So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Running Mad - Does Stress Help Runners?

Consider me a modern-day "Martin," travel-and-adventure companion of Candide in Voltaire's short story of the same name.

I'm the anchor-like balance to my wife's "best of all possible worlds" point of view. We balance each other quite well, and have done so over the past eight-and-a-half years. My bad days normally coincide with her positive moods; the moments Suzanne feels like ripping out the hearts of her adversaries like an Aztec priestess are balanced by my 'karma happens; they'll receive their just reward soon enough' attitude.

Fortunately for the world around us, both Bowens are rarely in a cranky mood. But when those days come, it's usually the perfect timing for a workout.

I had banged my head against the desk all day yesterday, and suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous commuter misadventure. What is it about idiots who want to whip around you, just so they can sit in front of you at the intersection? 'Oh, goody, you get a cookie for making it to the stoplight first. Now you can sit there as long as I do, jerk.'

I came through the front door to see my loving bride seated at her computer, running gear on. No greeting, save for "I really need to hit the treadmill today."

Funny, but that's exactly how I felt.

Minutes later, we walked the half-mile to our neighborhood gym, which gave Suzanne the opportunity to vent about the major topics of the day. When she mentioned she had eight telephone calls interrupt her labors I had to admit a small twinge of guilt; I was responsible for 25-percent of them. Well, the calls seemed pretty darn important at the time.

Once we got to the gym, we attacked the treadmills; taking no prisoners, giving no quarter, leaving nothing behind but sweat.

Returning home didn't mean the end. We immediately leashed my sister-in-law's terrier and our greyhound and took them for a walk. We took no doo-doo from them, either, pun intended. It wasn't until some time close(r) to 7:30 when we finally relaxed enough to sit down for dinner.

Suzanne has told me she enjoys working out or racing while she's angry. One of her best half-marathon performances - or one of her best performances in a half-marathon, I cannot rightly recall - came after a younger woman made a wise crack about her age at the bottom of a hill. She put on a surge which amazed the course worker at the to the top of the hill, coasting through the remainder of the course under a full head of steam. Suzanne, nor the course workers, recalled seeing the younger woman nearby for the remainder of the race.

On the other hand, I consider anger or other emotions a fuel good only for very short-term endeavors. All those chemicals which contribute to the classic fight-or-flight response may light off the afterburners, but they also cause a few less-than-positive consequences:

First, the breathing becomes more shallow. I'm not so certain about you, but I have enough difficulties keeping enough air in my lungs during the course of a 5,000-meter road race. So, stressing out doesn't work so well for me cardiovascular-wise.

Second, the muscles are tensed up in order to either kick, swing, pummel, bludgeon or withstand a kicking, swinging, pummelling or bludgeoning. Tense muscles are inefficient muscles...we do speed training to learn how to run at speed in as relaxed a manner as possible, not in as tight a manner as possible.

Third, the brain tends to think less critically. It's one of the unintended consequences of all that nice adrenaline, epinephrine, cortisol, cholesterol, glucose...and the many other chemicals pumped into our bloodstream by our endocrine system. Anyone who has ever been in a life-or-death situation will say they probably were thinking of little else but how to get to the nearest egress. And thinking, serious status checking, is crucial for road racing...especially when the race distance moves from 5k to 10k, from 10k to 21k, and so on. Lapses in thought can cost seconds and minutes.

So, remember that running ought to be the release from the stress of the day, not an extension of the stressors.

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