This Is Your Runner Brain on Stress: The hormonal reason to all those pre-race nerves

The moments leading up to a race are this crazy mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, terror??, chomping at the bit eagerness, hope, motivation, forced relaxation (attempted??)…flip, you name it! Poised at the starting line, every runner can relate to the feeling that they just may burst if that freaking starter doesn’t fire the gun! CRACK!!

Adrenaline, cortisone, hormones flooding the body. This is the internal environment of your body before the start of a race. This is stress on the body. I read an interesting article in Fast Company, it’s actually a business piece and questioning if the brain can actually be addicted to stress.

runner yelling track

This is your face yelling at the starter to just, “FIRE THE GUN!!”


After-all, stress puts the body into that fight or flight mode. I think everyone can relate to the rush you feel when you’ve waited until the LAST second to hit a deadline…some people are even convinced that their best stuff comes under that gun of procrastination. But stress is physical, the brain releases certain chemicals, the nervous system operates differently.

The same happens with runners. Many of those same chemicals are coursing through your veins leading up to races, and even workouts. We know those feelings, we know that buzz, and heck, I’ll totally agree that feeling is addictive. Why do you think us runners keep signing up for races, go out to nail that next workout, we love the rush that comes with it. Mostly the rush that comes AFTER…but the whole experience in itself is darn-right thrillingly addictive.

The problem though, is putting your body through that entire hormone/chemical crazed onslaught is wearing. Your body would literally explode (well, probably not literally actually) if it was in that heightened state forever. And the body DOES start to deteriorate if you put and keep it in that state for too long.

Runner Bones

Add some hormones to those bones and we’ve got it.


This is where runners get into trouble when they let their nerves get the better of them and they (literally) explode in races and workouts. Bwahahaha…when I say explode here, I’m actually meaning implode. They Bomb.

You have to keep all that nervous energy in check. As an athlete you need to, to a degree, control the release of all that adrenaline, cortisone, and all the other crazy hormones. Overriding that body’s natural instinct of fighting or flighting mode is difficult, and takes work. Naturally some athletes are just BETTER at mentally managing that, they’re the gamers. The trickier thing is, as with natural talents, describing HOW they do it isn’t something they can really put into words. They just DO it.

Though controlling your race and workout day nerves is still a skill that is totally possible. And just like mental toughness, it’s a skill that every runner continually hones and learning to get better at is a process. You find tricks that work, not everything works for everyone…and it’s like trial and error. This is where you take any and all bad races/workouts and use them to your benefit. Did I learn something that didn’t work here? Did I learn, then, what I’m going to try next time to make things work? Looking for key lessons from bad workouts includes both physical and mental things.

A bit of a personal thing here, I’ve always loved racing. That feeling is fan-freaking-tastic, and (this never happens, brace yourself, I never blatantly give myself a compliment. Ever. I’m working on that, but I’m petrified people will think I’m bragging! So I want to preface this with I’m not bragging, but this is something I’m kinda proud of.) when I was racing I was able to manage and handle that race day nervous energy well and perform better than my workouts suggested. So I’ll kinda share what I think helped me….I always remembered this:

Interestingly the calm slips away the moment the gun in fired. I think THAT, the wanting to just get into the calm zone, at least for me, was most of the reasons my skin would crawl, itch, buzz, wanting…craving the gun to just go off. Let’s just start doing this thing!!

Anticipation is always the worst feeling. In a roller coaster, it’s the anticipating the drop that sucks, the oddly freaky sensation of your stomach lifting, that’s the fun part. Just like running where we battle the love-hate relationship with the pain of racing, it’s a love-hate thing with that stomach dropping feeling. I think a big part of the nervous anticipation is that we KNOW there is a tug-of-war about to ensue…and we (hope we are!) want to be TOUGH enough when the true test comes. We know we’ve been tough before and loved/embraced that sensation…so we need to remind ourselves we will be just as mentally tough again and come through with sailing colors. Knowing that the crack of the gun will unleash the inner gamer in us all, is reassuring.

It’s the anticipating, wait for the gamer to come out, that makes us want to grab the starter pistol and fire it ourselves! With the CRACK come the relief…the release. The moment that happens, our bodies know what to do. What, as runners, we’ve conditioned them to do. With the crack of the gun we FINALLY, liberatingly are free of thinking.

