Running and the benefits of being outdoors.

Sunday, and its all blue skies outside couldn’t be nicer weather to be honest. Of course still winter and cold (-10 this morning) but I cannot wait till I will be out running in a couple of hours. Till then I am trying my best to finish a psychology assignment involving SPSS and Anova. I really enjoyed SPSS to begin with, but now it is getting a bit more complicated and I must admit that I am a tad confused. Hopefully it will be crystal clear after this assignment. I often find that I tend to learn and develop the most during assignment weeks. I suppose it is because my brains had enough time process all the information and once sat down and re-reading everything fall into place. Anyway, for the time being I’m a bit stuck and waiting for my much needed ‘light bulb moment’ to appear, those of you that are students will know exactly what I mean!

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Anyway, in a couple of hours I will gear up warm and head off out in the sunshine for 40 minutes of rejuvenating running therapy. Since my last post I have only had to run at the gym once, and to be perfectly honest I hope that I wont have to go back and do it again! As I have stated before, I love the gym for strength training – just not for running. I need the fresh air, greenery and the immense sensation of complete freedom when I gaze across the Swabian alps. My psychology studies have recently been going over the concept of restorative environments – a place or situation where I as an individual am able to recover baseline levels of functional resources and capabilities that may have been lessened by stress or under-stimulation. Simply said; one way for me to restore those levels is to spend time outdoors in nature, and it is my reason for always running outdoors if it is possible.

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Psychological research suggest that some places indeed are better for ones well-being such as natural environments and natural aesthetics. Evidence for this have been provided by many including Roger Ulrich (1983) who investigated how hospital patients recovery was affected by whether or not they had a window which looked out on  a natural view. Results indicated that this was the case, showing faster recovery and increased ability to deal with pain when exposed to natural environments. Greenery matters folks, and nature truly matters to us as human beings. Our bodies does not only need to move to remain healthy our mind and body also reacts to our environment its shapes, colours, textures and sounds. If we constantly are surrounded by ‘non natural’ cold environments our bodies react accordingly and stress levels may increase.

To ease stress levels for people living in a city, public parks were constructed as a source of relaxation from the busy city life and an opportunity to reconnect with natural settings. To me, this is where ‘ecopsychology’ really gets my juices flowing, I am so fascinated by how our brain reacts to nature and how healing it can be to spend some time outdoors. This is yet another reason to why many medical doctors and psychiatrists ordinate rest and outdoors activities instead and/or in combination with anti depressants. Nature heals, nature is natural and of great importance for our mental health. All of this knowledge and understanding does serve as a great motivation to spend more time outdoors, to hike, run and enjoy the beautiful world we live in. Do you feel the same or do you prefer and find comfort in truly urban environments, and if so – why do you think that is the case?

Keen to learn more about restorative environments?

Roger Ulrich – Green is good for you  ←
Ulrich, R. S. (1983) ‘Aesthetic and affective response to natural environment‘, in Altman, I. and Wohlwill, J. F. (eds) Behaviour and the Natural Environment, New York, Plenum Publishing, pp. 85-126. You can buy the book here!
Mind.org.uk – A new green agenda for mental health  ←

The fear of running during dark autumn evenings.

Currently preparing for my evening run, warming up cold and tired ligaments, tendons and body. Not to mention my mind, it is rather mushy after a whole day in front of the computer stuffing my head with numerous theories and methods. The upcoming examination next year is haunting me day and night despite the fact that it is a long way off yet. However, I find that there is no better thing to clear my mind, shake off any lingering anxiety or stress, than heading off out for a run. It is my mind palace, my favourite place to be, body and mind. To once again become one with my own breathing, fully reconnecting with my body and everything that I am. To thrive in the feeling of ‘nothing else matters here and now’, unstoppable and empowered by the strength in my legs, the stubbornness in my forever going forward feet and uttermost love for draining myself of energy to regain, energy. To fill up my emptied out levels of complete peace of mind. That is what running means to me, that is why I love it so much. The other benefits? Well, they are the icing on the cake. That is all.

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One thing that I do not like about running during autumn and winter times is the darkness. And yes I know, it is easy to mend by heading off out during daytime but its not always an option no matter if you are your own boss (student!) or not. I used to be very confident when it came to these things, not only because I was pretty good at martial arts and an excellent – fast and strong – runner, but also because I believed the world to be kind. However, I did learn the hard way that the world is not always kind, and it does not take much for you to end up in a very bad situation that will impact your life for a long time.

