a normal weight. But healthy nutrition is not about under eating then over eating, not about good and bad foods, not about any gimmicks or supplements- it is about moderation and proper fuelling. Smaller portions, frequent meals, reduction in refined/ high glycaemic carbohydrates, increase in lean proteins and vegetables and healthy fats, low alcohol intake- these are the keys to good nutrition. And, for goodness sake, keep a nutrition log! Anyone who is not willing to do a food log is someone who will not lose weight. Period.

The Beginner guide to Running

The Beginner guide to Running

So, you have decided you want to start running. Are you ready to lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement? That’s fantastic! And we’re here to help you every step of the way.

I’ve been distance running for 13 years now. Over the past decade and a bit I have learned a lot about running, and myself, through reading countless running publications, talking to runner friends, and through my own experience.

The start of my running days seems like an eternity ago, but I remember one thing clearly: I knew nothing about running in the beginning. Seriously, zilch.

I was walking my dog one day and just decided to run for some reason. I wasn’t wearing running-specific shoes or any running gear. I had no watch and no plan. I just ran until I got tired, walked until I caught my breath, then ran again, and so on. I did this same workout for months, but I never told anyone I was taking up running. Because in my mind I wasn’t a runner since I needed walk breaks. Oh, how wrong I was!

Here are some things I wish I knew when I started running

Walk breaks aren’t for the weak. In fact, very much to the contrary. I used to think to be a runner you had to run whole way. Now, I swear by walk breaks and many popular training plans call for them.

You don’t have to race to be a runner. I ran my first race, a 10k, a year after I started running. Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the experience. It was 6 months before I raced again, and that’s when I caught the racing bug. But during that non-racing time, I wasn’t any less of a runner because I didn’t show up to any start lines. I still ran just as often and enjoyed my miles just as much.

Don’t compare yourself to others. When I first started running, all my friends were way faster than me. I was embarrassed to share my times because I was so much slower. Now, I have plenty of friends who are faster than me and some who are slower, and I am lucky to have a couple training buddies who run the same pace. But here’s the thing, I don’t care about anyone else’s times and no one cares about mine either. Pace is all relative.

Running is classified as an individual sport. I don’t compete with my friends, only against myself. However, the running community is incredibly supportive. During a race, my performance may seem like it’s only up to me, but the cheers from the crowds and support from other runners along the course helps enormously.

There is no need to time every run. One of the downsides of only competing with yourself is the constant drive to improve. I went through a phase where I tried to run faster on every run. It was draining to say the least. Now, when I’m not following a training plan, I leave my watch at home. I like running “naked” and just going.

Everyone has bad runs. A bad run, a disappointing race, or a less than stellar year of running doesn’t define you. The opposite is also true. Every runner has ebbs and flows with running. It’s how the sport keeps us on our toes!

Running motivation for beginner runners

Here are a few things that helped my running motivation in the beginning, and still continue to keep me on track:

Run for time not number of miles. Running for 30 minutes instead of 3 miles takes the pressure off pace and goals. It allows you to enjoy the time rather than focusing on a set number of miles. You’re also more likely to run by feel, which helps you to run longer than if you gun it right out of the gate.

Set multiple alarms on your smartphone. The great thing about having a smartphone is you can set multiple custom alarms for a run. You can set it to say, “get out of bed” or “be inspired.” You can set as many alarms as you need to get you out the door.

Sign up for a race. Nothing keeps you motivated to run like training for a race. No matter the distance, following a training plan will help you focus on getting in your runs.

Join a local running club. By meeting others that are motivated to run, you will be more likely to stay committed. Also, most clubs have scheduled weekly workouts that will help you plan your runs for the week.

Buy new running gear. Nothing says “RUN” like a shiny new pair of sneakers. If you find running in the cold or rain difficult, a sweet new hat or pair of compression leggings may be the motivation you need to get out there.

As you embark on the spring challenge, these tips can help keep you motivated and on the road. What are some tips you have for beginner runners to stay motivated?

The basics of building a running foundation

Almost every training plan assumes that the runner has a “base”. Your base is exactly what it sounds like, it’s your current fitness level. You cannot go from running zero miles per week to training for a marathon. Base building is the work that comes in between zero mileage weeks and training, it’s basically pre-training.

Proper base building is a prerequisite for a successful training cycle. Base building increases your endurance, strengthens your muscles, and ensures your body is ready for tougher workouts. Having an adequate base may also lower your risk of injury.

Some training plans call for a base of 10 or 20 weekly miles before you start a training plan. But base building is about more than weekly mileage totals, it matters how you run those miles, too.

If you’re training for your first race, experts suggest focusing on speed or endurance, not both the first time around.

For example, if you’re training for your first half marathon, it’s best to concentrate on endurance. Look at your half marathon training plan to see what distance long run you begin with. If it’s 8 miles and you can only run 4 miles now, work your way 7 miles continuously before the plan starts. Do one long run each week, increasing the distance of the long run by a half mile or a mile each week. In addition, do two or three shorter mid-week runs.

I hope this helps to get you going. Please let us know how you are doing.

