Overly introspective post about putting things in my ears while running :P

I frequently see expressed the idea that listening to music or other artificial auditory input during runs somehow dilutes or sullies the experience, or is the domain purely of beginner runners who struggle with internal motivation and instead must rely on the inspiring chords of their pump-up music to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Similarly, my first thought when seeing someone run by with headphones on, wires flapping with every stride, is not ‘wow, that person must be a really dedicated, serious runner’. When I was running on competitive teams back in school, the only people who I ever saw run with music werepeople out for more fitness/recreation-focused runs, and college teammates who had been recruited from the campus rec center treadmills in a slightly misguided effort to cheat the Title IX scholarship balance requirements by bringing a bunch of recreational athletes who often refused to even race in meets onto the women’s team to swell it’s numbers. These recruits listened to music because that’s what they were used to doing while pushing through long runs alone on the rec center treadmill. Now they remained, a bit oddly, plugged in and deaf to the outside world as the rest of us chatted around them, bantering and discussing the latest team dramas.

Through high school and college I loved running through the music blared at XC meets and at the indoor track during workouts, but couldn’t run with headphones unless the music perfectly matched my stride. I never thought I’d be one of those wires-flapping music-listening runners.

And then I graduated. The banter went away, and every training run came to resemble those long, lonely summer and winter runs of solitary base training between team practice seasons. Running buddies were far and few between, and suddenly I had only my own thoughts and footfalls on almost every run, rather than just on a few morning and weekend runs as I’d had while on a team. But I still thought music was for non-serious runners, so I kept pushing through even when my own thoughts rattled dully around in my head and I was nostalgically desperate for the old running team chatter.

Finally, on some dark, repetitive run around and around my grad program university track, the music came out. I think it happened because I’d been doing more indoor cross-training (for which music was very much approved), and I knew that on the well-lit, somewhat protected track the safety concerns of music/ear buds were reduced. I also realized that I could now run even with slower or faster tempo music that didn’t match my stride, which opened up the option of adding a bit of extra motivation to my less delightful or more repetitive track and city park loop runs. Music substituted tolerably for the absent running buddy banter when I wasn’t able to run with Fish or the running club. A fellow runner on twitter inspired me to add podcasts and audiobooks, which even more closely resemble running conversation (if very one-sided). Now when I wasn’t able to meet with my fellow runners but dreaded facing a tired run alone at the end of a long day I could at least motivate myself with the thought of finding out what happened on the latest episode of Serial.

As I’ve gone through the snowy, dark runs of winter in new-job-town I’ve been listening to music, an audio-book, or a podcast on almost every early morning or late night run. I do try to do at least a couple runs a week sans audio, just to make sure I take time to take in my surroundings and listen for any asymmetries in my stride, particularly on the weekends when I can run during daylight hours and have the added stimuli of scenic views. Runs alone with my thoughts and the scenery are also much more inspiring when my mind isn’t already depleted from slogging through 8 hours of repetitive data-processing tasks at work. However, because I have been using audio to get through so many winter runs, I did find myself worrying about actually depending on sound to get me through training. I became concerned that in allowing myself to tune out I am allowing myself to become wimpier, less aware, and less focused.

But then I thought back to my more serious training periods back in high school and college. Was every run a mindful meditation on my footfall, my breathing? Hahaha, no. Most runs were full of chatter and laughter and goofy shenanigans. The talking mostly went away when focus was required, such as during workouts and races (as does my music/book/podcast now), and returned during the less intense miles in between. If I spend my recovery days listening to a conversation between Liz and Xine, the hosts of the PhDivas podcast, or to Diana Nyad talking about her long ocean swims in Find A Way, or to the nerd-tastic hilarity of the You’re the Expert science-comedy podcast, is that really so different from gliding along amidst the chatter of my XC teammates back in college? True, it’s less interactive, but one-sided listening still provides me with interesting perspectives and material for thought. Listening to music usually leads to breathless, gasping sing-along sessions if a particularly good song comes on (and there’s no one around to be injured by my off-key notes), just like the sing-along runs did back in high school and undergrad. If the lure of the humor, insight, and interest added by JustAthletics, Radiolab, NightVale, or my latest audio-book find gets me out the door into the dark and cold, is that a bad thing?

