#330: Find Your Athletic “Happy Place”

Sarah and co-host Amanda Loudin (fresh back from Chamonix, France, where she got to spectate the UTMB ultra race!!) talk with a variety of guests about having an athletic “happy place.” First they admit what their happy places are, then they bring on the expert, Dr. Justin Ross, a Denver-based psychologist and marathon runner, who starts off by assuring Sarah the show’s topic isn’t, in her word, “cockamamie!” Instead, he defines an athletic happy place as, “something that provides connection to self, sport, and community.” (Phew!) The good doc goes on to explain folks can have an internal and an external happy place. Find out why some people’s happy places might even seem contradictory to the whole “happy” bit. (Which leads to one of his best lines: “Adult things suck.”) He talks about the health-bolstering effects of water and forests. Michelle San Antonio, a mother runner of three who has run the Boston Marathon several times, shares how her happy “place” is actually a mindset and how it has evolved drastically over the last five years. The trio bond over Michelle’s simple-yet-powerful statements of, “My life has changed, so my running has changed.” And “I still race and give it my all. My ‘all’ just isn’t what it used to be.” (If you listen closely, you can hear SBS + Amanda nodding vigorously during this part of the show!) Exit Michelle, enter Casii Dodd, a soon-to-be-grandma of twins (!), whose happy place is on trails, explaining they help her unlug and “be in the step.” Casii talks about how time on the trail and technique tips gleaned from local runners has helped her feel much more comfortable and confident on technical trails. Find out how rain has entered into her mental feel-good place. Definitely an episode with much to ponder!
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Here is the transcription of this episode:

Sarah:                      Welcome back to the show, Justin.

Justin:                     Oh, thanks for having me back.

Sarah:                      Yeah.

Amanda:                So Justin, I think you need to tell us a little bit about that acceptance into Boston, and give a little background because I know what your situation was last year. So, go ahead and tell us a little bit about this.

Justin:                     Yeah. So I ran Boston in 2017 for the first time and it's such an amazing experience. Just working to get there and doing all the training to qualify in and of itself was just an incredible experience. And then to be there that weekend, it's such a celebration of the human spirit and of all the people that have worked so hard to get there. It was great and I knew at that time that I wanted to make it back. So, I ran a re-qualifying race later in 2017 and I had a three minute and 17 second cushion for my qualifying time. And then when the announcement came in that the cutoff was going to be 3:23, I missed a bit by six seconds. So definitely a little bit of disappointment there. But it also fueled this drive to keep working and stay after it and keep training. I ran another race this June and re-qualified and had plenty of cushion this time to be able to register week one and got my acceptance in one day.

Sarah:                      Wow. Okay. So then you have to tell, come on, a reveal, how much did you qualify by?

Justin:                     So I had eight minutes and two seconds was my official margin of time.

Sarah:                      Boom.

Amanda:                Very nice.

Sarah:                      Very nice. Boom.

Amanda:                Yeah. No sweating this time.

Justin:                     No, but it looks like there's a lot of people on the line. It looks like the cutoff this year is going to be quite high based on everything that they're [inaudible 00:01:52].

Sarah:                      Oh, do tell. What did you hear?

Justin:                     Well they said they had more registering applicants in week one than they've ever had before. And their language is they're only going to accept a small percentage of week two qualifiers. So it's probably going to be well above what it was last year.

Sarah:                      Oh my gosh. See, because I really think those things swing kind of cyclical, so that people then hear, "Oh you don't just have to make the qualifying time. You have to kind of over qualify." So I would think maybe it sends some people being like, "Oh, I'm not going to... It's out of my grasp." But it sounds like it made people hungrier.

Justin:                     Right.

Amanda:                That's what I was just going to say and ask Justin. So to my mind, I think what happens is you start getting those new numbers in your head, and you're going to be able to make that next step. I think you can run to the goal, basically. So I guess what I'm getting after that it's a mental thing. I don't know, Justin, you can qualify to steam here.

Justin:                     Well, I think you're right Amanda. I think it's... Not only are you number's chasing your qualifying standard, but I think you have to then take an additional five minutes to really feel comfortable. So, for me right now it's 3:10, so I have to be under, in my opinion, 3:05 to feel comfortable that I have a chance and it's the squeakers who qualify by five minutes or less that are the ones that are going to be getting squeezed out of this.

Sarah:                      I know, but it's also kind of sad that now a squeaker someone who by five minutes, because to me, like if I qualified by five minutes, I'd think I was champion of the world.

