Archive | April 2012

Running = Play?

The other night I had the opportunity to attend a speaking engagement featuring Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, an elite runner and doctor who has won several marathons. I decided to go at the last minute and I am so glad that I did!  He was very knowledgeable, relatable, and engaging.  His presentation focused on nutrition, building a body that is strong enough for running, and running form.

His discussion about building a body that is strong enough for running really made me evaluate myself and my relationship with the sport.  Rather than focusing on weight lifting, tempo runs, and pushing your pace, he talked about running for play and running slowly.  Running for play?  What a novel idea.

Dr. Mark started off by asking us (a group of about 50 people between the ages of 18 and 65) for the definition of play.  Everyone was silent.  Sensing our confusion, Dr. Mark helped us out and explained that play is a joyous action that does not have an outcome.  Kids go outside, frolic around, PLAY with no specific goal in mind and, at the end of the day, are content because they have simply felt joy and played.  Dr. Mark said that that is what running should be; every run should be playful.

For several years, Dr. Mark experienced a perpetual state of injury…he would hurt one thing, get better, and end up hurt again within a few weeks.  Finally, he decided that something had to change if he wanted to reach his goals and become an elite runner.  Ever since he made the decision to make running playful, he has been INJURY FREE. In order to make running playful, you must slow down.  When you finish a run, Dr. Mark said that you should feel like you could turn around and do the exact same run all over again. 

The idea of making running playful and running slowly really hit home for me.  I started to think about how I feel about running and how I feel after I finish each run.  I realized that when I first started running, I loved every stride and every run.  It brought me so much joy to lace up my shoes, pound the pavement for awhile, and head back inside with an overhwhelming runner’s high and feeling of accomplishment.

As I let my competitive side and perfectionist tendencies seep into my running, I think that the joy began to slip away.  I started worrying about the numbers…telling myself that I had to go faster, harder, and longer.  Soon enough, it wasn’t a “good” run unless I went a certain distance in a certain amount of time.

Playful?  NO.  A burdensome job?  YES. 

For the past few months, my relationship with running has improved and I have started to take more rest days, listen to my body, and lower my standards of a “good” run.  Not surprisingly, my body has responded graciously.  My iron levels are up, my strength has increased, and I feel better and happier.  At the same time, however, I still set standards for each run and push myself unnecessarily.  I have convinced myself that I am still having fun and in some ways, I am still having fun.  It’s fun to see improvements in my pace and mileage.  It is not fun, however, to miss out on fun things with friends because of running and to get injured because of running.   Dr. Mark’s words of wisdom were the kick in the pants that I needed to REALLY improve my relationship with running.

Yesterday, I ran for playI gave myself permission to slow down and just enjoy the strength of my legs.  I couldn’t believe the happiness that I felt at the end of my run.  I wasn’t panting, my muscles didn’t hurt, and I truly felt like I could do it all over again.  It was so much FUN.  As sad as it may be, I really think that I needed an elite runner, someone that I respected, to tell me that it was O.K. to slow down and that even good runners have to run slowly sometimes.  I am so glad that I went to Dr. Mark’s presentation and I am really going to commit to bringing play back to my running.  Looking ahead, I’m going to make more of my runs slow runs.  I’ll always have a true love for speed and pushing myself, so I won’t let go of it entirely, but I will make sure that I only push myself because I want to and because it is fun.  It’s time to be a kid again and be injury free.  Who’s with me?

You can read more about Dr. Mark at

Let’s Grow Together questions:

1.  Do you work out and/or run for play?

2.  Do you have any tips for making exercise fun rather than a chore?

3.  How often do you put away your garmin, stop watch, or fit boss?

4.  What are you doing to play this weekend?

The Roots, Petals, and Weeds of Life

Hi Everyone!  I think it’s only appropriate for me to use my first real post to explain the theme of my blog.  Although I do love gardening and even grew vegetables in flower pots one summer, “Cultivating Kristin” represents more than that.  Last September, I was sitting in a large ballroom for the University of Michigan School of Social Work new student orientation.  Faculty members and current students introduced themselves, welcomed us to the master’s program, and gave us their words of wisdom and tips for success.  While I don’t remember everything that they said that day, I do remember an activity that they had us do.  They gave us a piece of white paper and several different crayons.  They asked us to draw a flower, complete with strong roots, beautiful petals, and tangled weeds.

On each root, we were told to write one thing in our life that kept us grounded, made us who we were today, and helped us flourish. When identifying my roots, I was reminded (yet again) that my family, God, friends, exercise, and nutritious food are critical to my happiness and well-being.

In the center of each petal, we were asked to write one thing that brought us happiness and brought beauty to our lives.  At first, I had trouble filling in all of the pedals.  Seriously, how sad is that?  I’ve been so caught up playing the “This is what I should do,” “This is what should make me happy,”  and “Who cares what makes me happy…I have a to do list!” that I have truly forgotten what makes the real Kristin happy.  After some thinking, I decided that being outside, spending time with God, drinking coffee and eating breakfast (haha it’s true, I find it so peaceful), helping older adults (I have a bachelor’s degree in gerontology and I’m getting my MSW in geriatric social work), cooking, and exercising were the petals of my life.

The weeds represented the things that caused discomfort and frustration and kept us from reaching our goals and flourishing.  My weeds were the easiest to pick out and write down.  Perfectionism, restriction, exercising too much and getting injured, negative self-talk, anxiety,  and never feeling good enough for my standards.

While some students viewed the activity as childish due to the crayons and simplicity of the drawing, the activity was incredibly moving and thought-provoking for me.  Notice how exercise and food show up in every category in one way or another?  Hmmm….funny how that can happen, isn’t it?  I think it’s another example of why moderation is the key.  Nothing relieves my stress (root) and brings me joy (pedal) than a nice, long run…but nothing makes me injured faster (weed) and meanly competitive with myself (weed) than TOO many “nice, long” runs.

Since September when I completed the flower activity, I truly feel that I have learned more about myself and grown more than I ever thought was possible in just 7 months.  Ann Arbor and every part of my life there has been a saving grace.  Make no mistake, my weeds are not gone and there is still work to be done, but I have made huge progress.  I am SO grateful to God, my mom, family, and my new friends and colleagues who have helped me (whether they know it or not) cultivate the true me, the Kristin that has been missing for the last three years.

Let’s Grow Together questions:

1.  What is the biggest root, pedal, and weed in your life?

2.  Are there any things and/or activities that serve as roots, pedals, AND weeds in you life?

3.  What do you do when you feel like your weeds are taking over your life?  Do you have a “weed removal” strategy?