Running, dopamine, and surviving winter

Running, dopamine, and surviving winter

March was the month we were all supposed to finally commit to our New Year’s resolutions. How are you doing with that? I will be the first to admit, not so well. I will actually admit to running just a little over 2 miles in the entire past month. What’s going on?

It might be some seasonal depression. Are all my New Jersey friends happy about this? Are you all saying “I told you so” – I told you that Chicago was COLD – as you sit staring out into your frozen snow-covered landscape? Aside from that crazy couple of days in January where Chicago saw -21*F, it’s been just as cold in New Jersey. And Northern New Jersey has seen more snow. There.

Let’s face it. It’s probably – relatively speaking – cold where ever you are (it was only in the high 50s in Southern California today!). Who’s got the worst winter isn’t a contest, although I will admit – as most Chicagoans will tell you – this winter has been extremely harsh. Of course, it has. Although the upshot is that this will be the benchmark by which I will judge all future Chicago winters.

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Above Lake Shore Drive. Chicago, Illinois. January 2019.

Anyway, back to running. Or wishing I was. I did a solid two weeks of runs on the treadmill at the end of January when conditions were at their worst. I then went to Southern California for a long weekend and have had trouble getting motivated since. First it was some aches and pains left over from the half marathon that made me think a week off was a good idea. One week turned into five.

I had planned to get back out there this week to celebrate my 23rd “runiversary” which was March 4th but I was a little sick. A valid excuse, although it got me thinking that it might actually be the result of not running. In an effort to get back on track, I finally joined the local gym, just a short walk from my apartment. If running on the treadmill isn’t appealing, perhaps a mile swim will be more so. Need to get those endorphins and dopamine up!

This is a lesson I learn over and over again (I wrote about it here), and yet still wind up in this place every couple of years (pretty sad when I have to go back to read my own blog for motivation, huh?).  One thing I now know is that as we – women – age, restoring healthy levels of dopamine is a key factor in maintaining mental health.

Decreases in Estrogen are linked to the decrease of dopamine cells in the brain. Dopamine, along with endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin, is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Specifically, it’s the one responsible for motivation. So yeah, pretty important for a runner. As women enter menopause, estrogen drops significantly. For breast-cancer survivors like me, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) isn’t always an option, and others would prefer a more natural way to increase the “happy neurotransmitters” anyway.

This is a pretty strong reason for every woman approaching middle-age to take up running, and more specifically training for a goal race. “Physical exercise stimulates a spurt of dopamine and is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for ‘runner’s high’” (Alban, D., “Dopamine Deficiency, Depression, and Mental Health” BeBrainFit.com) and  since “any form of accomplishment that gives you that ‘Yes, I did it!’ feeling will increase dopamine” training for and completing a distance race will help even more, right?

The first step is always the hardest. It usually requires a real push. Although, we know that the biggest factor in correcting a problem, is admitting to having one. So yes, I will the push myself out the door to get my dopamine, which will hopefully motivate me to get moving on some other projects that have stalled lately. To hold myself accountable I will report back next week.

I’m also signed up for 2 races later this month. A St Paddy’s Day 5k next weekend (yikes!), and The Shamrock Shuffle 8k the following weekend. In between, spring officially arrives. Surviving my first Chicago winter alone should give me that “Yes, I did it!” feeling…even if the “real feel” isn’t quite there yet.

 

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

On becoming an “Active Senior”

On becoming an “Active Senior”

Several years ago I was looking though the YMCA brochure that had come in the mail. After seeing all the wonderful activities in a section titled “active seniors” I said to myself, but out-loud, “I want to be an active senior.” My husband who had been in ear-shot acted like it was the funniest thing I ever said. I was still a few years shy of 50.

I have always believed that we should never stop growing, and learning, and must remain active. “Sharpen the saw” is one of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People according to Stephen R. Covey, and I couldn’t agree more. Whether we are talking mind, body, or spirit, if we don’t continue to feed growth, we die.

There are plenty of stories about “senior citizens” who have defied the norms and accomplished some amazing feats late in life. Runner’s World had a story about Julia Hawkins who not only took up competitive cycling at age 81, started running competitively at 100. Orville Rogers still weight trains and runs at 99 and didn’t start running until he was in his 50s. How about 107 year old Fauja Singh, who is thought to be the oldest marathon finisher? He didn’t start running until he was in his 80s. No excuses for the rest of us, right?

I will admit that in regard to some activities, I have said something to the effect of “that ship has sailed.” We all have physical limitations, and our desires change. Sometimes moving out of one’s comfort zone isn’t always necessary for growth. For example, standing out in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, which sounded like a great idea when I was 25, is the furthest thing I’d enjoy doing now. Running the Midnight Run in Central Park, however…

The point is, regardless of your physical limitations and changes to what we find enjoyable, there are always new things to try, goals to achieve, and desires to fulfill. The menu of items for “active seniors” involves cultural and artistic pursuits, ways to meet new people, classes to take, and exotic foods to prepare and taste.

Those are some remarkable stories from people that didn’t start until later in life. That said, while you are still young(ish) IS a great time to work on getting fitter and stronger so you can be active physically as well as mentally and spiritually. It’s never too late should be a reason to start now, not put it off any longer.

As I age (as a runner) my goals change. At (almost) 54, I do still have some time goals (like qualifying for Boston 2021 as I enter a new age group), but some days my goal is to just be out there moving. Running keeps me fit and it keeps me doing other healthy habits like strength training and remaining more conscious about nutrition.

Being physically fit, I have also found makes everything else in life a lot easier. My grocery store is just 3 blocks away and I walk. And I walk home with several bags of groceries. I can take the stairs if the elevator is too slow. I always beat the GSPs ETA on how long it’s going to take me to walk anywhere.  And I have on occasion fit into one of my daughter’s dresses (“that’s just wrong,” she says!).