1) Stress…love it, hate it, think you can be addicted to it?
2) Do you think runners are ‘addicted’ to the feeling of racing and workouts?
3) Do you think my little anticipation theory is anywhere close to something that resonates with you?

Minions Who Go Out Too Fast Get Bootylock

Oh, the faces of the poor runners who went out to fast and are paying for it. #bootylocksucks
minions running a race
Kinda crazy how it hits you like THAT…no slow slip into lactic acid h***…nope, you’re feeling fine, then BAM!!!

Please, Runners, take a cue from these poor guys. Runner PSA: NEGATIVE split. ;)

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More race tips HERE
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1) Worst bootylock experience?
2) Funniest bootylock experience?
3) How many times did it take you to learn not to get sucked into going out too fast?
We all have to learn the cruel way a few times…

Be Fierce, Be Strong, Be a Competitor

Racing is a fierce sport. Take no prisoners. Competition.
Racing is
thrilling
spine-tingling
adrenaline
pushing
pressing
competing.
Pain. fighting. lactic acid.
MENTAL TOUGHNESS
skulls on a track
Running is a test. Against yourself. Your competitors are there to PUSH you to your best.
Competition is a gift. THEY will elevate you, take you places you didn’t think you could go. PUSH you past pain thresholds your mind told you you’d never go.

Racing is fierce. It’s better than a blood sport, it’s a game of wills. You are the pawn, the King, the Queen, and dictator.
You control what the body puts out. Be fierce. Be strong.
Be a competitor.

You amped yet? Good luck to anyone and everyone racing this weekend…track season is always so freaking exciting! :)

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NEVER fear your competition…they are there to help you. Read more…
Race day tips HERE
A little dark or serious today? More posts on MOTIVATION and CARTOONS :)
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1) Finish these sentences: Race day is…
2) When I think of my competition, I…
3) I am in control of my race, I know I’ve put my best out there by…

A Runner’s Starting Line Confidence

Sometimes a runner’s already won the race before the gun’s even goes off. Questions. Doubts. Insecurities. None of these belong at the starting line; starting line of a race or a workout. A runner needs confidence. NEEDS it… no amount of physical endurance, speed, or fitness can make up for it.

How one steps to the line is what separates the GAMERS from the runners who perform at about the level they do in workouts, and then harriers who self-implode.
runners confidence
Confidence is a tricky one, it’s a mental factor of running and training. Once shaken, a runner’s confidence can be quite difficult to fully restore. Injuries, off days, strings of bad races, all of these plant seeds of doubt. Doubt is like a monster that, once you feed it, it grows exponentially in size. It’s a voracious monster that will eat a runner whole. Step to the starting line enveloped in that ugly monster and you might as well not even wait for the gun to crack. You’re already a dead runner ‘running’.

By the time you step to the starting line, there is NOTHING you can change about the past. Stop any questions of, “Should I have done…?”, “Did I do enough…?”, etc. You can’t do it, so no use worrying about it.

Don’t let that scare you off, if you’ve got some doubts, that’s only natural. And if you’re currently fighting from falling into the pit with that ugly doubting monster, THERE IS still hope for you yet. It works two ways. You CAN restore your confidence. You CAN still step to the line a gamer. It just takes some work and shifting your thinking.

Usually doubts start from one of two places:

1) An Event: Events would be after injuries, poor performances, etc…it starts with a legitimate reason to question if your fitness is off and snowballs. Usually the first race or workouts back after an injury a runner naturally goes in with a little more trepidation. You need some solid performances under you belt to steamroll that confidence train back.
To help BOOST that train, remember that your talent and fitness never goes away. Your first race back may not be your PR, but trust in the process, trust in your dedication, and trust that you’re only going to improve from here.

2) Anxiety and Stress: Anxiety and stress tend to spike around pre-race time. I wrote whole posts HERE and HERE on how to use those nerves to your advantage. If you let too much pressure, internal and external, load you up, it’s like running with a weight vest. To help unload that pressure, usually it takes the runner looking within THEMSELVES and finding that passion and love for running that brought them to the sport. If they can get back the excitement and joy for just running, eventually the times, workouts, and races will get back on track.