Justin:                     Yeah, right.

Sarah:                      So it used to be... I don't know, Tish Hamilton, the self-described squeaker. I mean, we're talking 30 seconds, 45 seconds, something like that. And so, wow, definition of squeaker is expanding. All right, so, well, Justin, when I first floated the idea of an episode about athletic happy places, what did you think of that idea? I'm I [inaudible 00:03:59] and what are we doing?

Justin:                     Well, I think it makes so much sense because as adult athletes, I think we're drawn to something that provides connection. And it's not just about performance. It's not just about what numbers you're chasing on your watch or what your PR is, it's none of that. It's about this connection to self and connection to sport and community and to all these things that you were just talking about. And so I think that makes a lot of sense, it's that connection that really is the happy place, I think for most of us.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because, yeah, I was intrigued that it definitely doesn't have to be a literal place. It isn't Wildwood trail from mile 20 to 22 or Klineline pond in Vancouver, Washington. It can be a mindset, it can be who you run with. That sort of thing.

Justin:                     Yeah, exactly right. I mean, when I think about it, I think you can break happy place down to being an internal happy place, or an external happy place, and there being variables for both. I think on the internal side there's on one level some connection to yourself. And whether that's just that it feels really good to move. I really appreciate the ability to get out there and to feel my body in space. There's some connection to self or stress reduction, whatever that may be. But there's also, for me, I find a lot of personal connection just to effort level knowing that, that's a variable that you can play with. Some days you can take it nice and easy and that feels really good. Some days when it's uncomfortable, you have a decision to make, whether you push it, and kind of lean into that discomfort or not. And when you come out on the other side of that, it's that connection to pushing through a hard effort that I think is really rewarding in this sport.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). So then we have to ask what your athletic happy place Justin?

Justin:                     Yeah. Absolutely, it's a great question. I think on the internal side it's definitely those harder effort days, where I know I need to show up and do the work knowing that it's not easy, but I always feel better on the backside of that. And it's like, I think about Elliot Kipchoge this weekend who broke the world marathon record, world record. And it shows you what you're capable of and that connection to being anti-fragile, like you are strong and you are capable, these are the moments in our lives where we get to really chase that down and figure that out.

Amanda:                Nice. Well, which kind of leads into my next question, which is, why is it useful to have an athletic happy place? I mean, if it's an actual physical place, is there a benefit for working out there if you're struggling a little bit, or feeling burned out? Are there restorative powers to having sort of a happy/safe place?

Justin:                     For sure. I mean, I think the first thing that comes to mind is like, adulting sucks sometimes, I mean it's hard and it's messy and it's not always that clamorous or that much fun. And so I think having something in our lives that connects us to happy a place is foundationally important to our wellbeing and to our relationships. And for athletes, for runners, this is where we connect to that. And that could be an internal place or like you're saying, and that I think there's external happy places as well. And that for me, you can slice that into either being sort of a location, like a physical place, probably not the treadmill, although I want to weigh in on that Twitter conversation. But there's location for all of us where we feel really connected. I think that's really important. And the other piece is community. And that can be either thinking about, like Sarah, you're talking about your dad, like connection to people in the past or community now, friends, family, running groups, people that we connect to. I think those are really important factors as well.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). So hearkening back to the water a little bit, when I asked [inaudible 00:08:05] on Facebook to share their athletic happy place, I was amazed how many women wrote similar responses along the lines of, "On a lakeside trail or near the ocean." So, Dr. Ross, I realized that this might not be your area of specialty, but is there something about the positive ions near water that affect our mood? Because I definitely know as a Pisces there is for me.

Justin:                     Yeah, absolutely. I think we tend to be drawn, human beings, to two places. One is water, and the other is to forests. I know more about forest bathing concept, which has been studied really heavily in Japan. Like, that's an active thing that they do. They take people into the forest and then researchers of course go in and screw it all up by measuring data on these people. But they show reduction in all kinds of things. It physically changes our health, and I think water does the exact same thing. We're drawn to it and we're mesmerized by it and we feel better when we're in it or around it.

Amanda:                Makes Sense.

Sarah:                      Justin, I also have to say, I love you have a very expansive, descriptive vocabulary. Just listening to you talk, you get exactly the right word for... I don't know. It's very intoxicating to listen to you talk.

Justin:                     Oh, you're too kind.

Amanda:                Yeah. So, I don't know, Sarah, you mentioned earlier the amusement park ride and needing to have a happy place. Is that legitimate, Justin, also, that it's good to have that mental happy place?

