Book Review- Mental Toughness for Runners: a Complete Guide by Michele Ufer

This year I’ve been reading more books on the mental aspect of running. I loved Deana Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run and have found myself referring to some things she covered in the book on some tough runs or when I’m just not in the right frame of mind. When I heard about Michele Ufer’s book and the story behind the author, I knew I had to read his book.

Michele Ufer is a German athlete who came upon the ultra running scene apparently out of nowhere in 2011. Despite having seemingly almost no running experience, Mr. Ufer decided to run a 250 km stage race in the Atacama Desert in Chile at an altitude of 2500-3500 meters (8202-11,483 feet) and not only finished but managed to finish in seventh place overall. He attributes his success to his extensive mental training before the race. The link to the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is here.

Most people that prepare to run an ultra distance (anything longer than a marathon) put in extra miles running. They increase their distance gradually to build up their bodies and put in the super-long miles on the weekends in addition to the weekly miles. The emphasis is very much on running, strength-training, stretching, and recovery, but all of this relates to the physical aspect of running with the majority of runners. You don’t hear about an ultra runner spending hours on end working on the mental aspect of running.

But this is exactly what Ufer did when he was preparing for the Atacama Crossing. Ufer, who has a PhD in sports psychology, drew on his extensive knowledge to take advantage of the psychological and motivational potential of goals and mental training. He utilized not just one or two mental strategies, but several, such as creating internal images, self-talk, the power of music, and inner monologues.

The idea behind the importance of the mental aspect of running is nothing new; runners have been aware of the importance of the mind for many years. You hear things like we need to think positive thoughts when we’re running and we need to have a good attitude. Other than thinking positively, however, there honestly isn’t much concrete and exact advice out there on the subject. Until now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 3.49.21 PMDr. Ufer’s book is absolutely filled with practical exercises designed to work on the mental aspect of running. As I type that, I realize of course this is applicable to not just running but life in general. Being stronger mentally is certainly a trait anyone whether they’re a runner or not would benefit from.

He also recognizes that there’s more to mental training than just thinking positive thoughts and there are indeed limitations. If I think to myself that I will be a 3-hour marathoner even though my fastest marathon to date is 4 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t mean that will magically happen just by thinking it will, even if I include other mental training actions such as visualization and others but I just can’t reach the goal times necessary for that 3 hour finish time on my training runs. In other words, you do have to be realistic and know your physical limitations.

What sets this book apart from others on the subject of the mental aspect of running are the numerous exercises. There are questions to ask yourself such as “Which activities and things give you strength, do you enjoy doing, and are good for you?” You make a list and rank everything accordingly. There are also tons of visual imaging exercises, such as visualizing yourself from another person’s perspective. The instructions are thorough and allow you to dig deep into your inner thoughts.

Perhaps one of the most extensive sections deals with understanding your true self when it comes to running and what state your mental strength is currently in. There are exercises on diagnosing your own personal mental strengths during training and competition. You rank each of them and at the end are able to identify the mental skills needed to overcome certain challenges that you can work on. There is also an exercise to ask yourself the reasons why you run.

The book moves on to focus on using more appropriate language to ourselves, like focusing on goals instead of mistakes or things we do not want. He talks about using “towards” goals instead of “away from” goals, like instead of saying “I don’t want to get stomach cramps” you could say, “I want to feel light on my feet and full of energy.” Much of this is also spinning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

A thorough visualization guide takes you through how exactly to visualize things rather than just saying something like, “Picture yourself running.” Dr. Ufer gives several different exercises to help with being able to thoroughly visualize sequences of events. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to picture in your mind’s eye how you mentally wish to experience everything from the evening before an important competition all the way through to how you want to feel after you cross the finish line.

Not to lead you down the path that this is just another book on positive thinking, Dr. Ufer points out the negative effects of positive thinking. He says that many studies now show that some people who are most effected by depression, self-doubt, and are unhappy with their current situation are actually pushed deeper into depression by a constant deluge of positive thinking; instead we should be more realistic and constructive. He also discusses ways to handle failure, crises, and injuries.

If you enjoy introspection and figuring out how your mind works and would like to work on the mental aspect of running, I believe you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re unwilling to put the time necessary to do the exercises, you probably won’t get nearly as much from this book but you still might find it interesting. Be prepared to answer many questions about yourself and dig deep into what Dr. Ufer calls your “personal navigation system.”