Ironically, the LESS you think about races and workouts, typically the better you’ll do.

Remember that NO race is the last race in the world. Yes, it can be a Championship race or a PR you’ve been wanting to pop FOREVER…but know that tomorrow will always come and another race will too.

1) Where do you draw your confidence from before a race?
2) How do you use a race day atmosphere to BOOST your performance compared to regular workouts?
3) Have you ever had a time when your confidence was shaken, how did you get it back?

Stop Stress, Nerves, and Anxiety From Ruining Your Running and Races

Santa rocked my runner socks off. ;) If you’re following me on Instagram you probably already saw my awesome new purple Garmin…wooohooo!! My old Garmin actually broke a week before Christmas in what I can only call the sum of all fears for a runner: I had no warning, I was in the middle of a run, I was in the first mile of a tempo.
new garmin 220
Needless to say I was P*$$ed!! Hello, this OCD runnerchick would have liked to know her splits. Alas, alas…I did survive which does remind us all of two important lessons:

1) It’s in the Effort: Yea, I had no idea what my miles ended up being but I still ran hard. Times and splits are helpful information when it comes to workouts, but they don’t always tell the full story. Bottom line is it all comes back to the effort.
2) Times NOT to Time: While I certainly hadn’t planned on my Garmin crapping out, I have talked before about times when it’s better NOT to run with a watch. Easy days are meant to be easy and running ‘naked’ on those days can help keep them as such, not worrying about pace. Sometimes runners can get too stressed about their hard workouts, getting too anxious about time times, if they aren’t hitting the splits, etc. If you’re started to dread your hard workouts because of the stress, running without a watch is an easy way to unload a ton of self-imposed stress. Run hard. Scr*w times. Again, it’s coming back to effort.

Sometimes running without a watch can be freeing.

But back to my story, I DID want the watch…haha. So I was peeved when it died and was crossing all my fingers and toes that come Christmas I’d be gifted with a new one. HURRAHH!! When I ripped into that package I did jump up and do a happy dance. I am 27. I runnerchick nerded out, and I’m not even ashamed.

I christened that baby after all the other presents were opened…yes, I was kindly patient so the rest of my family could get to their gifts too. ;)

While the holidays can rock your socks off, they can also be stressful or tough for people too. Here is where running can certainly do wonders to keep you sane: literally pound out all the frustration. But it can still be stressful and stress sucks, it can eat you alive from the inside out.
run pissed
So let’s talk stress and how it may apply to runners:
* Derail Workouts: Getting back to my watchless example, type-A runners can fall into the trap of thinking themselves out of a workout. This thinking includes: “Those times are WAY too fast, there’s no way I can hit those!”, “I’m dying, I can’t do all those repeats”, “WTF?!?! I’m running my butt of and the times are STILL too slow.” It’s a slippery slope and it has a snowball effect, eventually you get nervous and fearful of every workout, you dread them, and it’s your brain [more than your body] slowing you down.
* Pre-Race Nerves: Racing is fun but it also comes with a certain level of stress. Some of that nervous energy is GOOD, but it’s a fine line between ‘just enough’ and waaaay too much. THIS POST is all about how to keep those nerves in check and not derail your race because of stress and self-imposed pressure.
* Training Rut: Slogging through weeks and weeks of runs where you’re not ‘feeling it’ and not feeling that spark for running can be a sign that you’re burned out. Reach that point and you’re stressed because you’re not LIKING running and it feels like a chore. Taking breaks after seasons is one way to avoid getting burned out, THIS POST covers other reasons for that ‘meh’ feeling and how to get your spark back for running.

Running should be kept fun, it should make you want to do those nerding out happy dances. Don’t let stress suck out that joy…and certainly don’t let a mid-tempo Garmin death get you down. The world kept on turning, which was a little reminder I [double uppercase for emphasis] needed that running is WAY more than just about the numbers.

…but the numbers are nice so once again, THANK YOU, Santa!!

1) How were your holidays?
2) Is there anything that’s been stressing you out as of late? How have you dealt with that?
3) When’s the last time you ran watchless?

