Born to Run?

Aug 24

Image by godber

I’m running again.

After a multi-year layoff during which I had my kids, I started running about a month ago, with the support of my husband, my sister-in-law, and the geniuses behind the Couch-to-5K running plan.

I love the way I can be in the moment when I run.  I notice the dappled sunlight on the corn fields I run past; the mama deer eyeing me suspiciously, then dashing off into the woods as I plod past her and her fawn; the old train switch being overtaken by the undergrowth, going back to nature.  I feel the slickness of the dew on the trail, feel my laces tickling my ankles.  I smile and greet the family of four, the mom pushing the double-stroller, the dad jogging ahead and then back again, keeping pace with his family while getting his exercise, performing that balancing act we parents know so well.

One foot, then the other.  I just go.

I’ve also been trying to sneak sessions of yoga into my weeks.  Life has been, well, hectic these last few months and I figured that yoga would help me find my center, calm me down, remind me to take deep breaths.  Yoga has done that for me in the past, and I’ve always thought of it as a touchstone, a place I could come back to again and again, to be that girl once more, the one who practiced most days, who found refuge in the studio.

But I’m not that girl anymore.  And the yoga’s not doing it for me right now.  Part of that might have to do with the fact that my town doesn’t have a yoga studio, or even a decent yoga teacher, so it’s been me and Shiva Rea and my worn-out DVDs on my laptop in the basement.  And it’s hard to find your zen when you’re fighting both monkey brain and periodic crashing sounds from above (Lego towers continue to be built and demolished upstairs no matter what I’m doing beneath).

With yoga these days, I can’t seem to find my flow.

According to University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow means “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”  

Whatever stock you put in the current happiness industry, it’s hard to deny the power of flow, wherever you find it – in your work, your hobbies, or your relationships.

When you achieve flow, you’re not thinking about it.  It just happens.  And so I fear I jinxed myself by going to yoga seeking something.  Instead, I found flow where I was looking for something else – outside, on the running trail.  I went in for some time alone, a chance to get back in shape.  And what I’m finding are some of the best moments of my day, where goals and worries fall away and I just am.  In the flow.

Where do you find your flow?  

Have I mentioned that I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan?  I suspect that the E Street Band definitely knew all about flow.  To wit:

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicki August 24, 2011 at 6:14 am

Good for you! I love Springsteen and when I started running, this is one of the songs I always listened to as I ran.

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BigLittleWolf August 24, 2011 at 8:04 am

My flow is writing. It always has been. (More decades than I can care to share.) But physically, it’s been walking – hard, fast, until I get the same sort of feeling I suspect that runner’s do to some degree.)

It’s frustrating when injuries or illness remove whatever physical activity is your “flow.” But I’m lucky on the days when that walking is returned to me – and also – to have the writing as my mental/emotional flow that lets me know I am still “that girl” – the one with dreams so long ago.

You’re getting fit very fast! Truly impressive.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I think my better writing happens when I find that flow. When it’s not there? A slow slog resulting in persnickety prose. (I suspect you could tell which is which.)

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Slamdunk August 24, 2011 at 8:05 am

Good for you Kristen. Since kids, I am a seasonal runner who often has to settle for the moonlight run–but that is the best I can do for now.

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Alecia @ Hoobing Family Adventures August 24, 2011 at 9:12 am

I am actually reading a book of the same title right now. Have you heard of it? Running has always been my thing. I try lots of other activities and always come back to running. It is the most simple, efficient way to get a workout and it is also where I find my flow, write my blog posts in my head, think, sort it all out. Glad you found the activity again!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 2:04 pm

I’ve seen that book advertised, but forgot about it until now. How are you liking it?

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Louise August 24, 2011 at 9:14 am

That’s the way figure skating is for me – my blades start to bite into the ice, and suddenly, I’m just *there*, wholly in the moment, in that place. I can’t do any of the tricks I used to pull off in my younger days – I tried a half jump last spring and neatly embarrassed myself in front of all the teenagers practicing – but just stroking around the ice still captures that magic for me.

