Tag Archives: Neuroplasticity

How to Rekindle the Runner’s Spirit: From Last Place to a Fresh Start

Life’s rhythm these past few months has resembled more staccato than flow. However, after more than three decades, I find myself on the familiar yet uncharted path of rediscovering my love for running. In turn, I notice an improved sense of joy, creativity, and legato-like feel to life. Smooth and steady. This fits with education as such exercise has brain-changing effects. 

Up until six weeks ago, I would admit to running, only if I were being chased. However, it has not always been this way. I was fueled by the boundless energy and curiosity of childhood and could often be found running in the forests, across the hills, and through Mill Creek. I exchanged my football helmet and pads Freshman year for running shoes and surprised even myself by joining the cross country team. I had never run three miles in my life and now we were warming up with this. The training stands out as a vivid memory, yet one particular cross-country competition especially remains unforgettable. It was a chilly autumn afternoon when Coach Wilson moved me up to run in the Varsity match, surrounded by probably two hundred other eager runners. The race was fierce, with every stride carrying the weight of expectations and determination. I wish I could say I became lost on the course but the truth was I started too fast and ran out of gas. I ended up being at the back. The very back. Once I could see the finish line, the supporters could see me too. And on that final stretch, I could see one other lone boy in a blue jersey just ahead of me. The absolute tail to this whale of a race. As we approached the finish line, the atmosphere grew electric. I suppose this is when my brain had the most changing effects! To this day I wonder if the cheer for the last runners sometimes rivals the 1st place finisher. For most of the race, I had been trailing far behind, lost in my struggle against the course. But, in the final stretch, when I spotted the second-to-last place runner, I summoned every ounce of strength left. Sprinting with all my might, I closed the gap. It was an all-or-nothing effort, and my parched mouth was seemingly whetted by this small victory. To not be the last runner. This however would not be the case, for as we reached the finish chute, the blue in blue abruptly veered in front, stealing my chance at redemption. I crossed the finish line dead last. The first, but also the last time this ever would happen.

Battling Shin Splints in Military Boots, Barefoot Adventures, and Blistered Feet

Fast forward four years and I picked up running again. Only this time my fancy shoes were traded out for leather combat boots. I was part of a Ranger team in the ROTC program at university. The distance tripled and a 40-pound rucksack now weighed heavily on my shoulders. This was an experience that left its mark—quite literally. Brain-changing, to say the least! Those rugged boots pounding against the unforgiving terrain eventually gave rise to the nemesis of every soldier: shin splints. I continued to run, the discomfort growing until I was hobbled. Decades would pass before I would even trot again.   

Then in 2013, I came across a book called, “Spark.” The author Dr. John J. Ratey explores how exercise has a profound impact on the brain. I read convincingly about how aerobic exercise has the power to transform one’s health. Something I knew from experience. And nowhere did it indicate one must run. Shortly thereafter a friend recommended I read, “Born to Run.” Christopher McDougall, the book’s author, shares how he overcame injury by running barefoot with an indigenous people in Mexico who were recognized for their abilities to run long distances with huaraches on their feet. Not the huarache of Mexican street food folklore, made of masa and topped with refried beans, meat, cheese, and salsa. No, these huaraches are simple flat sandals, one continuous strap that attaches to the bed of the sandal between the first and second toe. I dabbled in a version of barefoot running, once even running barefoot high in the hills above our house. The result was blood blisters stretching the entire length of the bottom of both feet. And my shin splints from years ago still flared up. Once again, I stepped away from running.

Exercise and Change the Trajectory of Your Life for the Better

Running seemingly became a distant memory until recently when I was inspired during a high school cross-country race. I stood at the edge of the course, the young runners crept and clawed up the steep 8% grade hill. I could almost feel the burn in their legs and the determination in their hearts. Some managed to run the whole way, many walked, and some even maneuvered with their hands pulling at the earth. For some reason running suddenly appealed to me. Maybe because I told myself, “I bet I can run this hill without stopping.” After the race, a colleague randomly shared a TED video of Wendy Suzuki. She is a neuroscientist at New York University. When I looked at the number of viewers, over 16 million, I felt a little like I did in crossing the finish line last. How had I not seen this video? In it, she shares how study after study shows how we benefit from exercise. Before closing she imparts, “I want to leave you with one last thought. And that is, bringing exercise into your life will not only give you a happier, more protective life today, but it will protect your brain from incurable diseases. And in this way, it will change the trajectory of your life for the better.” Convinced, I bought a new pair of running shoes and registered for a 10km run to benefit a local Dry Forest.

Embracing a Healthier Rhythm of Life

A newfound perspective on running has since rekindled the flames of passion for the timeless sport. Yet, choosing to exercise for the benefit of your brain does not have to be limited to running. I invite you to join me on your odyssey, as you remain motivated to move your body. You may even experience greater flow, legato in the place of staccato! Inattention, tiredness, and brain fog shelved for a higher vibration and healthier rhythm of life. 

7 Tips For Success
#1 Start slow and keep mileage low so as not to overdo it
#2 Get professionally fitted shoes, creating peace of mind that what you have on your feet is best
#3 Recruit a partner to be your “running partner”
#4 Be creative and change routes for your eyes and body to experience the scenery and terrain
#5 Sign up for an event so you have a goal to work towards
#6 If there is a day you don’t feel like running, take a walk
#7 If you don’t feel like running (or walking!) do something that is active and provides you with joy

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