Turning a Craptastic Run or Race Around: It’s possible, here’s one trick!

Today’s run started out like crap. You know the feeling, your legs are wobbling around herky-jerky style and in your mind you feel like a fish out of water. You think, “Good gracious, it’s like these things have never run a step in their lives before!”

Oh the ‘beautiful’ first mile of the not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be runner. It’s almost like you can hear the creaks and pops while the body is cracking off the rust, akin to the running Tin Man. ;)
blurry runner
But you warm us runners up and thanks to the TRUE beauty of muscle memory the fish fins transform back into your actual running legs. Then though, there are just those days. The legs warm up but they still feel like a load of junk, much heavier than they ought to feel.

It happens, all part of the game, and on days like that you just put in the effort. Remember that ‘meh’ runs happen to even the best runners in the world, then look forward to the next run.

HERE is where things get interesting and we can pull a little actual science into this running businesses. Because there ARE ways to turn a heinously ‘meh’, craptastic run around…now not always, yes, craptastic runs will always exist, but if that first mile is particularly heinous don’t lose all hope yet!

animals to run
Super Science Stuff…but not in sciencey lingo

* Two Energy Systems: Distance runners work primarily off of their endurance, cardiovascular system, for the majority of their miles. Easy runs, warming up, cooling-down, even longer distance intervals and races. You get the gist, we’re not out there putting in 100 meter repeats and taxing that anaerobic system.
* Gear Shift: Sometimes us distance runners get ‘stuck’ in a certain pace; get conditioned to that ‘easy’ run pace too much and you can wind up in a rut. When this happens that ‘easy’ pace doesn’t feel as ‘easy’ as it should. Now it sounds counterintuitive but to bust OUT of that rut, sometimes all you need to do is toss in a change of pace.
* Bust the Funk: If you’re thinking, “Running easy feels hard, no way in heck running faster is even possible at this point!”…bear with me. Toss in some strides, a few relaxed surges, then settle back into your easy pace. The gear-shift will have tapped into that other energy system for a bit and two things will happen:
1) The shift caused your muscles to work in a different way, giving a little ‘break’ to the endurance-heavy system. Little breaks feel good, right, those muscles will appreciate letting the other energy system do a little work.
2) Settling BACK into easy pace will feel, well, easier. This is thanks to switching gears but also that easy pace really IS relatively easier than the faster surges.

KA-BAM!! Better run!

It’s funny that sometimes the answer to turning a really craptastic run around is to just play around with the pace, but it’s true. I did the exact thing on my run today and ended up NOT feeling like a fish stuck on the shore. Flip. Flop.

Give it a shot. There are also TWO very important times to remember that a change of pace can leave you feeling like you’ve got much fresher, faster legs:

1) Warming up before a race: Legs can feel like crap during the slow warm-up, bust off some of that sluggishness with strides, and miraculously you’ll feel bouncy after the gun goes off.
2) The Beginning of a Race: Sometimes the beginning of a race can still feel harder than it should, but DON’T give up right away, or use that as an excuse to not put in the effort. Try the same change of pace trick and bust out of the funk.

Keep on running, Runners, hopefully less craptastically! ;)

1) Have you ever tried surges or strides mid-run to bust out of a rut?
2) Have you ever had a race where the beginning you thought you’d run horribly but your legs starting feeling better later on?
3) What is one trick you use to get through craptastic runs when they happen?

How dehydration can be causing your GI problems while running

Runners get thirsty: drink. Runners get hungry: eat. But, as with most things that seem idiot-proof, the most basic of basics, two of the most rudimentary bodily functions can often turn into a runner’s nightmare. I just finished an article for Competitor providing the perfect example of this: “Got Stomach Issues? You’re Probably Dehydrated”.

