SELF
July 2004
"Sleep Yourself Smarter"

RUNNER'S WORLD
April 2004
"Find the Zone"

SELF
October 2003
"Excuses, Excuses"

SELF
February 2003
"Get Inspired"

SHAPE
February 2002
"How to Make Your Messages Heard"

RUNNER'S WORLD
June 2001
"It's a Woman Thing"

 RUNNER'S WORLD
July 2000
"Use Your Head"

 SELF
April 2000
"Beware the Energy Vampire"

COOKING LIGHT June 1998
"Moving Target"
 PARENTS
June 1998
"Teaching About Teasing"

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SELF
July 2004

Sleep Yourself Smarter
Looking for a little extra brainpower? Lights out!

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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tackle all of life’s dilemmas in your sleep? Scientists say that’s not just a dream: It’s possible to think creatively, solve problems, even learn new skills while catching up on your zzz’s. (That’s what we call serious multitasking!) Below, four reasons you may want to hit the sack to tap your brain’s after-hours potential.
You’ll have more eureka moments. A presnooze cram session may result in an A.M. revelation. A study in the journal Nature found that volunteers who mulled over a mathematical problem right before dropping off to sleep were more than twice as likely than those who stayed awake longer to solve it in the morning. Timing is crucial, however: Only people who went to bed immediately after reviewing the numbers were better able to discover the solution the next day. Researchers suspect the sleeping mind’s ability to reshuffle info helps bring about morning clarity. So even if you’re not grappling with math, you may want to study up on your next puzzler, like what to wear to that interview, at bedtime.
You’ll be in a better mood. Go ahead: Slide between the sheets angry. It turns out that it’s easier for the brain to process emotionally charged or upsetting events during sleep, perhaps because there are fewer distractions from our waking lives, suggests Andrea Rock, author of The Mind at Night (Basic Books). Whatever the reason, things tend to look better in the morning. Take advantage.
You’ll hone your memory. Skip that all-nighter: No matter what you’re hoping to master, sleeping on whatever you’ve learned is a more effective way to cement your knowledge. “Sleep consolidates memories, reinforcing them and protecting them from decay, says Kimberly Fenn, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago.
You’ll be more creative. When you want to mine your dreams for artistic inspiration, sleep in. “People tend to have the most vivid dreams toward morning because the brain is most active during the second half of the night,” Rock notes. If you’re looking to think out of the box, set the alarm for a later time than usual and keep a journal on your bedside table. Then, when you wake up, record your brilliant thoughts so you can use them before they slip away.

 

RUNNER'S WORLD
April 2004


Find the Zone

How to get to that optimal place where running is effortless and pain-free

At some point, we’ve all been there: that place where your mind and muscles are one. Where you’re free from self-doubt and distractions, ready for the run (or race) of your life. Experts call it “the zone” — and everybody wants directions.

“When you’re in the zone, you’re on autopilot,” says Cecily Tynan, 34, a marathoner in Philadelphia who recently completed her first Ironman. “It’s more than a ‘runner’s high.’ Your muscles and mind are totally relaxed and in the groove.” If you’ve ever lost yourself in a good book or in a gardening project, you’ve been there. You’re so engaged in the task at hand that everything else becomes background noise, and time passes pleasantly and without notice.

Effortless reading, okay, but effortless running? According to Richard Keefe, PhD, director of sports psychology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, running is typically an effortful experience, requiring exertion on many levels. But in the zone, it all becomes effortless. “You’re not paying attention to discomforts and mental negativity. Running has become a disassociative process.” And runners who learn to reach the zone report better performances — and better experiences — than runners who merely stumble across it, Keefe says. Those who find themselves in the zone without realizing it may not know how to take advantage of their edge. When you can control getting to that place, you can put it to work for you. But just as you can’t run a marathon without the proper prep work, you’ve got to put some effort into learning how to reach the zone. Here’s how it works.

Set appropriate goals.
When you are challenged appropriately, you’ll feel positive, engaged, and excited, which will make the zone more accessible, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the Drucker School of Management in Claremont, California, and author of numerous books and studies on “flow.” If your goal isn’t challenging enough, you’ll be bored and apathetic; if your goal is too challenging, you’ll feel anxious and frustrated – all feelings that will lock you out of the zone.