Ten years ago I was physically attacked and abused, scars that will never fully heal but that I today carry with a much lighter heart and mind than I did a couple of years ago. It did however take a long time to get back to where I am today, training became something extremely negative to me. Running was a complete no for years and I lost my ability to trust people, strangers in particular. The idea to head off out on a run on my own in the darkness is still a rather daunting task. It is a concern that I carry with me when I enter a seemingly empty and remote forest and areas that I do not always know. Will I be alone? And perhaps more important, will I be left alone? Most of the time I follow the rule to only run in areas that I know very well, I suppose it is a way to control any potential outcome. I know all the shortcuts and I know every single path in the forest where I run. But yet, that knowledge may not be enough if I would encounter the wrong kind of person or persons. And it is a tragedy that I and many with me, in particular women, have to worry about things like this. That my body is not my own to own.

Statistics of violent attacks and abuse suggest that it is often made by people that we already know and trust. Perhaps it is the ”nice” runner you always wave to on your way out or someone living along the route where you live who spend his/her evening keeping tack of your routine, learning everything. I certainly do not want to scare anyone off by writing this post, my goals are instead to voice a loud but gentle, be careful out there. Be mindful of your surroundings and if possible team up with a running partner if you run in very remote places! During autumn and winter evenings my fiancé always cycle with me as he (naturally) does not want me to feel uneasy about practising a sport that I love. It helps, but I wish that our world was kind that every encounter could be brilliant or at least neutral. So dear readers, my fellow runners, be careful, be mindful and look after each other!

Saturday evening, study books and running plans!

Spending my Saturday evening in front of the computer, creating various mind maps with the fantastic ‘Simple mind‘ app. If you are a student and do not use it already, go and download it pronto! You will not be disappointed, it is that good! This study year is rather packed with information and I spend most of my days studying either theory or numbers (currently learning SPSS). I really don’t mind spending most part of my weekend studying, I love my subject and when you love what you do everything seem rather easy and enjoyable. Though I don’t mind studying, I also believe that it is important to have breaks and live life a little. Yesterday evening was one of those times when I took the evening off to go out for some yummy sushi with my fiancé and a couple of his colleagues. Celebrating that they had published some work in a research journal a while back. We all had a fabulous time eating plenty of food, drinking a bit of sake while chatting and laughing the evening away. Enjoying life, simple as that!

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Anyway, tomorrow I will have yet another date with my books and computer. However I do have a run planned so it is going to be interesting to see how my body will react to that since the last run was a bit of a drag. I do think it was due to the ‘pre virus outbreak’ drowsiness in my body though, since I did come down with a cold and a sore throat two days after the run. I don’t know if that was the true reason for my low energy at that time, I do however know that I am so very psyched to go out for a run tomorrow! Garmin is charged, my running clothes are folded and ready, shoes are cleaned and my spirit is high! I hope you all are enjoying your Saturday evening whatever you may be up to!

Breakfast for cold mornings, and training routine is back on!

Shortly after my previous post I caught a cold virus which after a week turned into a horrendous cough. Today is actually one of the first days when I feel back to normal again and I am so very happy about that. I really don’t do being ill, as I am not a very good patient due to my lack of patience. This cold and affiliated side effects came as a big surprise since it must have been well over two years since I caught a cold virus. It has been so long that I somehow also had managed to forget how utterly boring it is to be in ‘house arrest’ and too weak to do just about anything. But I’m not going to bore you with all the details of my past two weeks, because it is all over now and today I have (of course!) been to the gym for an ‘ease back into it’ session. It was lovely! However the gym was a lot easier on the body than the cardio session, but it’s okay as I am not fully back yet. Soon enough I will be able to push it a bit again, cannot wait to hit the roads…or wait, what am I saying? It is 💫trail running💫 time now – woo – no more pollen, perfect autumn air and a forest that is a lot less crowded by people than during the summers.

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I do love outdoors running above all else, but honestly guys, this year (at least here in Germany) the weather truly decided to skip out on autumn and instead jump straight into winter temperatures, brr! It is bloody cold outdoors, so very cold that I have decided that it is time to head off to the shops tomorrow and invest in yet another pair of warm running pants. Along with cold mornings my ‘winter breakfast’ has also re-entered my life, warm oatmeal porridge and whichever fruit or berries I may have in the kitchen at the time.