Justin:                     Oh, yeah. I think absolutely right. It can help us deal with discomfort or anxiety, and you can draw upon that. If you ask everybody right now listening to close your eyes and to just spend a few moments visualizing that physical happy place in your life, whether that's in the water or in the forest or on the trail, it doesn't take long until you can sort of picture yourself and actually feel yourself there. And in moments of great distress in life, that can be a profound thing to call upon to help you get through it.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda:                Nice.

Sarah:                      So chances are good probably that we don't have all that many listeners who like, mile 22 of Chicago marathon, or the midway point of even their local half marathon is their happy place. So how can people summon up the powers of their happy place while in a race setting?

Justin:                     Yeah. See, and maybe it could be though, maybe mile 22 of a marathon, it's not feeling good if you're doing things correctly. And so that could be actually in a weird way, your happy place because it's that connection to putting yourself in an uncomfortable position to see what you're capable of. And again, I think there are so many places in life right now where we're just over caffeinated and over connected to the Internet and we have all our needs met at the click of a button. And it's through this process of sport where it's hard that maybe that is somebody's happy place. At the same time if it really is bleeding itself into distress or discomfort, there are lots of variables you can play with mentally and visually to help you cope with and deal with those experiences.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). And are there any physical things that like... Can you teach yourself? Like, I think about people who touch their thumb to the tip of their forefinger, then their middle finger, then their ring finger, pinky, and doing that sort of... I don't know what those are called. That type of little, not drill, but...

Justin:                     Yeah. I think that's called the emotional freedom technique. Is that what you're thinking of? There's something like that.

Sarah:                      Do you think you could make a little connection when I do that I... I don't know, maybe if you do that when you're running on a trail or you tap the side of your cheek or something like that. When you're on the trail, do you think there's a way that you can kind of summon up, like have a physical way to summon up that mental thing?

Justin:                     Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's all kinds of ways to do it. You could do it just mentally by thinking about it. You can do it visually by screening for something in your environment. You can do it physically too. I mean the physical can be a cue for that as well, whether that's like a tapping or a touching or certain part of your body that you can access, your nose, your fingers, whatever it may be to help you connect better to that place.

Sarah:                      Physical cues. That's the type of... That's the phrase I was looking for. So I would pay you the big money Dr. Ross.

Amanda:                It's not the finger touch method. Is that what we are talking about?

Justin:                     The finger touch method. You know what though, we could develop that. I think we developed a finger touch method [crosstalk 00:13:05]-

Sarah:                      We're going to have a retreat about it next year and I will talk about it at the end of the podcast.

Justin:                     That's [inaudible 00:13:10]. [inaudible 00:13:10] the next presentation.

Sarah:                      Yes. Here's the URL for it. So, if somebody doesn't have a happy place like me on the roundup at Oaks Park, how do you suggest they try to find one, and how to go about doing that?

Justin:                     My hunch is that people may say that they don't have one, but it won't take long for them to sort of dig in on earth that there is a place that they connect to. And maybe it's shifting the language a little bit instead of seeking a happy place. It's realizing what they connect to, whether that's those internal variables or those external variables. There is going to be something that they're connected to that they can then create or mold into this happy place for them.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. It doesn't lend for as good song though, happy place that... Well, awesome. Well, Justin, it's always a delight to talk to you and your expansive descriptive vocabulary. And I know I speak for Amanda when I say that we look forward to hanging out with you in Cape Cod next month.

Justin:                     Yeah. It's going to be a blast. I can't wait.

Sarah:                      Good, good. Alrighty, and congrats again on Boston.

Justin:                     Oh, thank you so much.

Sarah:                      All right. Now we're going to talk to two mother runners about their athletic happy places, which I realized now I should say maybe their connections or something like that. But, for the first mom, Michelle San Antonio of Wakefield, Rhode Island, it's not a place but a mindset. A mom of three sons, Michelle is qualified for and run the Boston Marathon times. Michelle, welcome to the podcast.

Michelle:               Thank you. Very happy to talk with you all.

Amanda:                So Michelle, tell us about how you got started running. I think you've been running about a decade now?

Michelle:               Yeah, around that. I ran a little bit before I had my kids but didn't really get into it until after my second was born, that's when I started racing. And once I started racing is when I really kinda got hooked. So that was around 2006, 2007.

Amanda:                All right. And I'm sorry, go ahead. [inaudible 00:15:29]...