For now I’m going to say no, it’s not a bad thing. I don’t plan to listen to anything while out on the single-track this summer for safety and awareness reasons, and don’t ever see myself doing speed work with music unless it’s blasting over nearby speakers and can more easily be tuned out in moments of intense focus. Races that ban earbuds make sense from a safety standpoint, and I’d still much rather chat with a running buddy than listen passively to pretty much anything else during non-solitary run. In my experience both supplemental audio input and iPod/phone-free mental dialogue have their place in running. I want to maintain balance and the ability to focus through discomfort rather than distracting myself with songs or stories to pull me through, but have also learned that listening to songs and stories on relaxed runs adds a unique guided mental journey that parallels and supplements the physical journey.

Wow, that was a really long-winded way if saying that I don’t care if others listen to headphones while running (unless it causes them to obliviously run into me) and my views on plugging in during runs have changed with my running circumstances. What do you all listen to, or if you don’t, are your reasons different from what I wrote about here?


Training adjustment – because try as I might, I’m just not a cross-training fiend

After my last couple (somewhat whiney) posts, I decided that maybe I just needed to adjust my training to create a better atmosphere for motivation and success instead of sitting around feeling guilty and unmotivated.

The first thing I addressed was the lack of structure. I’ve been planning my training weeks every Monday and sketching the schedule out day by day, but for some reason planning each week makes me feel like it’s not a ‘real’ plan. I come up with excuses based on ‘just not feeling it’, rather than just adjusting based on more critical factors such as pain or sickness. By changing this approach to a multi-week schedule, where several weeks are written down firmly in advance, I can achieve a stronger sense of commitment to the plan. Fish shared her college summer XC training plan with me a few years ago when we were training together, and I really enjoyed the gradual progression and ability to adjust to even relatively low starting mileage. I’ve based my multi-week planning on this schedule, and hope to gently progress along the mileage and pace progressions as my legs allow.


Example of the training level groups and progression over the first couple weeks

The second thing I adjusted was my cross-training commitment. I really, really wish I was a true multi-sport athlete, but I just don’t get quite as excited about my other athletic activities as I do about running. I like them, but committing 3-4 days a week to skiing or trainer rides is difficult. I have realized that trying to be competitive about skate skiing has made me much less enthusiastic about it than I was when it was just a fun way to get my heart rate up in the snow. In order to rekindle that joyful, low-stress attitude I’ve decided not to do the last race and to skip the speed work attempts, and will instead just focus on easy skiing and technique work. I’ve committed myself to at least 2 days of cross-training (ski, bike, or circuits for 20 – 30+ minutes) per week, nothing more. I may increase this as my summer riding gets underway, but for now I’m going to stay more relaxed, and hopefully find more joy in these alternate activities as a result.

Here’s my plan for the next few weeks, with potential (training-style) races penciled in:


We’ll see how it goes!

I found my motivation…

It was hiding behind the clouds with the sun apparently!

10 total weekend running miles + 3 miles of skiing on the (icy) trails accompanied by my latest audio-book read* = a much happier me than on Friday eve 🙂  

Hope you all (or at least whoever reads this ;P) got out for some weekend adventures and fresh air as well.  

*”Find A Way”, by Diana Nyad. Amazing bravery and a great read/listen so far.

Friday training/fitness struggles

Soooo I was supposed to do a skate ski workout today and I bailed for no good reason.

Conditions were fine – I got off work on time (though a bit tired from some tricky Matlab work), it was relatively warm, and we got some snow last night to cover the ice. But I just have no desire to clip into my skis and bust my way up and down a hill, pushing through the fatigue and discomfort of a hard workout. I’m annoyed that I wimped out, but so unmotivated that I haven’t even done any make-up working out indoors this evening. Instead, I’m sitting in my comfy chair drinking tea and writing this. I just want an evening where I can be a bum and focus on other things, but now that evening is also filled with a bit of missed-workout guilt.

