Heroin, Food, and Running: What’s your Drug of Choice?

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I started Run Leelanau because I love where I live and my favorite way to explore this area is by running. My daily runs are full of beauty – much of which I showcase via social media. However, Northern Michigan is not without its flaws. This region, just like (literally) every region in the United States, is deep in the throes of the opiate epidemic.

As someone who works daily with people who suffer from addiction, the amount of judgment and lack of empathy from the general public is horrifying and disgusting. Every time an overdose is reported in our local news, the comments section is full of ridiculous statements like, “Natural selection,” “You can’t fix stupid,” and “Poor parenting leads to heroin addiction.” It makes me want to rip my hair out. Just typing those sentences out is making me clench my jaw to a point where it hurts.

People who display anything but sympathy or empathy for an addict are uneducated, small thinkers, and sad.

And yes, I am comfortable making that bold, generalized statement about people who judge addicts. Because the truth is, those who are judging the opiate addicts are likely facing an addiction of their own. Research has shown us over and over that addiction, no matter the substance, impacts our brains similarly.

Please note that people can be addicted to:
Drugs, food, exercise, gambling, social media, attention, television, video games, sex, shopping, work, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

It’s easy to say I am addicted to running. I get a boost in my mood after a run and crave it regularly. But I’m not foolish enough to think my only addiction is running. I’m well aware of the dopamine spike I feel when I eat an ice cream cone or some other excessively sugar-based item. In fact, food used to be my coping mechanism. I weighed around 200 pounds when I was 14-years-old. The difficulty with food addiction is you can’t ever actually quit – you just have to manage and maintain. My current relationship with food is much more reasonable, as I realize the importance of eating for fuel and have developed a greater sense of control. But I still live in a culture that uses food for everything – celebrations, dealing with sadness, family functions- it’s often the foundation for many gatherings and events.

So many Americans are addicted to food. Our obesity rates speak for themselves. The CDC reports that 70.7% of American adults are overweight. A good section of that percentage can be explained by food addiction and eating habits. The way opiates impact the brain is similar, but exponentially greater. When we eat or exercise, dopamine gets released and tells us to keep doing the thing that released it. The brain wants more of what made us feel good. With substances like opiates, excessive amounts of dopamine is released – far more than what is released during a natural behavior that causes pleasure (such as eating or exercise). This flood of dopamine causes the brain to completely rewire itself. After lengthy and repeated use, the brain may not produce dopamine naturally anymore and requires more and more of the substance to produce it.

So before you go judging a heroin user for their addiction, take a very good look at yourself and consider what your addiction may be. If you cannot display empathy for an addict or their family, keep your thoughts to yourself. Like I said, I love where I live and that love helps me continue to advocate for those who need our support.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction or mental health disorder, there is help readily available 24/7.

Local resources include:

Third Level Crisis Center 231-922-4800 – Available 24/7. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also use their text line: 231-480-0292

Catholic Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-947-8110

Munson Behavioral Health (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-935-6382

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-922-4850

And of course, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

 

A Summer without Goals

A Summer without Goals - Run Leelanau

Summer summer summer time! In my previous post, I mentioned that I didn’t have any races of significant distance on my radar. I’m signed up for many summer races, but have absolutely no goals set for these races. It’s liberating, thrilling, and terrifying all at the same time.

As a [fairly] competitive individual, I always have a time or distance goal set for specific races on my agenda. This summer, I do not. My plan is to run when I want, where I want, for how far I want, and at whatever pace I want. No pressure (Say whaaaaaaaaaat?) There will be days that I go fishing instead of running. Sometimes I’ll ride my bicycle to a brewery instead of running. Other days I’ll run 13.1 just because I want to. I’ve had a goal on my agenda for as long as I can remember. When I’m ready to set a goal again, I want to be eager to work for it. And I’m just not there right now. Right now, I don’t care if I run a 3 hour half marathon this Saturday. I don’t care if I walk, socialize, or do cartwheels down the hills (JK, I can’t do a cartwheel to save my life).

Knowing me, I’ll be itching to set an unreachable goal by July. However, I’m absolutely pumped to have such little pressure on myself for the summer. I need some balance and in order to achieve that, I’m going to take a break from my competitive side and run just for the sake of running again.