Do you enjoy learning about the mental aspect of running? Have you read any good books on the mental part of running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

South Dakota- Memorials, National and State Parks, and Wild West

I realized the other night there’s something I need to fix here. I woke up from a dead sleep with the thought that I have done a disservice to South Dakota. I ran a half marathon there a few years ago and it was my 34th state as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. You can read all about the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon here. However, I only recently realized I never wrote up a proper blog on all of the things to do in South Dakota. Now I will fix that.

On my journey to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I visited North Dakota first. No offense if you live in North Dakota, but I didn’t care much for Bismarck and the surrounding areas when I was there. It all seemed drab, uninteresting, and everyone there that we talked to kept talking about how much they dreaded winter coming even though it was only September. Maybe there are “better” parts of North Dakota, but this was my experience.

When it came time to plan my race and vacation afterwards (or “racecation”) for South Dakota, I expected the area to be similar to North Dakota since they are adjoining states. I couldn’t have been more wrong. South Dakota seemed like a complete 180 degree difference from North Dakota to me. There’s only one national park in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, about a 2 hour drive from Bismarck, plus two national historic sites. However, there are two national parks plus four service sites in South Dakota:  Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Missouri National Recreational River, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. That’s just the national parks and sites, too; there’s also the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and some fun wild-west towns.

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Badlands National Park

If you want to choose one place as your home base and take day trips to see as many of these places as possible, Rapid City is a good choice. There are a multitude of hotels and restaurants and you won’t have to do hours on end of driving in a day. 37 miles (about a 45 minute drive) from Rapid City is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse is the world’s largest in-progress sculpture carving, as well as the longest ongoing, having begun in 1948. When the sculpture is complete it will not only feature the Oglala Lakota warrior known as Crazy Horse but also his horse and will be 27 feet taller than Mount Rushmore. There’s a restaurant on the grounds, gift shop, museum, cultural center, and more that you can read about on their website here.

After leaving the Crazy Horse Memorial, drive 16 miles to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone. There is free admission to Mount Rushmore but you will have to pay parking fees. Carvers’ Cafe is the only dining facility in the park and it serves food typical in a US national park (sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, chicken meals, desserts, and drinks). I also recommend visiting the Lincoln Borglum Museum at the memorial. One special activity is park ranger talks that accompany the sculpture illumination every year starting the Friday before Memorial Day. Although the park ranger talks stop mid-September, the sculpture is illuminated after sunset all year.  

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Mount Rushmore

For your next day trip, drive an hour south to visit Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. If you go to Jewel Cave first and end with Wind Cave, the drive back to Rapid City is more direct. I highly recommend getting there early to make in-person reservations for a tour ahead of time at both places or you may get there only to be disappointed the tour you really wanted to do is booked for the day. You can only make online reservations for large groups and some tours sell out by 11 am. Surprisingly, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest days so you actually might encounter smaller crowds on weekends. Although Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave on Earth, you definitely want to go to both caves because they are very different experiences. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater even in the summer because Jewel Cave is a constant 40 degrees F year-round.

Custer State Park, about 45 minutes south of Rapid City, is the largest state park in South Dakota and is definitely worth a full day. The park is full of approximately 1,300 bison, bighorn sheep, burros, prairie dogs, and mule deer. Drive the scenic Wildlife Loop Road through the park but also get out and explore the park’s trails. On your way back to Rapid City, take Needles Highway (SD-87). This National Scenic Byway is gorgeous and you’ll see the famous Needles Eye Tunnel. Stop and look around at the panoramic views, and then find the trailhead for the Cathedral Spires Trail. It’s only 1.6 miles long but offers some incredible views.

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Custer State Park

About an hour from Rapid City is one of my favorite places in South Dakota, Badlands National Park. This national park is 244,000 acres and has one of the most unique landscapes I’ve seen. In addition to buffalo, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs and numerous birds that you’ll see in the park, fossil hunting is allowed as long as you leave everything where you found it, and there are of course many trails you can explore. The only lodging and restaurant in the park is Cedar Pass Lodge and Restaurant.

If you want to see a Wild West town, Deadwood is a fun place and is about an hour’s drive from Rapid City. You can go to the Black Hills Mining Museum, Adams Museum to learn about the history of the Black Hills, tour the Broken Boot Gold Mine, and go to the 1876 Dinner Theater. You can also find a casino, breweries and wineries, and many types of walking tours. Some people might think of the area as touristy and even cheesy but I found the museums interesting and worth checking out to learn more about the history of the area.