I keep thinking I want to get into running – or yoga – or both, but it’s a matter of finding the time and place. Not easy when our life seems to be in constant flux these days!

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Mel B. H. August 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

I wish I could run. I love the outdoors, but I have never been able to do it consistently enough for it not to be painful. I have bad knees from dancing as a kid. I love yoga. But I have to practice at a studio, with other people. If I am not out of my element, I have a really hard time getting into the flow, or silencing my thoughts. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking a Ballet class for grown-ups this year. I love the challenge of Ballet, and the music somehow keeps me in the moment too.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Okay, we’re definitely going to go to a yoga class together next month at Kripalu! You can help me re-find my zen (which I will then promptly lose as soon as I get home). :)

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Mel B. H. August 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I can’t wait!

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absenceofalternatives August 24, 2011 at 10:56 am

I envy people who can run, or love to run. I cannot stand running because I always have this fear I am going to die from my heart stops pounding or running out of breath. On the other hand, I’ve had so many dreams about how im the first to die when there is an invasion of any sort. I just finished the book Run so my envy of runners is even more palpable now. :-)

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I kind of love that I’m not the only one who thinks thoughts like this: “I’ve had so many dreams about how im the first to die when there is an invasion of any sort.” That’s right up there with my fixation on what I would take with me if I ever had to leave my house and take to the roads. I tell you, reading The Road while eight months pregnant with my second did a number on me that I have yet to recover from. Come to think of it, I also read Run during that pregnancy, but that didn’t have the same effect. :)

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privilegeofparenting August 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

I’m reading this before my run… and sychronicity suggests that you might like a book I have not read, but only heard about from someone I know who is also finding flow in the running world (and has been away from the yoga, but not for lack of studios around her) [http://amzn.to/wXhoZ].

Another challenging aspect of flow… as writers, is the sense I get that it happens usually free of words, the wordy part of the brain being dichotomous and the serial, flow part being imagistic, sensual, unbound… free (a problem with the monetization of happiness, perhaps; or maybe money too is just a flow and not a discrete bit of anything).

As for Springsteen, “Born to Run” practically is the anthem of freedom and flow (not to mention that the Boss gave a boost to the name my parents chose for me, but which was not too cool in my middle school).

…and off once more to our omnipresent “Jungleland” where the poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all—they just stand back and let it all be (until snack-time).

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I think I’m going to start calling you “The Boss.” It fits.

And I know what you mean about the relationship between writing and flow. But do you ever have the experience of writing when the words are just, well, flowing onto the page (or the screen) as though your thoughts and the recording of them are seamless? I don’t feel that way too often, but I usually like what I find when I do.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I think that is the same book Alecia is referring to. I’m adding it to my wishlist.

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privilegeofparenting August 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Neither boss nor worker be… but I think I do know what you mean about words and flow—a great feeling, sort of like fingers and paint where the soul uses words but the words are but an ephemeral medium for the play of water over rock, or something like that.

I think of a Leonard Cohen lyric: “I wrote to Hank Williams, haven’t heard from him yet, but I hear him coughing, all night long—a hundred floors above me, in the tower of song.”

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Katrina Kenison August 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm

In the month of August my yoga teacher offers “yoga camp” — an hour every day, at 7 am. It is my favorite month of the year: I run from my house to town (2.5 miles), arrive at yoga warmed up and sweaty and happy, savor my hour on the mat, then head home for coffee and breakfast. Every year, I say that when September comes I’ll keep up the same schedule on my own, waking at 5:45, leaving the house at 6:15, watching the sunrise, coming home to my own yoga practice. . .And I never do. Maybe this year. . .

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Kristen @ Motherese August 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Please stay tuned for my inevitable upcoming post in which I lament how I have ceased making running a priority and have instead decided to stay inside and hibernate all fall and winter.