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You don’t have to run marathons to be physically fit (although they are such an amazing accomplishment that they can kick start other goals you once thought impossible).  But you do have to move.  I’ll admit I’ve been struggling through this last half of winter. Getting out to run since getting back from the Surf City Half Marathon trip has been tough. I just joined the gym near me, so I have access, in addition to treadmills, to a pool. Lap swimming has always been my go-to cross-training and a way to keep moving when, for whatever reason, my running is compromised.

So, what are you doing to become an “active senior?” What are your goals and desires as you approach midlife and beyond? Let’s start a conversation and if you want to get more active, reach out to me.

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

The Surf City Half Marathon Reviewed

The Surf City Half Marathon Reviewed

I have run the Surf City Half Marathon (there is also a full marathon and 5k) for the past several years. Huntington Beach, California is a great place for a winter destination race even on a weekend when locals would characterize it as “cold.”

I continue to go back because, well, for my boyfriend and I, it has become “our place.” I recommend it to anyone looking for an early February race getaway. The event is well organized and has all the amenities runners look for in a half marathon or marathon. It’s also Super Bowl weekend every year, which adds a party dimension.

Packet pick-up was easy. The long sleeve tech shirts are always outstanding. This year we were also recipients of “Longboard Legacy Club” shirts because this was our third consecutive year running. The expo also has a great selection of commemorative race gear for all price points. This year we picked up beach towels. There were also a good number of sponsors represented with lots of products to try.

One thing I love about Surf City Expo is the fun photo ops from Surf Boards and big beach chairs, to Vintage VW buses. On Saturday there is usually a contingent of real customized classic VWs and Woodies on display.

The expo is held under two connected large tents in a parking lot off the Pacific Coast Highway adjacent to the beach and embraces everything “Surf City USA” has to offer. The Expo, as well as the Start/Finish, is conveniently located near both the Hyatt Regency (where we stay) and the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort. The Pasea Hotel & Spa and Kimpton Shorebreak Resort are also on the PCH within a short walk to everything.

I recommend arriving on Friday, doing a short shake out on the beach path on Saturday morning and venturing over to the pier and Main Street. That’s where you will find the surf shops, nice boutiques, bars and many great restaurants. There’s also a nice outdoor mall, Pacific City, that has some typical mall chains as well as a few unique local shops, plus a nice variety of bars, restaurants and entertainment. Try Sancho’s Taco’s on the PCH for lunch. For our pre-race dinner, we usually go to Duke’s.

Race Day! The Marathon start is 6:30am, 5k: 7:00, Half: 7:45. So theoretically it’s possible to do both the 5k and Half. If you’re into that sort of thing. There were 1238 finishers in this year’s Marathon, 8147 in the Half. The race course for both is essentially out and back on the PCH with another out and back up to Seapoint View for the course’s only real incline, then north on the PCH with a turnaround in Bolsa Chica. From there, the half is a straight line of about 5 miles to the finish. At about 16.5 miles the marathon goes north again on the beach path until about 21.5 miles for the last turnaround. Marathon runners are then back on the PCH with a mile to the finish.

In that respect, the marathon probably has some better beach views. I’ve only done the half. Running along the beach and under palm trees is good for the soul. This year it was overcast, and we had some light rain mid-race. Some years we’ve had high 70s and sunny. While that may be more conducive for a post-race nap on the beach or by the hotel pool, the cooler weather this year was ideal for running.

One event they added this year was the Cowabunga Beach Challenge, a one-mile run on the beach on Saturday. All participants got a cape and finisher’s medal. Rain was in the forecast for the 11am start. The view from our room didn’t look good: high wind and people in winter coats and hats. We said to ourselves, “well it’s only a mile, let’s suck it up and get out there.” When we walked out of the hotel lobby, we were pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t cold at all. Everything is relative, right? The previous week’s -21-degree days in Chicago where we saw wind chills of -50 prepared us for this. Donning shorts and singlets, we were Chicago strong!

As we ran that mile barefoot in the wet sand, the rain coming down, against 30mph winds, I found it exhilarating! It helped me remember what I loved so much about running. Running has brought me so many memorable challenges and unique experiences. Even when you go back to do a race over and over again there is something new about it.

The Surf City Marathon weekend never disappoints. It’s a new experience every year! Race organizers do a great job making it easy for runners to come back. There is always a new shirt design, incredibly unique Surf Board finisher’s medals, and lots of creativity! I’m already signed up for next year -actually the Marathon! It’s my Plan B in case I don’t BQ in Chicago in the fall. Or maybe I will and drop down to the half. And maybe we’ll run the 5k too. Whatever it is, it will certainly be a new adventure in our (same old) place.

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A windy, rainy mile on the beach. Huntington Beach, California. February 2019.

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

Four ways to make the best of the treadmill

Four ways to make the best of the treadmill

This has been a tough week. It’s cold AF in Chicago.

I started a part-time job a week ago at the running retailer Fleet Feet Chicago. Since then we had some sort of snow every day. Plows and salt are barely making a dent. Nothing is melting. The temperature hasn’t risen above freezing in well over a week. This morning it was minus 21. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit. And yes, that’s the actual temperature. The wind chill was said to be about -53.

And yet we run. Read more

Ignoring speed limits in 2019

Ignoring speed limits in 2019

If my car was a runner and I-80 a race course, I think we would have qualified for Boston yesterday. We most certainly had a personal record! 818 miles from Lake County, Illinois to Bergen County, New Jersey in eleven and a half hours. Yes, I did the math. That’s 71.13 miles per hour. That’s a blistering pace for me; even in a car. Read more