Michelle:               No, nope. That pretty much what I've... That's when I really started taking it seriously and it became sort of part of my identity. And I think that's really why I was so hooked on it at that point is because I was a new mom and I was looking for an identity other than being a mom.

Amanda:                Yeah. I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Michelle:               Yeah.

Sarah:                      Exactly.

Amanda:                And I think you became pretty speedy pretty quickly because you be cued after being a runner for just a couple of years. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Michelle:               Yeah, yeah. I ran my first marathon in 2008 and that was not particularly speedy. For my first marathon, I ran a 4:12, which is certainly very respectable. I was surprised that I ran as fast as I did. And I think I started running a lot of shorter races too. And Yeah, my times were dropping pretty rapidly. I think, some of it was just beginner's luck and also just say, I was new to the sport, so it was easy to see improvements pretty quickly, whereas as I got into it later on it got harder and harder. And I started setting those bigger goals. But I qualified for Boston at my second marathon, but it was a few years later, so I had a few years off in between there to really work on my times at shorter distances.

Sarah:                      But did you have your third son in there in between the first and second marathon or no?

Michelle:               I did, yes.

Sarah:                      Yeah, so there was that time out of running.

Michelle:               Yes. Yeah, yeah. And I did run during that pregnancy, but of course, it was not speedy at that time. But I got into it pretty quickly after I had him. I got right back into it and... Yeah. And really, I just took off from like 2011 to 2013, which is when I ran Boston. That was kind of when I was really driven. It was all about what's the next goal, what's the next PR I'm going to go after. And I was racing constantly. Thank God I have a supportive husband to put up with me. “I'm running 5k this weekend and a half marathon next weekend.” So, it just... I don't want to say it was all consuming because it was fun and I really enjoyed it, but it definitely was a huge part of my life and who I was and I really took off with it at that point. Yeah.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). But would you also say that it may be... So you haven't been a runner for... Because Amanda and I have been riding for decades, so you seem you're a newbie compared to us, but it seems to me you've had more than your fair share of injuries. Would you say that's accurate? And do you think that maybe part of it is because of all the racing or no? What's your thinking?

Michelle:               Oh, absolutely, without a doubt. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:18:41]-

Sarah:                      If you hadn't thought of that one, psst.

Michelle:               Yes, yes, yes. Because I was so driven, I just didn't want to accept that maybe I shouldn't race so much. Maybe I shouldn't do another marathon this year. I definitely have had a lot of injuries and I do think some people are more injury prone than others and I think that's a part of it. But yeah, I mean, I pushed myself and there were absolutely times where I did more than I should have. So I will happily admit that.

Amanda:                I mean, I think that's a very common, I don't know if mistake is the right word, but just a common experience, I think for a lot of people, you get into it, you're enjoying it so much and it becomes, like you said, so consuming and it can definitely lead to a cycle of injuries. But would you say then... It sounds like you're maybe in a different place now. So when we talk about happy places and yours being racing, I mean, would you say that that's still the case or would you say that you're running happy place has maybe evolved?

Michelle:               It's definitely evolved. I ran Boston 2013, I Ran Boston 2014, and I still raced after that and I did do a couple of other marathons. I think for a few years after that, I want to say from like 2015 maybe up until even last year, I still kind of had that sense that like I wanted to keep going after those PRs and I wanted to keep pushing myself and racing. But I don't know that it was even a conscious decision, but I feel like it's just sort of tapered, which is a good running word to use. I don't know, it's just been a gradual evolution where I'm not racing as much as I used to. And not entirely because of injury. I have had a couple minor injuries here and there, but I just feel like it's...

Michelle:               What used to drive me was always looking forward. What race is on my schedule next? What training plan am I going to use? What time am I going to go after? I was always happy to finish a race and if I did well, I was excited, I celebrated, but it was kind of fleeting because I was always so busy looking to what was coming up next. Whereas I feel like I still have tenuous goals in mind, but it's more like, I'm just happy I'm doing what I'm doing and I'm running a few times a week. And I just feel like where I am at the moment is enough and I'm not driven by where I'm going to be in the future. So I feel like I don't sort of have that driving force behind my running that's motivating me so much. The running is motivation enough now.

Michelle:               And I think three years ago I could not ever have said that and I could not ever have imagined feeling that way. So it's kind of weird how it's just sort of crept up on me, but it's... I don't know entirely what to attribute it to. I'm certainly 10 years older than I was when I ran my first marathon. And age absolutely has something to do with that I think I can't go out and run 20 miles at an eight minute pace and then come home and entertain my kids all afternoon. Like I just don't have the energy for it anymore. So part of it is just the reality of my life. In some ways I feel like my kids, although they're teenagers now and they don't require quite the hands on work that they used to, they still require a lot and it's sort of the emotional stuff they require that's more draining than the physical stuff was.