If you’re running a new race distance, whether it’s a 5-K or an ultramarathon, a good goal might be just to complete the course. Focusing on a finish time could discourage you and keep you from getting into the zone. Experienced runners, for whom just finishing is no longer challenging enough, can shoot for a personal record. (For help picking a specific time goal for any distance, visit runnersworld.com and click on “Calculators,” then “Race Time Calculators.”)

But if thinking about your finish time makes you jittery and tense, turn off your watch and run for fun. Feeling calm and relaxed will help you ease into the zone. And just as anxiety keeps you out of the zone, so does boredom. If you’ve grown tired of running the same old training route, make the zone more accessible by varying your course.

Visualize success.
To enter the zone, you must memorize what effortless running feels like, Keefe says. Because this is not something that every runner can draw on, he suggests devoting 15 minutes a day to visualization, in which you take a specific running goal — setting a PR or completing a tough workout — and picture yourself achieving it. Relax, breathe deeply, and create a scenario that’s got as many details as you can imagine: What do you see in the road ahead of you? How’s the weather? And how are you running? Now picture yourself performing at your best: breaking the tape or just cruising past the spot where you’re always tempted to cut your workout short. “See and feel as much as you can,” Keefe says. “That way, the whole emotional landscape will be familiar to you — and you’ll be able to float right through when the situation becomes real.”

These kinds of imagery techniques have helped Creighton Faust, Jr., of Center Valley, Pennsylvania, qualify for the Boston Marathon every year for the past decade. “I visualize race beforehand, usually trying to picture each mile or stretch of the race,” he says. “I picture myself running strong at every mile, and it helps me stay calm and focused."

Adjust your attitude.
A good attitude can send you into the zone much the same way that happy thoughts can help you drift off to sleep at night, says Pamela M. Brill, founder of In the Zone, Inc. Peak Performance Counseling in Bedford, N.H., and author of The Winner’s Way. But the same way negative thoughts will keep you tossing and turning in bed, obsessing about how far you still have to run (or how crummy you feel) will keep you out of the zone. Learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, when you come upon a hill, try not to curse it. Instead, think something positive, like “hills make me stronger” or “this hill will make the rest of my run easier.”

You can incorporate positive imagery into your visualization practice. Imagine any internal obstacles you’ll face, like the discomfort of running faster than usual or the stress of a competitor overtaking you, then think of a strategy for overcoming them (and imagine yourself implementing it). You also can use another runner in your imagery, Keefe says. “Think of someone with the stride or pace that you want, then picture yourself running with that same form.”

Keefe recommends fine-tuning your scenario as needed, adjusting details and replacing the whole thing when you find yourself with new goals or challenges. “Keep it different and you’ll keep it alive,” he says. Most people find it easier to drift into a zone-like state when they’re jogging and chatting (or watching TV on the treadmill) than when they’re racing, adds Brill. Expending more energy takes more attention, meaning you’ll have to deliberately focus your attention elsewhere if you’d like to enter the zone while running full-tilt, she says. Running in the zone means keeping your mind-set optimized and learning to adjust it as the situation warrants. “Play with it while you’re running,” Brill suggests.

Keep practicing.
Learning to get into the zone takes work. But just as intervals and hill repeats pay off, so does mental training. “I’ve been running more than 30 years and I’ve never faced a hill that’s longer than 20 feet — even though the hills around here can go on for miles,” she laughs. “I’ve learned to adjust my attitude and focus so that even the toughest climbs seem easy.” How? Brill says she responds to the increased physical demand by shifting her attitude — becoming The Little Engine That Could — along with her attention. “I never focus on how far I am from the top,” she says. “Just how far I’ve come.”

 

SELF
October 2003


Excuses, Excuses

When to make them and when to fess up

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I’m an authority on excuses. I’ve blamed my dog for many things, including missed deadlines (he was sick) and failed dates (sorry, he doesn’t like men with facial hair). I’ve even kept a log of my justifications over the years, to avoid giving the same song and dance to the same person twice. Yet sometimes I can’t help wondering: Do I excuse myself too much?