As an adult who works full-time, I can’t take an actual “summer vacation,” so this is going to be as close as I can get. A little less pushing, a little more relaxing. Happy summer 2018!

5 Reasons the Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon is the Bee’s Knees

5 Reasons the Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon is the Bee's Knees - Run Leelanau
When you cross The Narrows, you’re in the homestretch. How’s that view for the final push?

Believe it or not, I do not currently have a race that is of significant distance on my calendar. However, I am very excited for the next race that is on my calendar: The Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon! This year, it falls on June 16th. Hands down, this is one of my favorite half marathons of all time (do I say that about all of them? Hmm…) Anywho, the following 5 reasons are why I.LOVE.THIS.RACE.

1) It starts and ends right in the middle of Glen Arbor

As in, you should probably get yourself a great glass of wine from Cherry Republic after the race. Or, if you’re a beer fiend like myself, check out their brand new brewery and tap room! Or, stop by Art’s Tavern for a burger and their huge selection of beers. Or…or…or…

2) It’s so incredibly beautiful

I know, I know. I say that about every race. I could be running through a sewer and think it’s beautiful simply because I’m running. But this one is for real. Runners tackle the circumference of Big Glen Lake. And yes, this includes the ascend of Inspiration Point. Come on, with a peak named Inspiration Point, you know it’s going to be good.

3) Hills! But not too many…

This race has a monster hill (see reference to Inspiration Point). It’s the kind of hill you can run up, but some mean power walkers may pass you (oh, just me?) There are a couple of other smaller hills as well, so you finish feeling accomplished but not dead. Perfect combo, right?

4) The Narrows

Towards the very end of the race, runners get to cross the iconic Narrows. Big Glen is on your right and Little Glen is on your left. And of course, The Sleeping Bear Dunes‘ famous Dune Climb waves at you majestically as you run by. This may be even more inspiring than Inspiration Point! As it’s in the last leg of the race, it’s the perfect boost to get you to the finish line.

5) Summer Solstice!

Obviously from the title, this race always falls near the summer solstice. It literally kicks off the beginning of the summer race season. What is better than celebrating the start of summer with a half marathon? NOTHING IS BETTER, DUH.

So do I have you convinced yet that this is the best half marathon ever? Thought so. I’ll be there, so join me! If the half marathon isn’t your favorite distance, they have a 5k option as well. Hope to see you there!

“Talking Shop”

"Talking Shop" - Run Leelanau
If I’m not running or talking about it, do I even exist?

My daily commute to and from work allows me to listen to podcasts on the reg. While listening to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast the other day, she mentioned a notion she called “talking shop.” This was referenced while discussing jobs and tips for understanding if you are on the right career path. If you like to “talk shop” (ie, talk about your job when you are not at work), it’s a good sign.

For example, I work as a clinical therapist and love talking about mental health and the human brain when I am not at work. Honestly, I think this is a great method for measuring how happy you are with your chosen career path. This made me think about other areas of my life that I like to “talk shop” about. Naturally, running was one of the first things I thought about. I could talk about running all day, everyday. Once I learn that someone is a runner, I fire 4000 questions at them right away. “What’s your favorite distance to run? How long have you been running? What are your running goals? Do you have a favorite race,” all shoots out of my mouth in a big blur. And if someone is not a runner, but asks me about my running, watch out. My obsession becomes obvious.

If something is a large part of your life, yet you don’t like to talk about it, perhaps it is time to re-visit what purpose it is serving in your life. If you dislike your job, are you able to change it? And if you run or complete another form of exercise regularly, yet do not really have an interest in it, why continue? Obligation? Health benefits? You shouldn’t dread your daily exercise routine. There are many forms of exercise. Pick one that you enjoy and one that you love to talk with other people about. Most forms of exercise, including running, have wonderful, supportive communities full of people who love the activity.

Naturally, switching something like the form of exercise you participate in is easier than switching careers. I’m one of the lucky ones who got to choose my career instead of circumstances forcing me into the first available job. I’m very grateful. And if anyone out there wants to “talk shop” about running (or mental health!) get at me.

‘Twas the Night Before the 50k

50k eve

 

‘Twas the night before the 50k, when all through the house

All the anxieties were stirring, the heart fluttered most.

All the race gear was laid out by the bedside with care

In hopes that over-preparation would help just a hair.