Amanda:                Yes, yes, we understand that.

Michelle:               Yeah. So I think some of those is just the realities of my life. That my life has changed, so my running has changed and I am grateful that I'm okay with that. Because I think when I was sort of in that timeframe where it was all about the PRs and the goals and what race is next, I would've had a hard time accepting that I couldn't do all those things. But now I've just kind of grown into it and maybe I will not ever get a marathon PR and that's okay because life goes on.

Amanda:                Yeah, yeah.

Sarah:                      It's so funny because I remember, and thank you for sharing, I was nodding head vigorously as you were saying so much of that. And then I remembered that I was at a neighborhood party a couple of years ago and I met this woman who used to be a runner and was now a walker and she'd had lots of races and really was very passionate about it. And yet she seemed so okay with being a walker. And I just remember looking at her and thinking, “Oh my gosh, if you took a pill to get to that place that you're at now, like can I get a prescription to that too?” And that you do realize though that it is gradual and we're not asking you 37 year old Michelle to suddenly jump into the mindset of 47 year old Michelle. And it's the same thing like, we get so many questions for [inaudible 00:24:30] answers about that same thing. Like how do I let go of that feeling? You don't have to let go of it all in one fell swoop and let fall to the ground. It's more like grains of sand through your hand.

Michelle:               Yeah. And I'll still go out there. I mean, I will run races sometimes. I don't race as much, but I still go out and give it my all and my all just isn't quite what it used to be. And again, I have definitely learned to accept that and I will still race and I'll still... Hey, who knows, maybe I will still go out and get a PR at some distance, but it's not the only motivation I have anymore. So, whichever is fine and freeing.

Amanda:                Yeah, I was just going to say, I think it's very freeing and I also find being in this place, which I call kind of like the other side, is just a more enjoyable place to be too, I think. Like, you just enjoy the process of running more than when the process of running has to equate to a goal.

Michelle:               Yeah, yeah. And I think, like I mentioned at the beginning is I'm not searching for like an identity as an athlete and a competitor anymore. I kind of know who I am now and that's part of me, but that's not who I am entirely. So, yeah. Yeah. It's excellent. It's excellent.

Sarah:                      Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michelle:               Yeah. It's good to be in a happy place.

Amanda:                It is. It is for sure. For sure.

Sarah:                      Oh my goodness. So I mean, what is on your race calendar then? It always seemed to me like you probably were like a year out, like yes, I'm going to do this race in October and that one in November, that sort of thing.

Michelle:               Yeah. Yeah. I definitely used to be. I used to have months in advance planned out. I honestly have absolutely nothing on a race calendar right now. Nothing. Not a single thing.

Sarah:                      Wow.

Michelle:               Nope. I have not signed up for a race in a long time. The last race I did was a local 5k in January. So, yeah, I don't know, I might do a local race at some point, but I also have gotten burned many times by signing up for races in advanced and getting injured, not being able to race. So I've kind of backed off of doing that a little bit. And I think right now I'd rather just kind of jump into something when I feel like it, and no big goals. I kind of feel like I still would like to run another marathon someday, but I'm okay if I don't too. It's just sort of, it's out there. Maybe I will, maybe I won't.

Sarah:                      Yeah, yeah. Do you find, and I would address this question maybe to both of you, that do you feel that also sometimes it's somehow that you can get right with it, with that this new attitude, this new happy place, but sometimes it takes a while for the rest of your personal community to catch up with you so that you can just remember feeling a lot of, "Oh, what race are you doing next? What time are you going in for all this stuff?" And I don't know, like you almost need to... I guess that's what Facebook is for. I was going to say put out a memo of like, "Hey, I'm not a marathon runner anymore.

Amanda:                I definitely have that with my running group because we have all mellowed, and we are all racing less than we ever used to. But there are still some in our group who still like to get a little competitive and train specifically for specific events. And just the other day, one of my friends was talking about this very low key local marathon that's in September every year. She ran part of it the other day, just as a training run. She's like, "Oh, we should all do that next year," and I said, "No, it just holds no appeal to me. I think I'm done with road marathons." So yes, I think it is an adjustment for everyone, but to remember that this is where you are now and be okay with that. Yeah.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. How about you Michelle? What did you find effective?