When I called Barry Schlenker, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Florida at Gainesville, he assured me that making excuses has a healthy side. “By distancing yourself from a bad situation – say, attributing a layoff to the economy instead of your ineptitude—you preserve your self-esteem,” he says. But making too many excuses, or making the wrong kind, can undermine your reputation. (An editor once confessed to me that she typically gives me early deadlines to accommodate my “dog problem.”) So next time, before I start hedging, I’ll follow these rules:

Make an excuse if the stakes are low. Excuses are OK for hiding small snafus (you missed a meeting) but can cause problems when it comes to larger problems (you called the meeting you skipped). Shifting the blame may also make sense if you’re protecting another person’s feelings (as in blaming a sick aunt for canceling a blind date).
Don’t make an excuse if you’re just passing the buck. Go ahead and rail about the bad weather when you’re late for an appointment – just don’t point to a coworker’s unclear directions. “Accusing others makes you look untrustworthy and selfish,” Schlenker says.
Make an excuse if you can do something to repair the damage. “Effective excuses generally promise a fix,” Schlenker says. So curse your computer for eating your file, but let your boss know that you’ve already asked the office techie for help.
Don’t make an excuse if it’s obvious that you’re out-and-out lying. “An elaborate ruse will trip you up in the end,” Schlenker says. “If things have gotten too complicated, just be honest and face the music.”

 

SELF
February 2003


Get Inspired

Four ways to think more creatively every day

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Why do we inevitably get our brightest ideas when we least expect them – say, when we’re in the shower or dropping off to sleep – but draw a blank when the boss demands an instant solution to a perplexing work problem? Truth is, whether you’re a CEO or a sculptor, inspiration tends to strike in a hit-and-run fashion. In fact, a workplace study in the Harvard Business Review finds that people are least creative when they’re on a tight schedule. “if deadlines are imminent, employees may take the simplest path, not the most creative,” explains study coauthor Connie Hadley, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Still, there are ways to nudge your imagination in the right direction. Try these tips for cranking up your innovation when you need it most:

Slow down, take it easy, and your inner Picasso will come out to play.

Be a human sponge.
True creativity stems from the subconscious, which keeps on working whether you are or not, says Michael J. Gelb, author of Discover Your Genius (HarperCollins). If you give your mind plenty of material to work with (say, by making free-form lists or doing research), all that information will provide fodder for your ideas. If you’re feeling stuck in your job, for instance, “think of yourself as being on a hunt for inspiration,” Gelb suggests. Go to museums, read great books, get tickets to an interesting play. A rich mind is an inventive mind. Now you can just relax and wait for your creative instincts to kick in.

Brainstorm with a partner.
When it comes to creativity, two can really be a charm. The Harvard study found that brilliant ideas are less likely to happen in group discussions, since those types of conversations tend to be unfocused. In contrast, originality seems to bloom one-on-one.

Get moving.
If you’re really stuck for a stellar notion, hit the treadmill, the pool or the bike path. A recent report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that exercise generates inspiration as well as perspiration. Muscles have memory, meaning they can perform rhythmic, familiar activities such as walking, swimming or cycling, without your full attention. This allows your mind to drift, says David Magellan Horth, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. Another plus: Your inhibitions are weakest during these off-guard moments, so you’ll do true out-of-the-box thinking. So stash a pen and paper in your gym bag!

Fire your inner censors.
“You don’t have to go with every wild though you get, but you should give yourself the leeway to come up with them,” says Robert J. Sternberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology and education at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Once you’re in sky’s-the-limit mode, your rational mind can sort the realistic possibilities from the preposterous, leaving you with unique – yet doable – ideas.

 

SHAPE
March 2002


Why You Need Realistic Goals

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Sometimes the reason you’re unhappy is obvious. Other times, it isn’t. But new research shows that most bad moods are actually created by feelings of failure, even when you’re not consciously trying to accomplish anything. “Everyone sets goals for certain situations, and after a while the same goals are triggered automatically,” says Tanya Chartrand, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

So if you feel compelled to bedazzle your boss, unless she praises you every time she sees you, you’ll always feel like you’ve failed. Or if you expect to make a dozen new friends at every party, you’ll feel crummy unless you leave every fete with several phone numbers. The antidote: Assess the situations that bring you down, ferret out the goals that you’ve attached to them, then set more achievable ones: Staying relaxed around your boss, for example, or meeting one new person per party.

 

SHAPE
February 2002

How to Make Your Messages Heard

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Whether it’s Valentine’s Day intimacies or a reminder to take out the garbage, if you have something to say to your honey, pick your time and place carefully – and speak into the correct ear.