The runners were nestled, restlessly stirring in their beds

While visions of DNF’s floated through their heads.

I, in a fit of agitation, and my spouse at a safe distance

Had settled into bed at 7, per my insistence.

The alarm was set 6 hours too early

For rushing in the morning would certainly make me surly.

Stomachs rumbled with threats of GI issues

And I quickly arose to pack more tissues.

For a trail race could lead to some awkward bathroom trips

They say, ‘never trust a fart,’ but you can’t always help what slips.

At last the final thought left the exhausted runner’s head

And race day quickly came with a mix of joy and dread.

After 18 weeks of preparation and training,

It’s just 7.75×4, how’s that for some reframing?

 

 

 

Streaking

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In all my years of running, I have never completed a run streak. It’s never had an appeal to me. Hell, I hate to admit it, but I like rest day. So no rest days for xxx amount of days/months/years?! WHY.

I’ve read stories where people have streaks going for decades. Literally, running at least one mile every day for more than 30 years. They have great stories about how they are forced to creatively get those miles in. One guy reported that he ran 2 miles in a row; the first mile started at 11:50PM and the second mile ended at 12:10AM. And just like that, two days are knocked out in the span of 20 minutes. Genius.

Of course, I’m not one to stay up until midnight. I prefer to be in bed by 8:30. Well here I am, about to step outside of my comfort zone and run everyday for a month. As an Ambassador for the incredible organization, Still I Run – Runners for Mental Health Awareness, I am joining their challenge to streak for the entire month of May. Now, this particular challenge states that individuals can either walk or run at least one mile daily. Due to the nature of my job, though, I walk several miles daily. I will not be counting those miles, as that does not seem fair (hence this being a challenge).

I’m hoping that none of my runs take place after my usual bedtime, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice for a month. The challenge has three different participation levels; ‘free,’ ‘regular,’ and ‘bonus.’ The free challenge invites runners to join the Facebook group and post about their daily mileage. The regular challenge costs $10, and participants receive a Still I Run bracelet and custom ‘Mental Health Road Warrior’ race bib. The bonus challenge is $25 and participants receive the items from the ‘regular challenge’ in addition to custom BibBoard Fasteners.

Money raised through the challenge goes back to Still I Run to fund events, other challenges, and mental health awareness educational material. Win win! So clearly, you all need to join me on this challenge and run or walk one mile everyday in May! (And hey, the weather is bound to be better than it was in April, am I right?)

 

Sodium is my Favorite Food

Sodium is my Favorite Food - Run Leelanau
These could use a little more salt

For real. Even before becoming a long-distance runner, I’ve loved the salty things in life. I’m the person who adds salt to already salted popcorn and soup. Heck, I salt my steamed vegetables.

My love of salt is relevant to running because I experienced symptoms of hyponatremia during two of my marathons. If you don’t know, hyponatremia occurs when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. This commonly happens to endurance athletes who consume water while exercising, but not enough electrolytes. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and confusion. If hyponatremia persists for too long without treatment, it can cause long-term damage or even death (please note I am not a doctor – source credit; the ever favorable WebMD). Warm and humid weather can make people more susceptible to hyponatremia, as it causes them to sweat more (thus losing more sodium/electrolytes).

It was during my first and third marathons that I had symptoms of hyponatremia. The first one because I had no idea what hyponatremia was and I didn’t know how to fuel/hydrate during that initial 26.2. After I finished, my family and I went to a restaurant to celebrate. I remember sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall (yuuuuuuuck), thinking I was going to die. When I finally ate my sandwich, I was blown away by how quickly I started feeling better.

I suffered from symptoms of hyponatremia during my third marathon while still on the course. It was humid and I was pushing myself for a time goal. I was dangerously close to not meeting that goal and had no seconds to spare in grabbing any fuel for the last few miles. Literally at mile 26, I started to get tunnel vision, my face was numb, and I had chills pinging throughout all of my limbs. Lesson learned – time goals are not worth putting my health in danger.

I brought these occurrences up to my doctor. He educated me on hyponatremia and you know what? He encouraged me to consume more salt! What a glorious man. Perhaps I have taken his suggestion too far, as the amount of salt I put on popcorn now makes my husband choke and cough. But in all seriousness, I am diligent at consuming electrolytes with my water while running, and I usually have a salt tablet in my mouth during long runs. I don’t know about you guys, but after a very long run, I typically have salt caked up behind my ears and all over me from the sweat (TMI? Ah, well). So clearly, that needs to be replenished as I’m moving.