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Today I decided to use up some American blueberries that were in desperate need of being eaten so it was a perfect match this morning. When it comes to fruit and berries I don’t tend to keep exact measurements as I believe that the immense health benefits outnumbers the potential extra calories. I suppose if you are on a low sugar diet (including fructose) it may be a different story, but I need a little something in my oatmeal to spice it up a bit.

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I have to be honest here and tell you that I actually do not love oatmeal porridge like many people do. As a matter of fact I tolerate it and at times I am even able to enjoy it a bit. This may seem a tad strange, why eat something that I don’t love? Well, because I still know that it is healthy for my body and because I know that I have a tendency to eat the same thing every morning far too often. Contrary to what I sometimes try to convince myself; my body does not only appreciate variation it actually depends on it. I wish that I could love oatmeal porridge because it is such an easy and quick breakfast, with numerous health benefits. But its something about the texture of the porridge that sometimes makes me less keen, however it is the ultimate student breakfast as it is rather cheap and you don’t need much to feel perfectly sated. Additionally, in these cold October mornings this breakfast is warm and lovely and I can almost feel how very gentle it is while traveling through my body.

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I usually add about three table spoons of cold milk as well, I know that it is not recommended to consume any milk products in the morning if you suffer from Hashimotos. Keeping my milk intake at minimum is therefore important to me personally, but I simply cannot eat oatmeal porridge without milk. I guess it is because it is how I have always ate it since I was a child and my father used to serve it during winter mornings. Perhaps that is yet another reason to why I so stubbornly continue to eat this breakfast, because it is affiliated with a person that is no longer here and as such it is almost like a tribute to him in itself. Who knows, what I do know is that oatmeal is perfect for those days when I need something a bit ‘heavier’ that will keep my body busy and happy for a bit longer. A bowl of oatmeal in the morning can easily keep me going past lunch time if I need to.

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Anyway, oatmeal porridge may not be my everyday breakfast routine but every now and then it is nice to be able to cook something that is warm, quick and easy. The fact that you can add fruit and berries is a bonus as well, my favourite is actually grated fresh apples and then cinnamon sprinkled on top. Yum! Pretty much like eating an apple pie, or well more or less anyway.

Autumn is here and I am…well, tired.

We returned back home from our engagement trip to Greece the other week and since then I have truly struggled to get myself back into my former training routine. Not due to a holiday blues or anything along those lines, instead I think it has to do with autumn all of a sudden being here and all the stress related to the upcoming study year. I suppose the darker evenings is another contributing factor to a bit lower energy levels. Not quite sure how to break this rather sluggish uninspired feeling. I did however head out for a run yesterday but I didn’t enjoy it and even ended up walking (!) for about 500 meters because I was just bored and had no motivation. I did manage to pick myself up though and keep on going to finish my session. But it was a drag, a real drag.

Anyway, tomorrow is a new day and I will head off to the gym, hopefully it will be a bit more enjoyable than yesterday run. If nothing else I have to keep my fingers crossed that the training mojo will return in a couple of weeks due to keeping at it and not giving up. Not much else to do right now, I cannot not train so I don’t have much of a choice really. Hopefully my doctors appointment on Thursday will bring good news and the they will be able to sort out my thyroid problems properly. That would be truly brilliant!

Early morning run.

Woke up at 6 am this morning and could not go back to sleep for some reason, so naturally I went out for a morning run. As you do. Was quite tired in my legs since Sundays run when I pushed both pace and distance further than normal and on top of that I had a rather tough gym and cycle session yesterday. But it is all good, sometimes that ‘drowsy’ feeling in the body is the best start because I believe that I can actually feel how every inch of my body wakes up during the warm up. How the muscles realise that ‘oh right time for that again’ and how the heart and lungs recognise the breathing pattern, adjusting themselves accordingly and pushing me into ‘awake’-mode. There is a beauty in early mornings and slowly waking up your body with a gentle jog, plodding on leaving any worries behind enjoying the moment. I also love early mornings due to the silence of the world, the empty streets and the beauty of the botanical gardens which I have the pleasure to run past. Though today did not turn out to be my fastest run, it actually became my longest one as it was that enjoyable and I didn’t feel like stopping.