A beginners guide to Stretching

A beginners guide to Stretching

It would be impossible to stretch every muscle in the body using only thirteen stretches. The stretches outlined below cover the most important muscles used for walking and jogging. We suggest doing them after your walk or run.   You can also do them any other spare time you have.

The routine starts on the floor so you should have a thick carpet or large thick mat to work on.  You’ll also need several props, including a sofa for lower back support in the sitting position, a counter top to lean against in the standing position, and some pillows to sit on or use in other ways.

Each of the following stretching exercises consists of a starting position, a mental focus and a subtle stretching movement.

13 Great Stretching Exercises for Runners

Sit Cross-Legged:

Start:  If you are not able to sit cross legged comfortably with a straight back, either support your lower back with a piece of furniture or raise your rump on pillows so you can relax your groin.

Focus:  Relax your legs from the groin to the knees.

Motion:  Let gravity work to lower your knees.

Change the forward leg occasionally and repeat the stretch.

Groin Stretch:

Start:  From the same sitting position as #1, put the soles of your feet together a comfortable distance from your body.  Hands on your knees.

Focus:  The closer you bring your feet to your groin, the deeper the stretch.  Work for the right amount of stretch.

Motion:  Let gravity work to lower your knees.  Add the weight of your hands.

Hamstring Stretch:

Start:  From the same sitting position as #1, extend your legs until they are flat in front of you.  relax your legs by shaking them up and down from the knees.  Lock your knees, straighten your back, and bend your toes back slowly and release.  Repeat with back and toes.

Focus:  Work to ease the discomfort behind your knees before you try to place your chest on your knees.

Motion:  As your leg muscles relax, your lower back straightens, and your toes come back farther.

Outer Rump Stretch:

Start:  Separate from the furniture you were using for support, fold both legs to the right with your knees bent 45 to 90 degrees and your right knee against the bottom of your left foot.  Support yourself with your arms.  Lower your chest towards the left knee until you feel the stretch in your left rump.

Focus:  Straighten your back and tilt your hips back for a deeper stretch.

Motion:  Your chest drops progressively towards your knee.

Fold both legs to the left and repeat.

Inner Thigh Stretch:

Start:  Lie down on your back with your legs and body straight.  Bring one foot back beside your hip with your instep flat on the ground.  Hold your foot in place with your hand on your ankle.

Focus:  Relax the muscles holding the knee up.

Motion:  Let gravity lower your knee, occasionally pressing down momentarily and releasing.

Repeat with other foot.

Neck and Torso Stretch:

Start (1):  Lie on your stomach with your knees together, your arms at your side, and your head turned to the left.  After a few moments, turn your head to the right, and repeat several times.

Focus:  Work to release the tension in your neck from one rotation to the next.

Motion:  Side of head lies flatter on the ground.

Start (2):  Straighten your head and bring your hands up for support under your chin or forehead.

Focus:  Relax upper body but be aware of lower back discomfort.

Motion:  Neck sinks, upper back and shoulders sink towards ground.

Start (3):  Rise up on your elbows and raise your head to shoulder level or above.

Focus:  Avoid lower back discomfort by controlling abdomen muscles.

Motion:  Lower back sinks as torso muscles relax.

Quad Stretch:

Each of the following is a more progressive level.

Start (1):  Lie on your stomach with your knees together.  Straighten your head and bring your hands up for support under your chin or forehead.  Raise your lower legs towards a vertical position.

Focus:  Press your hips to the ground and avoid lower back discomfort by adjusting the position of your lower legs.  Point and flex your feet several times during the stretch.

Motion:  Your hips gradually settle on the ground without your having to press them there.

Start (2):  Arms beside your body and your chin to the left shoulder.  Bring your left lower leg back and grab your left ankle with your left hand, lifting your left shoulder slightly in the process.  Then grab your left wrist with your right hand.

Focus:  Press your left hip to the ground and avoid lower back discomfort.

Motion:  Your hip gradually settles on the ground without your having to press it there.

Repeat this exercise with your right side.

Start (3):  Holding your head straight and slightly off the ground, bring both lower legs back and grab each ankle with the corresponding hand.  Press hips to the ground repeatedly.

Focus:  Work for progressively more strength to hold up your head and shoulders.  You should feel progressively less lower back discomfort doing the exercise.

Motion:  Head and shoulders rise, and hips drop.

Stretch Bottoms of Feet:

Start:  From previous position on stomach, push up on all fours.  Sit back on your heels with your toes curled under.

Focus:  Keep feet straight and work to stretch all toes equally.

Motion:  Toes curl flatter on ground.

Lower Back and Quad Stretch:

Start (1):  From the previous all-fours position and the weight mostly on your knees, straighten your toes and place the tops of both feet flat on the floor.  Gradually sit back on your haunches until your back is vertical.  (If you can’t sit back all the way because of knee stiffness, then play with the stretch to the limit of your flexibility before moving to phase 2.)

Focus:  Avoid joint pain in your knees and ankles.

Motion:  You’ll settle onto your haunches and gradually your butt will slip between your lower legs to the floor.  Use a pillow between your legs to support your butt while you are making this transition.