A new study shows that people process and remember romantic words better if they hear them via the left ear. That’s because left-side sounds go directly to the right side of the brain, where more “emotional” messages are processed. In contrast, nonromantic messages have a better chance of sticking if they’re delivered to the right ear, explains Teow-Chong Sim, Ph.D., study author and assistant professor of psychology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. Sim notes that he studied right-handed people in this experiment; for lefties, the results would likely be the opposite.

 

RUNNER'S WORLD
June 2001

It's a Woman Thing

We're not all made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but we women do have several traits in common. Here's how you can use them to become a better runner

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Women are moody. Women are obsessed with their thighs. Women are incapable of going two whole minutes without talking. Women are tireless in their toiling for the people they love. Women are the weaker sex. Yada, yada, yada.

If you've heard every cliché and stereotype that you can stand, we're with you. No two women are exactly alike, and for every woman who matches one of those generalizations, we all know another one who doesn't.

But that said, some stereotypes are based on a modicum of truth that's worth exploring and understanding -- because it can help your running. “If you know your tendencies as a woman, you'll be able to train more effectively,” says Dee Ann Dougherty, a physical therapist and running coach in Portland, Ore.

To help you do this, we asked several women coaches to identify the six most common traits in the women runners they work with. While not all of theses traits will apply to you, some will – and we'll tell you what you can do about them.


Feminine Trait #1: Time-Starved and Sleep-Deprived
Being chronically short on time certainly isn't just a problem for women. Men also carry Palm Pilots and cell phones, and kids squeeze in homework between soccer practice and Must-See TV. But women tend to take on more than their fair share of responsibilities, both at home and at work. Or at least, women feel as if they do.

“Women tell me that most tasks at home fall to them,” says Donna LeBlonde, a Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training coach in Bellingham, Wash., and a veteran of 11 marathons. Research backs these women up, showing that even in our more egalitarian society, women continue to perform the majority of housework.

Women also typically assume a disproportionate share of the emotional work – listening to and comforting the grandmother who's mad at her doctor, the teary-eyed teen just dumped by her boyfriend, the second-grader who's worried that the other kids will laugh at his science project, and the exasperated husband who wants to start a new career.

“I coached a woman who had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to do her training runs,” says Dougherty. “She had four kids and wanted to run a marathon, so something had to give.” Unfortunately, what many women give up is personal time, and that often means the time they should be sleeping. Sleep deprivation can create a host of problems, including fatigue, lack of motivation and increased susceptibility to illness and injury.

Expert Advice: “You have to learn to make time for yourself,” says Dougherty. Get enough sleep, and schedule your day to allow at least an hour of private time, when you turn off the phone, put aside the housework, and hand the kids over to their dad or a sitter. And make your workouts non-negotiable. You wouldn't quit breathing just because you were too busy, right? Exercise should be equally important. Being a regular runner will keep you much fitter than being a chronic dieter.

Feminine Trait #2: Calorie-Obsessed
To many men, the sight of a thick, juicy steak conjures up one word: “yum.” To others, it might inspire thoughts of “protein” or even “energy.” But to most women, that steak says just one thing: “fattening.”
That kind of thinking leaves many women runners short on critical nutrients. When we deny ourselves meat in order to lose weight, for example, we miss out on protein, iron and zinc. When we omit dairy products, we're also cutting out calcium.

Beyond nutritional deficiencies, women who diet excessively may also run short on energy. “Men are much more willing to see food for what it is: fuel for activity,” says LeBlonde. But for women, it's much more complicated than that. Thus, many female runners try to increase their mileage without increasing their calories.

Expert Advice: Separate your food choices from your self-image. Look at it this way: Being a regular runner will keep you much thinner – and fitter – than being a chronic dieter. And to be a runner, you've got to give your body enough fuel to run on. For every 1 to 2 miles you add to your weekly training program, you should add about 100 calories to your weekly eating program. Base your menu on nutritious whole foods, such as whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Cut back on highly refined (and high-calorie, low-nutrient) foods like chips, crackers and cookies.

Feminine Trait #3: The Weaker Sex?
Women on average have less muscle than men. And even though most women have heard about the importance of weight training, few of us are willing to trade our coveted running time for a session of pumping iron at the gym.

But that thinking needs to change, says Margot Putukian, MD, an associate professor and director of primary care sports medicine at Penn State University. For one thing, a strong body is more resilient, helping you to fend off overuse injuries. It's also more balanced, preventing the injuries that come from turned ankles and falls. And finally, a stronger body can be a faster body.