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Once back home, I fed the cat (we are taking him to the veterinary today as he’s had a cold for a bit despite being vaccinated so we are very worried about him as he’s getting quite old and also suffers from Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and decided to cook myself a warm breakfast containing mushrooms and sundried tomatoes (obsessed!) so incredibly good and simple. I love anything and everything quick when it comes to food, though I wish that I had more of my fathers skills and patience in the kitchen as I really do not. In my opinion, as long as I have ate my greens, kept within my calculated calories for the day, well then I am one happy little bean really.

Finally back again!

Unfortunately I too caught the virus and its taken forever to get back to normal, but my hands and feet are now back to form and I couldn’t be happier. However, I must say that the medical information on the Internet relating to this virus (‘Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease’) are severely understating the impact it has on your body. As an adult you are ‘supposed to’ experience a bit of a sore throat and perhaps a few ulcers in your mouth. Either my boyfriend and I must have been extremely unlucky or the information is incorrect to say the least. I spent two days in bed with around 40 degrees fever, followed by 8 days of blisters all over my hands (couldn’t fold my fingers whatsoever) and under my feet so I couldn’t walk except on my toes which was still extremely painful as well. I needed help with basically everything from showering as I couldn’t hold the shower head, couldn’t even turn the water off and on because my fingers were too painful and lacked ‘normal’ strength. To say the least this virus completely threw me off, never thought I wouldn’t be able to open water bottles, cook or even stand for longer than 2 minutes without losing balance and be in extreme pain. Not pleasant whatsoever.

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However, I am finally back to normal and went out for my first run this morning at 7 am and it was fantastic! Never thought I would have so much oomph in my legs after having almost two weeks break from most training. But it went overwhelmingly well and I could not be more pleased! Being able to be physically active again was much needed as I really don’t like sitting around doing nothing. Almost two weeks spent in bed or on the sofa in front of the tv does not do me any favours. As a matter of fact I tend to get quite down when I don’t get to move my body or do some kind of exercise so it has been a real  nightmare. But its all over now, the sun is shining and I have a date with my hairdresser/beautician (cut and massage yay!) in a few hours. As such I have a lovely day ahead of me, and I hope the sun is  also shining wherever you are!

Sunday Run-day, beating the pollen!

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Big post-run belated breakfast (mushrooms, spinach, 2 eggs – easy, quick, delicious!), couldn’t decide if it was a good idea to head out this morning or not which resulted in waiting a tad too long. My body is quite used to waiting for at least an hour with breakfast due to taking my thyroid medication in the morning and being advised by my doctor to wait an hour or so until I consume any food. But running on empty is not my favourite thing to do, everyone is different when it comes to this but I like to have at least a little something in my belly. However despite lack of food in my body and pollen reports indicating ‘strong grass pollen‘ my greatest nemesis, I decided to at least try. Figured I could always head off back home if need be, most of the time I tend to feel quite quickly if its going to trigger an attack or not. So I packed my rucksack which I always wear during running (except for the occasions when my boyfriend tags along on his mountainbike, then he’s a gentleman and carries it) since I always have to bring my asthma inhaler (triggered by the pollen unfortunately other than that I have next to none asthmatic problems) and my EpiPen in case I get unlucky and end up having an allergic/anaphylactic shock. I know what you may be thinking now, why do I even bother to run outdoors when I can go to the gym instead? The answer is quite simple, where I currently live there is no air-condition in the gym which means that everyone opens the windows (would be unbearably warm in the gym if not so I don’t blame them!) which means that theres just as much pollen inside as its outdoors. So this means that I may be one of the few that sit around each evening before my next-day run and wish for an abundance of rain! Anyway, went out today despite a few pollen-fears and made it just fine, the utter happiness! Difficult to explain, but the post-run high is simply tremendous.

Morning run and vegan lunch.

It was raining all night, perfect for a morning run due to less amount of pollen and quite cool air which I prefer. Since I cannot run in the forest during pollen season I stick to the streets which I find very different to the soft tracks in the forest. Though I used to be a good runner back in the days, at this point in my life I most definitely qualify as somewhat of a beginner. As such I much prefer the shelter of the forest where I bump into less people and can focus on my breathing and form a lot more instead of keeping an eye on traffic (not to mention annoyingly slow traffic lights), pedestrians, cyclists and every now and then bumping into people that I know that would like a chat. Let’s just say that ‘street running’ is a completely different game than the solitude in the forest. However, not much I can do about it at the moment, since I can’t risk getting a nasty asthma attack in the forest due to the pollen. So not worth it! I just need to figure out a good ‘street route’ since the area where I live is extremely hilly (as in; hills that your worst nightmares are made of sort of hills) and I am not fit enough to take them on just yet. Not all of them anyway and it is difficult to go anywhere in this area without having to battle a couple of them.

