Friday, March 29, 2013

My Running Brain

Memory really defines who we are. Without memory we have no past, without our memory we cannot plan for the future, and it really helps us appreciate the moment. 

Dr. Gary Small, UCLA Centre for Memory and Aging

This is my office brain.

This is my running brain.

I watched CBC's  Doc Zone, Now Where Did I Put My Memory and it got me thinking of loved ones.

When I run I recognize that my brain is stimulated and considerably more aware of the moment than when I am sedentary.  While running my brain allows me to peek into the future and consider life's options with astonishing clarity.  While running I think of past events, of relationships, of possibilities, of hopes, of successes and failures. I make connections to events and the connections give meaning.  My running brain is different than my office brain.  My office brain is rationale, linear, sequential and locked in formality. My running brain by comparison is vibrant, free, receptive, colourful, and multi-dimensional. 

The question shouldn't be why do you run?... that's easy, we run because it makes us happy. The real question is why does running make us happy?  That question is more complex and requires deeper thinking. A big part of why running makes me happy is because it stimulates my brain and projects images that I would never see while sedentary.  My running brain makes me happy because of the colours I see and the textures I feel.  Running brings clarity to the nuances of life. My running brain makes me happy because of the answers it provides and the questions it raises. My running brain heightens my awareness of myself in this moment.  

This morning while running ... my brain locks into the crunching of the ice underfoot. It is a metronome to my heart.  The hoar frost, so stunningly gorgeous, soothes all worries ... how can there be problems with hoar frost so close, so thick, so intricate?  My brain negotiates winding trails and icy patches, calculating and adapting, knowing when to slow, when to go.  It's hyper-tuned to the moment.  But I ramble.

Hoar Frost, March 29
My loved ones?  There is a family person in my life with cancer.  She connects my brain to my past with tenderness and love.  She firmly anchors me to the present with pride and devotion.  This person, this loved one with cancer with months to live, she prepare me for my future with grace, and dignity.  

I run because it makes me happy.  Running makes me happy because it floods my brain with memories.  My running brain connects me with loved ones and delivers me to simpler times. Running plants me in the present and provides moments of brilliance, of clairvoyance.  My running brain fills me with joy. 

So friends remember, it's a good day to be alive.

When will you run today?


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Enough With the Whining!

I've had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened.

Mark Twain

"Stop your whining"

Twain had it right. The problems we experience are mostly in our head. They exist as worries, dread, fear, and anxiousness.  Some problems are big, and painful and they're in your face, I get that, but most of the problems that plague us are simply figments of our imagination. They worm their way through our brain and lodge themselves snuggly and firmly.  Left unchallenged they lead to defeatist attitudes and they have the potential to change our life's trajectory.  

This morning .. actually, let's back up a bit... last evening I was dreading today's 16 mile run.  The weather is lousy and more snow is on the way. Treacherously jagged ice lines the sidewalks and snowdrifts tall as bungalows make me feel insignificant. The wind is relentless and causes the skin on my knuckles to crack and bleed. I seem to be frozen in a block of prehistoric time. All of this is breaking my running spirit.  

The problem is that I'm sick and tired of the cold and I want to run in warm weather. This is a problem that I can't control. It's lodged in my brain, but it's not real. Sure the cold is real enough, but big deal, it's cold, get over it. Instead of thinking about how fortunate I am, how healthy I am, how I have nothing to complain about, I choose to whine. Instead of thinking about people with real problems, people whose lives are devastated by illness or by loss, I choose to whine.  The whining doesn't make it warmer, it doesn't make me feel better, but I continue to whine like a baby.  These thoughts we have, they steep in our brain in a compote of negative energy.

I pulled on my shoes this morning and layered up with a little vaseline on my cheekbones and headed outside, solemnly, reluctantly for a 16 mile run... Okay, let's get this dance over with ... Within minutes I find my stride. I feel my body warming on the cold dark street and I listen to the rhythmic sound of my feet on the pavement. I sense the presence of my heart, strong and surging with life force. My breathing is calm and my legs pump hard as if forever young.  And I feel wonderful and full of joy as I run down cold dark streets with snow piled high and the wind in my face. These streets, the same streets that moments before existed in my mind with dread and forebode, are now soft and inviting.