Is it simply human nature to stop doing what we love? Or do we simply start loving new things?

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Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts August 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Oh, I’m so envious. I know well the sentiments you describe here. But they are memories for the moment. I haven’t done a long run since late spring. And even my half-mile warmups on the track at the gym are starting to get difficult (stupid Braxton Hicks contractions…). I can’t wait to start running again. I’ll try to live vicariously through you for the moment. Enjoy it!!!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll be back to running in no time after you deliver your baby. And then we can meet someday and run together!

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Jo@Mylestones August 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I’ve never heard that definition of “flow” before. But now that I have, I can say without hesitation that running is where I find my flow. Which must be why I keep coming back to it, why I keep prioritizing it above competing activities like writing or reading or biking or eating chocolate peanut butter cups… Well. Everything except the peanut butter cups. But really, the chocolate-eating is pretty compatible with running since you earn at least 3 for every mile you finish. :-)
I’m so glad you’re on the crazy running bandwagon with me now!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Proud to be with you on both the running and the chocolate-PB bandwagons!

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Galit Breen August 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Good for you! I recently started couch to 5K, too. The whole program is genius really!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Hi, Galit! It’s so nice to see you here!

And I’m thrilled to find another mama during Couch to 5k. I just did Week 5, Day 1 this morning and am getting nervous about Day 3 (a 20 minute continuous run). Egads! :)

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MLR August 24, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Jealous too. Running has always been my “flow”…. that is, up until the birth of my 1st child three yrs ago, and the accompanying (ahem) pelvic floor issues… Now that I’m almost done with my 2nd pregnancy I worry that I’ll never be able to return to running.

But I’m *so* glad, for you, that you’ve found this. I am hopeful that I’ll find something else someday that does the same for me. (Nursing, for the foreseeable future? Not quite “creative” but at least I get the endorphin rush! ;))

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm

You know, it’s funny. When I was thinking about this post and the idea of flow, I did think of nursing. I suspect you might find, as I did, that those quiet moments with your newborn are even more flow-y with your second because your downtime will be even more precious.

I’ve never been the most motivated exerciser, so if I can get back into running, I’m sure you can too!

Hope you’re feeling well as your due date approaches!

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Amelia August 24, 2011 at 9:57 pm

As you know, Kristen, I love to run. It is difficult to find that flow, though, as you are getting back into shape. And it is hard to get in shape with the demands of a life with children. Yet I value my time outside running even more than I did when I was a motherless independent runner. I like the part of your definition where “the ego falls away. ” I used to be so concerned with my times, with my places in races. There was such effort to perform a certain way. And i took for granted my ability and my time to run Now, I have a greater appreciation for the act of running, for the times I am able to get outside and just run.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I’ve never been in the kind of shape that you were so I think I have lower goals to aspire to. :) But I’m finding it surprisingly easy (for me, at least, who isn’t patient about many things that take time) to just go with it. I think the not having any specific goals helps that.

(By the way, any tips on good jogging strollers?)

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Wolf Pascoe August 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Bicycling. There’s no purpose, other than staying on the bike. There’s no thinking–about blog posts or anything else. There’s just you and the wind. And then you are the wind. Here’s the best book ever: It’s All About the Bike, by Robert Penn. If you think you want to ride but aren’t, read this book.

I feel a post coming on.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Years ago, I read Lance Armstrong’s memoir, It’s Not About the Bike. I think I know where he found the inspiration for his title.

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ayala August 24, 2011 at 10:18 pm

A lovely post, Kristen. So happy that you found your flow. :)

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Thanks, Ayala. Me too.