Start (2):  From the previous vertical position on your haunches, lean forward from your waist until your chest is on your knees.  If you feel discomfort in your hips, try placing a pillow between your thighs and torso.

Focus:  Relax back, your arms and shoulders.

Motion:  Your spine curves lower towards the floor.

Achilles Stretch:

Start:  With top of right foot flat on ground, bring your left heel back next to your butt.  Hug your knee next to your chest and keep your left foot next to the right leg.

Focus:  Minimize discomfort in the various joints involved in this complex exercise.

Motion:  Lower leg bends forward towards foot.

Repeat for other foot.

Calf Stretch:

To stretch both calves at the same time, Start (1):  Stand several feet from wall (counter, table top, or fence).  Lean into the wall with your legs straight and your knees locked.

Focus:  Keep both feet flat on the ground and pointed straight ahead.

Motion:  Your legs bend slowly towards your feet.

To stretch both calves separately, Start (2):  Stand several feet from wall (counter, table top, or fence).  Lean into the wall with one leg straight and that knee locked.  (The other leg can be held relaxed.)

Focus:  With the leg being stretched, keep the foot flat on the ground and pointed straight ahead.

Motion:  Your leg bends slowly towards your foot.

Standing Inner Thigh Stretch:

Start:  Stand a few feet from a counter (table top or fence).  With your feet two and a half to four feet apart, bend over from your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper legs.  Shift your hips to one side.

Focus:  Feel a stretch in the groin and inner thigh of the leg being stretched.

Motion:  You’ll feel your hips shift farther to one side or the other.

Shift your hips to the other side.

Outer Hip Stretch:

Start:  Stand up straight, reach straight up with your arms.  Lean to one side.

Focus:  Don’t twist your torso as you lean, but keep it facing straight ahead.

Motion:  You lean farther to the side as you relax.

Lean to the other side.

The Runner’s high and how to get, and stay, in the ‘flow’

The Runner’s high and how to get, and stay, in the ‘flow’

Most runners know that amazing feeling when you become so completely absorbed in your run that it feels effortless. Itss those times when an hour feels like 10 minutes, you don’t have a single worry and you have a stupid grin on your face. This is flow – the state originally identified by researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a state of complete absorption in one’s activity, in which “every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one.”

Flow has been shown to boost not only creativity and productivity, but also athletic performance. It has also been found to increase overall quality of life – people who experience flow more frequently have been shown to be happier overall and exhibit higher concentration, higher self-esteem and even better health.

In order to get into flow, you must be “intrinsically motivated” to be running (i.e. not feel that you are required to do it by anyone or anything); it must be challenging but not too difficult, you should feel as though you are in control and you must receive immediate feedback throughout the activity.

Here are some tips for switching on and prolonging flow during your workouts:

  • Train consistently: Potentially the most important factor in achieving flow is having your task be challenging enough for your skill level (but not too challenging). The more consistently you train, the easier it will be for you to identify your strengths and challenges are as a runner, and thus to know how to adjust your training appropriately. It will also be easier for you to know what kinds of tasks are enjoyable for you so that you can go out for the run without feeling like you have to. This will contribute to that ‘intrinsic motivation’ factor.
  • Set your goals wisely: Having clear goals is another important factor that helps to get into the flow state. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every time you go for a run, you have to be training for your next race PR. But it does mean that you should leave the house with a concrete goal for your training session – whether that goal is to run a certain tempo or simply to capture a beautiful sunset photo.
  • Stay present. The best way to get into flow and stay there longer is to pay attention to clear and immediate feedback and adjust accordingly. This means listening to your body carefully and keeping focus on how you feel. If you feel stressed, winded, or strained in any way, then the challenge of your workout is exceeding your current ability, and you should dial it back. If, on the other hand, you feel bored, your mind is wandering to thoughts of work or day-to-day minutia, or you don’t feel like you’re working out at all, that’s an indication that your skill level exceeds the challenge of this workout, and you should kick things up a notch. The best way to train this body focus is by practicing regular meditation, whether seated or running.
  • Stay positive. If you get ‘kicked out’ of flow, the best way to restore it is through relaxation and positive thinking. That means silencing the inner critic in your head and focusing on what you’re enjoying in your workout.
  • Do something new, different, or scary. Another potential contributor to flow state is one often seen in extreme sports: the element of risk. This doesn’t mean you have to go running along the side of a cliff; simply doing a task differently from the way you normally do it can help increase your level of focus, interest, and attention on the task, which can help you to get into flow faster. This is an instance where it can be helpful to set goals that scare you.
  • Listen to music. A final ‘hack’ that is frequently used by athletes is one you likely already employ – listen to music that makes you happy, and that helps you set your favorite pace. Music has been shown to enhance flow and boost performance in athletes. In fact, music and performance researcher Dr. Costas Karageorghis has said that “music can be thought of as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug” precisely because it helps athletes to get into flow, reduce unpleasant thoughts, boost concentration and increase positive emotions.

The best thing about flow is that absolutely anyone and everyone can experience it, and it’s even easier for regular runners than for non-athletes. Do you have any favorite tricks for getting into, and staying in, “the zone”?