Monday, September 07, 2015

Taking the road less travelled

On Sunday, after a very long time, I finally took the road less travelled by many runners.

Kidapawan City's back roads - mostly dirt roads winding through fruit farms - were a regular part of my runs before I moved to Cotabato City some 120 kilometers away. The city's asphalt and concrete roads have been my gym since then and running on dirt roads again had been on my mind for quite a while. Pounding the hard concrete surface especially every single running day puts a lot of stress on old legs, and running on dirt every once in a while provides a welcome break. The slightly softer surface of a dirt road spells less wear and tear on the muscles, bones, and joints.

Matt Fitzgerald of cites one more reason to go off-road and hit the dirt.

"Another advantage of running off-road that is less appreciated is that it forces the runner to vary his stride more. Trail running tends to be hillier, to require more directional changes and lateral movement, and to demand more variation in stride length and foot action to avoid obstacles and maintain traction. Some experts in running biomechanics believe that such variations accelerate the process by which the stride becomes more efficient as the brain learns novel ways to engage the muscles," writes Fitzgerald in a July 2014 article on why one should run off-road.

Liza Jhung of Runners' World, in "Why Trail Running Is Good for You," also says running off-road is "good for the brain."

"Trails provide an undeniable escape from what can be an otherwise hectic day. Eliminate the outside environment of cars and other city noises and import sounds of birds and trees rustling in the wind, and you’ve got an entirely different experience."

Gordy Megros, in another Runners' World article - "Less Stress More Bliss" - mentions a 1996 study as showing that "negative ions--invisible air molecules released by trees that are known to increase oxygen flow to the brain--alleviate seasonal depression as effectively as Prozac or Zoloft."

One thing I am sure though is the different kind of high I get on a run through dirt roads. It's not just because of the view, like seeing the sea on one side and having a tree-filled mountainside rising next to you on the other on a run I had while on Samal Island. It also comes from the cacophony of sounds that says you are amidst nature - the harmony of birdcalls mingling with insect sounds, the babbling of a distant mountain stream as it makes its way through rocks and boulders smoothened over the years by the rushing waters - and running with all that, occasionally hopping, skipping, and jumping over mud pools after a night of rain, makes you feel you are in total communion with Mother Earth, born to run amid God's wonderful creation.

My best-ever off-road run experience yet. Mt. Apo, April 2009

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thank God I can run

Life is definitely not a bed of roses, even the most hardcore optimist would have to accept that as fact.

It has its ups and downs. One time it's bright and sunny, the next its gloomy and filled with rain, both in the real and metaphorical sense. How much of one condition there is in one's life would naturally vary depending on one's disposition or outlook in life, but the fact remains that life is not really so much a plateau as it is undulating.

On certain moments, one experiences joy and ecstasy, on others, pain and agony. And just like situations in life could be positive and encouraging at one instance and  undesirable and damaging at another, people could be loving and grateful, just as much as they could be callous and thankless.

Family and friends - and faith too - help get us through all these. Runners, I believe, have the run as well, as a gift and a blessing, to help get them  through life's difficult times and to celebrate its wonderful moments when they come.

Like everyone else, I have had my moments of difficulties. In most of them, since I started running, doing a 10k or a longer run, helped me clear my mind of clutter and think better. Running, especially when done solo, and I always find it best to run by my lonesome before the sun rises, gives me time for personal reflection, my moment of silence and meditation, with only the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my footfall to keep me company. It has worked for me, and it still does.

I don't always get an easy answer or find an immediate solution every time, some emotional burdens are heavier and take more time to deal with than others, but I somehow find solace in my running, some kind of comfort on the road or trail. I feel better about myself, more confident I could face whatever is before me.

Thank God I can run. Still.

P.S. Wondering why running (or any form of aerobic exercise) helps people think better? This article from Scientific American provides a good answer. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Life has its seasons; running too

There is no denying it. I am in a rut right now.

My mileage has dropped over the past two months, and attempts to do better have not been very successful. If there is something I find consoling, it is that I haven't totally given up running. I still muster the will power to get out of bed in the wee hours on certain days and go for a run. Be it work or age catching up with me, the fact is I am struggling to get back to the usual grind.

Right now, I am telling myself this is temporary. I am telling myself I can get out of this rut, if not tomorrow then maybe the next day or the day after that. I am telling myself the running days will become more frequent, the distance covered in every running day will increase, that I will be leaving this staleness behind.