I hooked up with some pals at mile three, and ran ten with them, and then another three home for 16. Home, with steamed hot chocolate, a warm fire blazing, and a soft bed awaiting.  Happiness and life in abundance.  Thoughts of goodness firmly planted in my mind.

So dear reader, if you have a problem, think.  Is this a real problem or is it a figment of your imagination? If it's the latter shake it off and slip on the sneakers.   

You know it friends, it's a good day to be alive.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

A gift from my baby brudda

When I woke up this morning 
rainbows filled the sky
Yes I woke up this morning
rainbows filled the sky
Telling me, everything's going to be alright

Rainbow by G.Love from the album, Lemonade

I had a nice little 3.5 miles slow dance this afternoon that lifted my spirits. Not that they needed lifting, but the top-off was nice, sort of like an extra slice of strawberry rhubarb pie on a July evening ...  don't need it, but mmm, it sure tastes good. I've been sidelined this week because of a minor calf injury, a residual injury actually, the same one that keeps haunting me several times a year. My amazing massage therapist worked some powerful magic over two intense sessions this week and it has paid off. I will run 10 miles tomorrow. My schedule calls for 14.5 miles but that would be crazy, right? I better stick to 10 slow ones.

(By the way, maybe we should keep my 10 mile run a secret from my amazing massage therapist. She would not be amused!  So if you know her, mom's the word, right? ;>)

My brother gifted me an album this morning from iTunes. It just appeared in my inbox like magic. He says I need a new play list and it arrived just in time for my run. It's nice receiving a gift out of the blue when it's least expected. It brings a pang of joy. The tunes are nice, great actually, but the thought behind the tunes brings a glow. The album? G. Love, Lemonade... it's hip, it's hop ... it is what I am not... and I love it. If you saw me run today I would have been grooving down the trails all funked out and lost to the world (do the kids still use funked out... did any kids, ever?). Nice that.

Did you hear that the race committee cancelled the United Nations sponsored Gaza Marathon scheduled for April 10 because the ruling Hamas movement refused to allow women to run alongside men?  Gaza has been under the control of Hamas since 2007. 807 people had registered for the run, 385 women and 422 men. Another 1,600 boys and girls were registered to participate in the event. The decision to cancel the race was taken after the ruling Islamist movement refused to backdown over the issue of men and women running together.  The Hamas issued this statement of regret:
We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don't want men and women running together.  We don't want any women running uncovered. 
A United Nations spokesperson  said:

It is frustrating for us, we are disappointed and we are sad but we cannot accept the conditions from [Hamas] – to accept this would be to go against the principles of the UN on equality and women's rights.

I'm thinking the Hamas movement should check out G. Love's Lemonade and chill a bit.  Kudos to the race committee for cancelling the event rather having a men only race.  

It's a good day to be alive, alive and free from intolerant Hamas ideology.


(source for Gaza Marathon story: Globe and Mail, March 6 and The Age World)

Sunday, March 3, 2013


One, two, three, four
Tell me that you love me more
Sleepless long nights
That is what my youth was for

1,2,3,4 by Feist from the album, The Reminder

So, maybe it is true, maybe we do get faster with age.  I have plotted the completion times of 24 of the 25 half-marathons that I have run since 2005 (I omitted the 2009 DNF). I converted the times into minutes and omitted seconds (e.g. a time of 1 hour, 58 minutes, 17 seconds was converted to 118 minutes). Interestingly, the peaks represent the hypo-half marathon times which are traditionally slower due to the elements. The valleys are fall and spring races on dry pavement.  I then had the program calculate a mathematical trend represented by the black line.  Clearly the trend shows a general decline in time meaning, I'm getting faster! At this rate I'll be running a 1:30 half-mary by the time I'm 90!

My calf is presently tight like a banjo string so I pulled out of this morning's long run and opted for a second coffee instead. This proves empirically that not only am I getting faster as I age, I'm getting smarter too!

It's a great day to be alive, cuddled up around the fire listening to a sweet playlist on a lazy Sunday morning.