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Learning about panning for gold

This is just a sampling of some places to visit and things to do in the western region of South Dakota. There’s also Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis, Roughlock Falls Nature Area in Lead, George S. Mickelson Trail in Lead, and Fort Meade Recreation Area in Sturgis for some other great outdoor places to visit. Amazingly, this is all just one section of South Dakota. There are also dozens of other state parks, recreation areas, forests, and nature areas in the central, northeast, and southeast regions of South Dakota, which you can find on this comprehensive website.

Have you been to South Dakota? If so, are there places you visited that I left off here?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Review of Decathlon Running Apparel or Why Running Tights Should Not Cost $158

I first stumbled upon the sporting goods store Decathlon when I was reading something online and they referred to it. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the article was about, but it mentioned something about a sporting goods store founded in France called Decathlon. Naturally, I looked it up, only to find there were no brick-and-mortar stores in the US anywhere near me but I could still buy online. Decathlon sells apparel and equipment for a wide range of athletes and outdoor-enthusiasts, for a huge list of activities like running, walking, hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, combat sports, archery, yoga, racket sports, and on and on. Here’s their website:  Decathlon.com.

Even though there are currently only a couple of stores in the San Francisco area in the US, Decathlon is apparently the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. They are able to keep costs low by offering 20 of its own brands and cutting out the middleman. Their running-specific brand is Kalenji, though of course there are other brands of running apparel than this one. Still, you won’t find brands like Nike, Adidas, or any other “big-name” companies at Decathlon.

I took a chance and placed my first online order in January of 2019. In that first order, I bought a pair of capri running tights for $10.90, a long-sleeve running pullover for $11.90, a fleece jacket technically for sailing according to Decathlon for $17.90, and a pair of ankle-length running tights for $14.90, with free shipping, coming to a grand total of $55.60. I’ve run in, gone to yoga class, and lifted weights in this athletic apparel many times since then and everything still looks brand new.

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One of the hats and tights on the left, pullover on the right

When I first received the tights and capris, I’ll admit I was a little concerned because the material seemed a bit thin. However, I’ve run in both pair of bottoms through a total downpour and/or more manageable rain, extremely windy conditions, and just your average chilly day and have never been cold (or overheated) in them, meaning they “breath” extremely well, perhaps surprisingly well given the price. Everything from my original order has been worn through many conditions, washed, and dried many times and as I said earlier, still looks like new.

Since that initial order, I’ve ordered a pair of running shorts for $7.00, a “mountain backpacking” cap that I wear to run in for $7.99, another “mountain backpacking” cap that I also run in for $3.00, and a “hiking” fleece jacket for $10. This all came to a grand total of $27.99 with no shipping fees. Currently for orders over $30, Decathlon offers free shipping (that minimum amount for free shipping has ranged from $25-$50 since I first ordered with them). Just like with my previous order, I’ve absolutely loved everything I’ve ordered. Everything has fit well and doesn’t feel “cheap.” The tights, capris, and shorts all came with a zippered pocket in the back. Both fleece jackets came with zippered pockets. The caps are fully adjustable.

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When I found out there was an actual Decathlon store in Spain near where I had a vacation planned for the end of June, I was very excited and of course was looking forward to visiting the store in person. Then COVID-19 hit and American citizens were prohibited from flying to the EU so I had to cancel that trip.

Still, online sales work for me, especially now that I know what sizes fit me best. I should note too that I’ve never had to send anything back because of poor quality or it didn’t fit. Just about the only complaint I have is they’re sometimes out of stock in my size. If you’re looking for multiple items and/or can be flexible, that definitely helps, otherwise you’ll likely be disappointed. I have no doubt that their inventory is depleted even more so now because of COVID-19.

Finally, I’d like to argue against anyone who might say their gear is cheap and bad for the environment because it doesn’t last long and has to be thrown out every couple of seasons. I still have every single item I’ve purchased from Decathlon and every thing is still in great shape. Besides, running clothes typically don’t last for anything like a decade anyway whether they’re $158 running tights from Lululemon or $14.90 running tights from Decathlon.

Have you ever bought anything from Decathlon? Are you the type of person that’s brand-loyal and will pay more money just because you’re comfortable with the brand or are you more willing to try new brands and new companies?

Happy running!

Donna