What’s interesting, and as you will learn from reading the article, it’s often not FOOD wrecking havoc on your stomach and intestines during your hard or long runs. It’s the (not) DRINKING thing that’s giving you a GI nightmare! Talk about a whodathunkit moment, right? ;)
road runner
I’ve been a runner for years and years and still, learning that dehydration is the culprit to most GI problems, both the upward and the downward, came as a bit of a surprise. But if you think about it, it really shouldn’t be; let’s look at what happens when you run:

* Muscles working: Brain and body prioritize the hard-working muscles as the top-tier function at the moment.
* Body delegates: In moving the muscles to priority number one, the stomach, intestines, and anything digestive related gets bumped down.
* Blood to muscles: All the major blood-flow gets shunted to the muscles, leaving the stomach and delicate intestinal tissues simultaneously deprived of blood-flow. This lapse in blood causes slight damage. Aww, poor, intestines. ;)
* Dehydration: Now water is INSANELY important to the body, it makes up darn near most of it, so NOT having enough water content in the blood stream exacerbates the damage caused to the already weakened stomach and intestines.
* The Backlash: Need I say more?

Runners experience those GI disasters, up and down, because the stomach and intestines are already deprived of blood-flow while you’re running and then on top of that if there isn’t enough water content in the body to begin with, they stage a major revolt.

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter what kind of food you’ve got in your stomach or intestines, if a runner isn’t hydrated, that food can’t be digested so it’s coming out…pick a direction.

Solution: Duh, Runners, stay HYDRATED! ;) I jest, I jest, kind of…but the reality is, many times runners underestimate just how much fluids they need. What’s more, when I say fluids that includes more than just water: also electrolytes.
burrito pooping beans
The tricky thing with hydration is, once you’re dehydrated and experiencing the effects of it you’re already on a sinking ship. Kind of like it’s too late at that point; that’s why it’s IMPERATIVE you stay in a constantly hydrated state and remain that way through the duration of your hard workout or long run.

Staying hydrated during long runs, and marathon geared workouts, means taking in fluids and replenishing those stores at a steady rate. Read the article for some awesome tips from Molly Pritz and Krista Austin, Ph.D., on how to come up with a personal hydration regimen.

See, you think relying on those little “I’m thirsty” cues is enough to keep you hydrated. But the truth is, especially for runners, by the time you FEEL thirsty you are already in a state of dehydration. So go chew, err sip, on that. ;)

1) Had you been aware dehydration could be the culprit of you GI problems?

2) Especially in the heat GI problems become more common, how do you make sure to stay even more conscious of fluid consumption when it’s hot or humid?

3) An upset stomach after a hard or long run can be common too, and traced back to dehydration. What are some of your go-to ‘safe’ foods for restoring and repairing those muscles AFTER your runs?
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Distance Runners Getting Their Speed Work On: The multi-level approach to getting faster

Getting a runner to be faster is an interesting undertaking. It’s actually a concept that coaches and athletes have been trying to perfect for centuries. As science has improved, training has evolved, we’ve created training phases and workouts that push the runner and train their body.

Simplistically it’s easy to sum it up like this: if you want to run faster, run faster. This is true of course, doing speed work and improving your base speed, is going to enable a runner to run a faster pace as the distance gets longer. As in, if you improve your mile time you’ll be able to run a 5k and 10k faster. If you don’t do speed work you’ll never improve your speed.
runner cartoon
Though as I said, that’s overly simplistic, and if a runner is truly wanting to see how fast they can be they need to open their eyes and expand their training logs to include ALL of the factors that make a runner faster. You see, the body is an interconnected machine, you can’t just concentrate on straight running workouts.

I’ve been working on a series for Competitor.com tied to speed work and the other techniques that enable a runner to, well, run faster. There are drills, strength work, and a neuromuscular component to getting faster.

Check out the series so far:

What Distance Runners Can Learn From Sprinters

The Neuromuscular Component to Speed Work

Distance Runners Staying SHARP During an Injury

In reading each of them you’ll see that the first step to getting faster is working on your shorter-repeat speed. You shouldn’t avoid those 200′s even if you’re a 10k and above runner. But that’s ONE step in the process.

After that you’ve got to build the synapses and teach the nerves to fire faster; your brain is ‘telling’ your legs and foot to move faster. But if you don’t build the connections the ‘message’ won’t be able to travel faster from brain to foot.
running fortune cookie
A runner’s form is also related, and the articles touch on that. Running faster takes POWER and EXPLOSIVE propulsion from your muscles. Your muscles also need to be ‘waken-up’ and eased into the movements of running. That’s why a proper warm-up is so important for your had workouts and races. There will be more on that specifically in upcoming articles.