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Rebecca August 25, 2011 at 5:12 am

I have always wished I could find my zone with yoga but I never could, no matter how peaceful and tranquil the surroundings are. I have recently taken up running again and even decided to run a 10k at Angkor Wat (!). Sadly, I’ll be training almost exclusively on a treadmill (heat, pollution) but I’ve been feeling “in the zone” lately as my muscles remember these motions. Like many people, my brain is so active and rarely settles, that’s why I think I’ve always found yoga so not-relaxing. While running, I’ve been able to organize my thoughts and that in and of itself is pacifying AND productive!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I was thinking of signing up for a 5k this fall, but my choice of venues pales in comparison to yours! :)

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Lady Jennie August 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

I do love to run and I went this morning. I don’t like yoga (too boring) but I signed up for classes this year because I think it will be good for me. Maybe I’ll find unexpected flow.

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Jack @ TheJackB August 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Lately I have had more than one urge to make like the guy in Hungry Heart and go wherever the car takes me- I blame that on my lack of flow.

We all need to find that thing or place that helps keep us centered. I have a lot of friends who like to run, but I just can’t get into it. Do a lot of it on the basketball court, but that is not constant running.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 26, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I played basketball for many years, but playing pick-up now exhausts me waaay more quickly than running does. Maybe it’s all the starting and stopping, or maybe it just tells you something about the pace I keep when I run. ;)

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Cathy August 25, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I don’t have a single thing where it is my flow. Instead, there are times when I’m playing pool and “in the zone” as we call it. It’s just me and the table and focus and concentration on making the ball in the pocket and getting shape for my next shot.

I am going to check out that site you reference. It’s funny because I never thought of myself as a runner but then I started wearing a pedometer to do the 10,000 steps a day. When I was short on steps, I’d take a walk down to the end of the road. And then the walking took too long so I’d jog a bit. And then I’d jog a bit more til I ended up ultimately doing a 10k (and then a triathlon!) I got injured though – took a break and started back too quickly. I need to do the couch thing because then I’ll start off slowly and hopefully remain injury-free.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I am having really good luck with the Couch to 5k program. They start off slowly with alternating walks and runs and then slowly build the runs and decrease the walks. I can’t remember if you’re an iPhone person, but they also have a great app that tells you when to stop and start as you listen to music or an audiobook or just take in the scenery. I highly recommend it!

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Maria August 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Kindred spirits…I am a late bloomer (in so many ways) but, as you know, I started to train for the first half-marathon to help others. I never imagined what it would do for me. It got me out of my own head, forced me to get off my tush, and honestly, it feels wonderful to just put one foot in front of the other, fill your lungs, exhale, clear your mind, rinse and repeat.

Like you, I also like yoga, but our studios are too far east for me to go with three kids and my husband’s unpredictable schedule. I love the ability to stretch, to concentrate on a pose that defies my logic, of the release and relaxation when I am there, the mental freshness when I am done.

Excellent song choice, by the way!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Maybe I’ll be able to run a half-marathon with you some day. :)

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Justine August 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm

My flow used to be yoga (but unlike you, it’ll never be running because I just can’t) but I can’t seem to quiet my thoughts, keep my balance or find the time to head to the studio these days. It also used to be writing but that’s now a luxury and something I do in snippets as I sneak in time (like now) here and there.

Now, I find flow in the most unexpected place – when I am rocking my baby to sleep at night. I find myself just being in the moment with her or reading and when she’s asleep, I have those quiet moments to myself and I give myself permission to stay there with her. To relish the stillness. To let sleep overcome me if it so inclines and not feel guilty about it.

For once, I feel at ease with all the things that are happening and not happening around me as I lay there with her. It’s a good feeling.

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Kristen @ Motherese August 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Sometimes I wonder if what they say about meditation also holds true of yoga – something like, “Meditate for an hour every day. If you can’t find time for that, meditate for two hours every day.” Maybe the harder we find yoga, the more we need it?