The path to stronger muscles also leads to stronger bones. Low bone density is more than an old lady's problem. It can strike women in their early 20s, and sets you up for stress fractures and osteoporosis.

Expert Advice: Women typically follow the rules when it comes to health: We floss, replace our contact lenses and visit the doctor more diligently than men. But we can apply that same discipline to our strength training. You can work your major muscle groups with five simples exercises: pushups, pull-ups, lunges, crunches and back extensions. Do them twice a week and you're good to go.

Feminine Trait #4: Competing With our “Selves”
The experts agree: Many men are motivated in their running and their lives by the desire to beat external competitors: their friends, the clock, or the high school track coach who told them they'd never make the team. But women are more driven by internal motivators, says Janet Walberg-Rankin, Ph.D., who studies the psychology of female athletes as a professor in the department of nutrition and exercise at Virginia Tech University.

This gender difference can be subtle, she explains, because women and men often share the same goals, whether it's to compete in a race or nab the corner office. But for most women, achieving their goals has nothing to do with beating anyone. Instead, it has more to do with boosting their own feelings of self-worth. “If you want something, you push yourself to overcome your own physical and emotional limitations,” Walberg-Rankin explains. “It's not about being at the top of anyone else's heap.”

Of course, this orientation can prove to be positive or negative, depending on your expectations. For example, deciding to run a marathon is a perfectly healthy goal for most women. But if you want to run one next week – and your longest run in recent memory was 5 miles – your goal would be a bad one.

It's helpful to recognize why a particular goal is important to you. For example, you might feel compelled to compete in a marathon to fulfill a need that goes way beyond running. If you're training and racing to boost your fitness and your self-confidence, you'll probably succeed. But if you're running to get approval from your estranged father (or just the bragging rights that go with a calendar jammed with workouts), you may need to reassess.

“If you try to fix your life with running, you'll get caught in a no-win situation,” says Dr. Putukian. “And even if you see other women doing the same thing, you need to be strong enough to realize that they’re not right, either.”

Expert Advice: Develop a realistic training plan based on your current fitness. You can download several programs from Runner's World websites (go to runnersworld.com or womens-running.com). Write the workouts in your calendar or training log, then focus on the journey, not the destination. Sure, you’ll become faster and fitter, and your collection of race T-Shirts will grow. But enjoy the process and try to focus on the joy that drew you to running in the first place.


Feminine Trait #5: Always the Social Butterflies
Though our male friends might rib us about it, many of us are unabashedly sociable. It's this quest for camaraderie that brings many of us to running in the first place. It pulls us through our long training runs, keeps us signing up for neighborhood 5-Ks, and makes us cheer with such gusto for other runners at races.

Nobody's saying that the guys aren't friendly, or that they don't give each other slaps on the back after a particularly tough run. But compared with men, women have more empathy for other runners – especially other women – and we often gain more inspiration from our running partners than a man does. “Guys are more apt to reap their rewards from putting in the miles or running at a particular pace,” says Dougherty, “whereas women seem to appreciate the social aspect of running more.”

Expert Advice: Whether you're preparing for a marathon, starting regular track workouts, or just trying to stay fit, look for other people to do it with. “Doing anything new or challenging is difficult,” says Sue Curfman, a coach and competitive runner in Anaheim, Calif. “So finding support in other people is critical.”

Feminine Trait #6: Ever-Shifting Hormones
Women vary dramatically in the changes they experience during their menstrual cycles. Even if you hardly notice a thing, your body definitely changes during those 28 days. Many women have cramps, bloated waistlines and short emotional fuses, among other symptoms.

“We know that changes in progesterone levels create menstrual symptoms, and we think that they may change your metabolic rate, too,” says Curfman. “Than can result in a drop in your aerobic capacity during the second half of your cycle, just before your period begins.” Hooray! In addition to feeling bloated and cranky, you'll also feel lethargic.

In addition, if you're the type who eats the same menu, week after week, and if that menu is short on calories, you could notice an even more dramatic drop in your running performance, says Walberg-Rankin.

Expert Advice: “Pay attention to your body and check the calendar when you're planning your workouts,” Curfman advises. “Don't expect to train at your hardest or run your best race, just before your period.” Also, let yourself give in to those food cravings, especially if you're very careful with what you eat during the rest of the month. Those extra calories might just boost your energy.

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