So if you’d like to run faster, even if you’re a marathoner, it’s important to realize that it’s a multi-pronged approach. It will take time too, but consistency is the law of distance running and THAT is what will, in the end, take you to the next level.

Consistently incorporate speed work, speed-endurance, and endurance work into your training.
Consistently be working on your core and strength routines.
Consistency with foot-firing and ladder drills that play off of the short speed sessions.
Practice, improve, and then have a coach or be a student of the sport if you’re training yourself.

Without going on a long tangent, a big mistake many new runners are making is getting swept up in marathon and mileage mania. They just want to do more, more, more. That’s fine, but if you want to get faster you need to TRAIN to run faster. That’s where quality of miles becomes more important than just quantity.

I hope you enjoy the series so far and keep on the lookout for the next ones. Running is an action that can be broken down to be incredibly simplistic: left, right, left. Running faster can also be thought of in simple fashion: run faster. BUT it’s a lot more complicated, and to be honest insanely interesting, than just that.

To run faster you’ve got to be training your body to do so on multiple levels.

1) What’s a concept about speed work that you have learned from this series so far?

2) Have you done any work geared toward training your neuromuscular system to get you faster? Or is this a new idea to you?

3) If you’re training to get faster, what are some of your ‘staple’ speed sessions?
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Let Track Season Bring Out the Gamer in the Runner: Each event, different variables to master

Lately it feels like my brain is running way faster than my legs could ever keep pace. That’s a darn shame, because one would certainly opt for running a new PR rather than mentally shouting, “SHUT UP!” to your brain at 2am and imploring it to go to bed. ;)

Speaking of PR’s, track racing season is getting to be in full swing. Some people have a bit of a phobia when it comes to the track, others find the monotony of double-digit laps, well, monotonous. The thing with track though, is it BLEEDS speed…as a runner, how can you not love that?
runner yelling track
Each distance is unique, duh, the number of laps to the race you’ll be running presents its own challenges. The ratio of speed to endurance, the contrast between utter lactic ONSLAUGHT from the gun versus the more gradual building of the pain in the 10k. Both grueling, just in a different way.

Each race has a ‘volatile’ factor. This would be the crucial moments and laps that can make or break your race. The margins of time where if you’re not ON IT you may have very well lost the race even if you’re still got laps and laps to go.

There’s not just ONE moment in time of course, but for the sake of brevity let’s highlight a few of the volatile factors for the events:

* 1500/Mile: That dang third lap. Here is where the pain of the pace has already set in, the ‘taste’ of the finish isn’t quite close enough to kick in. Your mind starts to dauntingly anticipate that grueling last lap. COMBAT: Know that third lap is going to suck, know that it will make your race if you can pass the people letting their brain wander.
running in bunhuggers
* 3200: Right around laps 4-6 it is easy to let your brain check-out. It’s prime time to make a move, surge and establish a gap on those who either went out too fast for that first mile or the poor souls who are just letting their mind wander. COMBAT: Go out on pace the first mile and throw down a move…remember the beauty of negative splits.

* 5k: It’s funny how running that first mile can feel so easy, a breeze, too easy. The middle mile is where you need to wrangle your brain and keep it FOCUSED. Much like the 3rd lap of the mile, the middle of your 5k can lapse into a fog if you’re not careful. COMBAT: Don’t let yourself get pulled out too fast the first mile, stay mentally engaged the middle mile, and anticipate the cold slap of pain somewhere after the second mile. It’s funny how it can suddenly sneak up on you, but be prepared for it and stay strong through to the finish.

Each race has its own set of ‘volatile’ factors…that’s what makes each and every track distance so fun. It’s a test, as is everything with running, testing mostly yourself. The competition is there as an opportunity to propel your performances forward…feed off of their presence.

Track is awesome, just don’t let the distance of the race pull a fast one on you. Be prepared and then enjoy the unique challenges of each event.

1) What is your favorite track distance to race?

2) Pick a distance I didn’t highlight and share one of their ‘volatile’ factors.

3) Share a ‘volatile’ factor that I didn’t address for one of the above races.
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