But I’ll definitely take those snuggly moments with our babies. Those work too. :)

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Andrea August 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Ok, first of all, you need to open a yoga studio in your town RIGHT NOW, because otherwise in fiver years there will be like 20 of them and you’ll kick yourself for not getting in ahead of the pack. That being said, yoga has not been doing it form me lately, either–even in an organized class my eyes drift to the clock every 10 minutes. I’ve been finding my flow in swimming lately–I try to go several times per week for a for 1/3 hour of complete mindfulness. (Sadly the pool’s been closed for the last two weeks so I’m flow-less).

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Kristen @ Motherese August 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

You’re so right about the yoga studio. A great entrepreneurial idea. If only I had the skills or the drive to do it!

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sleeplessinsummerville August 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I second you on the inadequacy of doing yoga at home from taped workouts. I’m at flat broke right now, so I can’t go to my local yoga studio, but thank you for reminding me that I am lucky to have one I can go to when I get paid again. I have a dedicated workout room in my home, and I love it, but it simply is not as peaceful and easy as being in a yoga classroom. I always did get my flow there, as I found running nothing but boring and strenuous. It’s such an efficient workout that I really wish I could enjoy it. Good luck on getting into running condition. I injured myself running many years ago and my injury has yet to heal. An ounce of prevention would have been worth many pounds of cure!

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StephanieinSuburbia August 28, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I have to say, I’ve never been overly impressed with yoga videos. I’ve done outdoor yoga and then yoga through our community center and I’ve had better luck with that. I’m still sort of over-conscious of other people and that my ass may look huge, but I def. feel more relaxed afterward.

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Christine August 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

I need some sense of flow right now, because as much as I am in a state of relative contentment, I’m also wildly flaying about in a vortex of business. Things are too busy, and that means so much less time for all the things that keep me grounded, offer me a sense a flow: writing, scrapbooking, walking/hiking, meditation. In fact, the exercise in my life at the moment is practically nil. Hopefully your post will give the inspiration I need to get moving!

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Kristen @ Motherese August 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I tend to go on feast or famine cycles with exercise. When I’m in the middle of a committed period, I wonder why I ever stop; when I’m not exercising, I ask myself how I’ll ever find the time. So I definitely know what you mean. Here’s hoping things calm down on your end so you can have time for all of your priorities. xo

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finol August 30, 2011 at 6:32 am

I also find my flow with running and I can forget about everything for a little while when I run. I sometimes get stuck at the ‘putting on my shoes’ step though, and I don’t know why. Once I’m going I love it and I always feel better afterwards, and this feeling lasts for the rest of the day most times.
And that is an awesome running song!

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Finola August 30, 2011 at 6:34 am

Woops, I’m not finol….silly computer!

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri August 30, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Kristen, I am a runner and feel completely out of synch when I don’t run. It’s invigorating and liberating. However, I still need a way to incorporate stillness in my everyday life. Yoga seems like a reasonable answer, but I haven’t embrace it yet. Maybe someday.

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Perfecting Motherhood August 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Great reference website to start learning to run! I’ve never been into running and now that my back has finally given up on me, walking is a better alternative. But I don’t give up on the idea I may be able to pick up running at some point if I can get my disks to stop hurting.

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Allison @ Alli n Son August 31, 2011 at 6:11 am

I find my flow in running too. I just started exercising again after having the baby. I don’t know what’s better, the time away, the rush of physical exertion or the chance to just let my mind be. it makes me feel like ME again.

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Yulia September 6, 2011 at 12:05 am

Outdoor activity is the best. I love to run since I was very young and the best time for me to run is in the morning. Though now I don’t really have chance to do it.

Yulia
http://www.mylifeismyrainbow.wordpress.com

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Jamie September 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm

I’ve been doing the Couch to 5k too. I’m running my first 5k on October 2, the day after my twins 2nd birthday party. I just hope I can run the whole thing!

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Kristen @ Motherese September 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm

It seems like we have a lot in common, Jamie! :) What week are you on in Couch to 5k? (I’m on week 7.)

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