I haven’t actually hit my 6-hours/week exercise goal for the last 4 weeks and feel lame for being such a (compared to my expectations) bum. I have been trying to get motivated for that last ski race in March, but honestly it’s tough to be motivated when I know that even with a big improvement I’ll still be off the back of the fast high school pack. With so few beginners/non high-school athletes the races aren’t really super beginner friendly, and I don’t really feel like ending up alone all over again now that I know what to expect. I’m considering skipping the race because it sounds so utterly unappealing to push myself through training for another 4 weeks just to spend a few laps suffering over what are bound to be pretty cruddy late-Spring snow conditions.

My bike trainer is also being a bit neglected, mainly because I’ve been heading to work at 7am so haven’t been staying up late riding the trainer lately. Riding when MountainMan is still up feels rude, as I generally can’t chat on the (freakin’ obnoxiously loud) trainer. Actual bike season is about a month away so hopefully that will motivate me to start getting back on the trainer at least a couple times a week.

Over all I’ve just felt really unmotivated for training other than running, and even running is so unstructured that I’m not really sure what I’m aiming for. It may be time to ‘hire’ Coach MM again to write some workout weeks that actually specify cross-training just so I have someone to be accountable to!

I’m probably being a bit overdramatic about one missed workout, but I really don’t like feeling this combination of laziness and irritation. At least it’ll be time to go to sleep soon and I’ll be able to let go of the guilty/whiney/lazy feelings and start over. Here’s to beginning tomorrow with a good run and ski and much less sitting around inside! Maybe one day I’ll actually be a good, motivated cross-trainer 😛

Motivation – quantitative vs. qualitative goals

I’ve always been motivated by numbers – keeping a 4.0 GPA, hitting a 70 mile week, staying under my splits during a race/workout, or practicing for band a certain number of hours per week.  I can get a little compulsive about the numbers, which can be good (I get stuff done!) but can also result in some painful blow-ups (a stress reaction from not listening when my body said 60 miles was enough, extra stress when I lost that perfect GPA and had to figure out how to motivate myself with a non-round number).

Lately, I’ve been using numbers to motivate me to keep up with the schoolwork/research/teaching/grading grind.  I have a lovely little app on my phone (Time Recording) that lets me keep track of time-on-task, as well as which task I am currently working on.  It’s great (and would be an awesome help for people who actually have to keep track of multiple work tasks for PAR effort percentage reporting).  Having to check out each time I want to look at Facebook (or write a blog post ;P) keeps me honest about how much I’m actually working and lets me go back at the end of the week and see where my time has gone.  

For a few weeks, the must-hit-my-hours-goal plan worked really well – I managed several 65+ hour weeks (including class, research, coursework, and teaching duties) in a row and was able to stay motivated merely by watching the hours add up and enjoying the satisfaction of hitting a goal.  However, the last couple weeks have been rough.  With an hour and a half of commuting each day, the 65 hours of ‘working’ time quickly becomes all-consuming (seriously, I DO NOT understand how people work consecutive 80 hours weeks…that is complete lunacy!)  Consequently, I start losing focus, and the quality of my work suffers.  Sure, I may be ‘working’ 9 – 10 hours a day, but at a much slower pace and with ample ‘zone out’ breaks.  

I’m looking for a way to get my motivation back on track.  I’m on Fall break right now, which means I’ve banned any time-worked goals from my mind and am just focusing on getting a few specific tasks done and getting out for some fresh air.  Hopefully this will help me to recover and dive back in for the remainder of the semester…although I’m sensing that I may need to turn to a few more convincing reward strategies soon in order to have the mental incentive to keep up this uncomfortable pace.  New running clothes, hot cocoa, and new work clothes are a great substitute for the less-accessible reward of actual free time, right?