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Moving on, and I have just prepared todays vegan lunch, since I had somewhat of a sturdy breakfast I quite enjoy a lighter lunch. I usually end up eating a bit ‘heavier’ tea, still mainly based on vegetables though, since that is the only meal that I share with my boyfriend whom isn’t following the same (for obvious reasons, since he does not have an under-functional thyroid) food regime as I do. So, on the lunch menu for today was this lovely mix of 20 gram delightful leek (check out the health benefits of this beauty!), 40 gram of fresh spinach, 50 gram of eggplant and 100 gram of chunky chopped cherry tomatoes.

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Once the vegetables are chopped in desired shapes and forms, I simply pop it all into the frying pan for a couple of minutes until its warm and casually blended. The smell from the leek in particular is divine, I am slightly obsessed with this vegetable, haha! Lastly, when the vegetables are just right I add about 100 gram sliced courgette (I use the potato peeler, which works perfectly fine if you do not have a proper slicer) and let it heat up till its texture has soften just nicely.

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Et voilà! Lovely, healthy and vegan. It may not look like the most filling meal but trust me it is a lot more satisfying than it may appear. Of course, this all depends on how active I have been during the day and what I have planned to eat during the rest of the day. But it is a lovely meal and rather quick, highly recommended! 

Motivation, inspiration and running.

A few iphone photos (apologies for the poor quality!) from my run earlier this morning, it was not my best run by a long shot – but the weather was spectacular for once and that alone kind of made my day! 🙂 And in all honesty, not all runs can be perfect. Some days my legs are so heavy that I almost begin to wonder what they truly are made of and then again some days my legs are light as feathers and I almost feel like I am flying through the forest. The feeling of ‘physical heaviness’ aside, I often find that it is my mind that plays me the worst kind of tricks. My worst runs are made the days when my motivation and inner ‘oomph’ seem to be on vacation and non-existent. Perhaps this is problems that only occur when you are more of a ‘beginner’ like myself, and not so much a problem for more seasoned runners. I really do not know, but some days it is a problem, for me.

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Whenever I drop in motivation during a run I have a few things that I tend to think about to keep me going. Firstly, I think about my health and the reasons to why I am doing what I am doing, putting my own lack of motivation in perspective is the best thing for me to find my way back to myself. To remember the devastation a few years back when I thought I was truly ill and faced the horrendous thoughts of being a bit of a stranger to my own body. I know this is a very personal motivating thought, and most likely difficult for anyone else to relate to but I think that most of us have had a health scare at some point in our life. To me, staying healthy is what keeps me going when the going gets tough and my inner toughie needs to get going. Most of the time it works wonders.

But for the times when it does not, I often think about my fabulous mother “in law”, the most stubborn and super fit 60+ years old that I know. With a few marathons under her belt, challenging hikes in the Borneo rainforest and the simple fact that she actively walks 30 000+ steps a day plus attending a few classes at the local gym is simply mind-boggling. If I ever need a tremendous source of inspiration I need not look far, she is my greatest inspiration and role model and when my own motivation fail I think about her and all her fantastic achievements and encouraging words.

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So, today was not the greatest run, but I did it anyway. I made the choice to get up in the morning, put on my training clothes, warm up sleeping joints and muscles, head up the first hills from hell and continue onwards despite a sleepy feeling in my body and heavy legs. I kept on going across muddy paths in the forest, still not dry from the downpour the last days, kept on going despite being outran by fantastic runners that looked more than twice my age (the seniors in this area are tough cookies I tell you!) and kept a positive attitude even though it was hard, a bit painful and just not my day. The cool-down walk afterwards was fabulous though, and it quickly put my former struggles in perspective and the feeling of achievement washed over me despite the fact that I did fire off a text message of post-run disappointment to my boyfriend. But that is life, where there are achievements there is also hard work, less good days as well as fantastic ones. There are days of never-ending motivation and days like today when I ran on empty but still did it. And I will keep on doing it, not only because I have to but also because I want to and because my body (and ) thanks me every single hour for the rest of the day. And then, in a few days from now, out of love and respect for my own body I willingly choose; repeat.