To me, the most important thing about endurance training is finding an appropriate fueling strategy. I love learning about other peoples’ fueling – what, how often, what works, what has failed, etc. Drop me a line to let me know!

Upholder

Upholder - Run Leelanau
As an ‘Upholder’ I have very little trouble committing to my training schedule without outside encouragement.

 

Self-improvement, we’re all striving for it, right? I’m constantly absorbing material through media, literature, and podcasts that include ‘life hacks.’ One of my favorite authors and podcast hosts is Gretchen Rubin. I first learned about her after she wrote The Happiness Project. Years later when I stumbled upon her podcast, I was thrilled.

Gretchen Rubin has a theory that people largely respond to expectations in four different ways. How you individually respond to expectations helps to identify ways to set goals and actually stick with them. Rubin describes these as the “Four Tendencies.” She has a full book on the four tendencies, but you can take her online quiz to discover your individual tendency and learn more about each one.

Naturally, I took this quiz and learned that I am an ‘upholder.’ Being an upholder means I readily meet inner and outer expectations. Accurate. If I set goals for myself, I generally meet them. If others expect something of me, I have no problem accomplishing it. Naturally, not everyone falls into this ‘upholder’ tendency. The other tendencies include the obliger, questioner, and rebel. Check out Rubin’s work to get a full description of these other tendencies.

 

So what does being an upholder look like for me as a runner? Well, I find it pretty easy to stick to my training schedule. I don’t need a running buddy to get me out of bed for early runs. But it also means I like to be in control of everything. If something unexpected comes up that forces me to skip a run, I get irritable, anxious, and agitated. I am not the most flexible person and rarely do I like surprises. I like to know exactly what is happening at all times. Obviously, these are things I’m working on improving.

Part of the reason I am an upholder is because I have anxiety. Running really helps me keep my mental health in check. I know I need to get better at being flexible, because life happens and runs will be missed. I used to run in the morning before too much ‘life’ had a chance to happen, but my current work schedule already gets me out of bed around 4am. I’m not about to get up before 2am to run. Now I exercise after work, which can be a problem when unexpected situations occur.

I enjoyed learning about my ‘tendency’ as it helps me understand the best way to approach goals I set for myself. Take the quiz and let me know your results! I’d love to know how many runners out there are fellow upholders or if a different tendency is more common for runners.

Peak Week

Peak Week - Run Leelanau
Good Harbor at sunset after running 26.2

“It’s not 26.2 miles, it’s 6.55 x4,” I told myself going into Sunday’s long run. My training schedule called for a 26-miler, but what kind of distance runner stops at 26 and leaves the .2 hanging? Seems like bad luck.

Last week was “Peak Week” in my 18-week ultra training plan. This plan has me maxing out at 26 miles in preparation for the 50k. I suppose this makes sense, as most marathon training plans I have completed max out around 16-20 miles.  (Though before my first marathon, I ran 26.2 two times to make sure I could do it. I’m not obsessive or anything…)

So now? I taper. At the time I’m writing this, I ran the 26.2 yesterday. That means I’m prettyyyyy excited to taper since I feel a bit fatigued. I ran 3.5 recovery miles this morning. And by ‘ran,’ I mean hobbled. But I know as soon as the tightness of my muscles fades away, this taper will make me antsy. But hey, isn’t that the point? Isn’t the taper supposed to get me so eager to run that I’m ecstatic when race day comes?

I still have a couple of 10-13 milers left, so I won’t be completely deprived of long runs. I’m hoping I can complete more of my mileage on trails in these remaining weeks. My ultra is a trail race and I am sad to say I did not spend as much time training on the trails as I would have liked. The snow and ice really deterred that. Sometimes I couldn’t figure out where the trail was and got hopelessly lost. Other times the snow was deeper than my knees to a point where I didn’t feel like that would be quality running. And lately, the snow has been hard-packed into ridges where it’s too dangerous to try and run on it. So, this trail ultra will likely completely kick my ass.

My Sunday marathon felt pretty darn good though, which surprised me. I recently discovered Spring Energy and it’s an incredible fuel. I have the sampler pack, so I was stocked with on-the-go fuel and electrolytes. I continue to use Generation UCAN as well, so the combination of both of those with some salt tablets helped me stay energized throughout my run. The most important thing I have learned with distance running is the importance of fueling before you feel like you need to. I take a swig of UCAN or half a packet of Spring Energy every three miles. It may seem excessive, but it’s what works for me.

I finished the long run in 4:04:46. Given that my marathon PR in a race is 3:58, I was quite impressed with my time. I ran the majority of this on hard-packed dirt roads – it was as trail-like as the conditions would allow for the day. So do I feel ready for this ultra? Kind-of. But I feel that way going into every big race. Like they say, trust your training and just have fun. And most importantly, it’s not 31 miles, it’s 7.75 x4.

Persistent

Persistence - Run Leelanau
My brother and I after my first marathon. This photo is taken after I spent about an hour laying on that very concrete, vowing to never move again.

Persistence versus talent; there is a big difference between the two. Many runners today are extremely talented and have known nothing but their wild talent. I have a friend who recently started running. He’s in his early 30’s and has been admiring race photos and running from afar. One day he decided to go out for a run. Out of nowhere, this guy is crushing half marathons at a pace less than 7 minutes a mile. There has been no training, no weeks of progressive improvement; just out the door, running 13.1 miles in less than 1.5 hours.

I am not a talented runner. Genetics did little for me athletically and I am not, by nature, fast. During my 7th grade cross country season I always finished last. Literally last, at every.single.race. My first 10k and half marathon were desperate attempts to make it to the finish line without crying (or dying). I kept working at it, though. Not necessarily to get better, but because I enjoyed it so much.

For awhile, I developed a competitive side and worked really hard to increase my speed. I enjoyed (and still do enjoy!) placing in my age group. However, I’m definitely much slower than I was in my early 20’s. Heck, I’m much slower than I was just 3-5 years ago. Perhaps it’s the ongoing issue I have in my left hamstring, perhaps it’s the natural aging process, or perhaps it’s because I never turn down the opportunity to indulge in pizza and beer (hey, you gotta live, ya know?) And though I may be slower, I still head out for every run and complete the mileage requirements on my training plan (including last Saturday’s lengthy 24-miler. Bah!)

The people I admire the most are the athletes that have to work really hard to be elite. I love the ones who embrace their lack of talent and acknowledge their unending persistence. (Of course I love watching the ones with raw talent compete as well – it’s incredible. And I’m not suggesting that those who are extremely talented don’t have to work hard.) Perhaps it’s because I can identify more with the persistent ones or maybe it’s because it gives them a personable side to their fame. Whatever the reason, they’re my favorite athletes in the field to follow. They are the ones who do it for the love of the sport.

We are all well versed with the life metaphors that running creates for us and persistence is no exception to that. Most things in my life are a result of me being persistent and finding ways to accomplish things when they were seemingly impossible. My husband and I own our home because of persistence. I have my master’s and a wonderful job because of persistence. I continue to run marathons because I am persistent.

Strangely enough, people have a tendency to give up when they are the closest they’ve ever been to achieving a goal. It’s usually that last bit at the end that is the hardest. The last year of my master’s program was the hardest; I had to work full-time, intern 24 hours per week, and handle a class load. I considered taking the year off to give myself a break, but I didn’t. I powered through, painfully and full of complaints (just ask my husband). Similarly, the last bit of a marathon training plan is the hardest. You’re running 20+ mile long runs and often more than 45 miles per week. It’s exhausting, time consuming, and can be downright annoying to spend all your free time running. However, I personally believe there is no feeling quite like crossing the finish line of a marathon.

During my first marathon I panicked at mile 18. My legs felt like they weighed 80 pounds each and I was drained of energy. At this stage of my marathon running, I had no idea how to fuel for a distance that long. At that point I remember desperately hoping I would get hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to keep running. Somehow, I continued to place one foot in front of the other. My panic and feelings of despair lasted for four miles. Then suddenly at mile 22, I got a second wind. I came to the realization that I was actually going to finish. I clearly remember thinking, “Holy shit. I’m going to be a marathoner. I’m going to do this.” And I did. Finishing something that hard when I wanted nothing more than to stop has made all the difference in everything else in my life. The greatest lesson I have learned from marathon running is to be excessively persistent.