Michelle:               Yeah, I've found that most of my friends are kind of in the same boat as I am. So, for various reasons certain people have different reasons for kind of slowing down and not doing as much racing. But I feel like in some ways we're all kind of going through it together. So, it's actually been kind of nice that I don't feel left out because all my other friends are doing this race this weekend and I can't go. It could be because I think that would be hard if they were all still super ultra competitive and getting out there all the time, but they're not. So it's been actually kind of nice. I think it's made it even more cohesive for us that we're all kind of like, "Yeah, maybe we'll do that half marathon and take a weekend away." But that's sort of how we look at it now as opposed to, “Oh, maybe you could get an age group prize at this race.” It's just... Yeah. Everyone's attitude seems to have shifted a little bit.

Sarah:                      All right. So since you don't have an athletic happy place, that's a place per se. Michelle, do you have a happy place that's not athletic? Because I have to say from your beautiful Instagram feed, I would a wager a bet, it's at the beach.

Michelle:               It's the beach. It has to be the beach. Absolutely, with my kids or without my kids, in summer or winter, it's the beach for sure. Yes. We're very lucky that we live 10 minutes from probably one of the most beautiful beaches in Rhode Island. So we take full advantage of it. It's so nice.

Sarah:                      Yeah. It is nice. It is nice. You need to come out and see the beaches of the West Coast in Oregon. Our deep, deep beaches in the way the old growth forests meet the beach. It's enchanting as well, so you need to...

Michelle:               It sounds stunning, yeah.

Sarah:                      Yeah, yeah. But I just love seeing all your pictures and I also just really admire how still involved you are with taking your kids to experiences.

Michelle:               Oh, thank you.

Sarah:                      Like the way you were like, “Oh, I'm going to take the kids in one last time to Boston before school starts.” And I think it's just kind of easy once kids get to be a certain age to just be like, “Yeah, do whatever. Like you're not bothering me.”

Michelle:               Yeah. And they are resisting to some degree now especially the oldest is almost 15. And there are times I'll say we're going to do something and he just kind of groans. Sometimes I'll let him take a pass, but more often I try to drag him along because he usually ends up having fun. It's just he kind of feels like, "I shouldn't be doing this. I shouldn't be hanging out with my family."

Sarah:                      Yeah, yeah.

Michelle:               So, yeah, I'm trying to hold onto a little longer because I know I don't have much time left.

Sarah:                      Well, from your Instagram feed it certainly looks like there's a lot of athletic... Sorry, there's a lot of happy places that you all are going and experiencing together. So I really applaud and admire that.

Michelle:               Thank you. Yeah, we have some fun.

Sarah:                      Good deal. All right, well thanks Michelle. Take care and enjoy that race free calendar you're staring down.

Michelle:               Thank you. Thank you. I will.

Amanda:                Bye, Michelle.

Michelle:               All right. Nice to talk to you both. Thanks.

Sarah:                      You too. Bye Bye.

Amanda:                Bye Bye.

Sarah:                      Last but not least, our final guest is Cassi Dodd. Mom of three and soon to be a grandmother of twin babies, who lives in Walkersville, Maryland. Welcome Cassi.

Cassi:                        Hi.

Sarah:                      Hey there. Have to get twin babies you said coming in November or December?

Cassi:                        December. It's going to be fun.

Sarah:                      Oh my. And do you know the gender of the babies?

Cassi:                        It's going to be baby twin girls. So, future runners, future girl runners.

Amanda:                Aww.

Sarah:                      No pressure, no pressure.

Amanda:                Are they local to you so you'll get to see them a lot or they're not?

Cassi:                        They're just north of us in Pennsylvania, so it's a short drive away.

Amanda:                Excellent. Very nice. Very nice. So you're a fellow Maryland runner. How did you first get started in running?

Cassi:                        Oddly enough, I would have to give credit to another Mother Runner. And my husband and I had a new year's resolution, we joined the [inaudible 00:33:07]. We were just going to work out walking around the weight machines, walking on the treadmill. But they also had a magazine rack by the treadmills. And one day somebody had left the first Mother Runner book there.

Sarah:                      No Way? How could they part with it? Oh my goodness, that's heresy.

Cassi:                        I know.

Amanda:                I'm sure they forgot it.

Sarah:                      Oh, yeah.

Cassi:                        Maybe they enjoyed it so much they wanted someone else to discover the joys of running that I just picked it up and started reading it and I said, "I think I might try training for a 5k."

Sarah:                      Nice.

Cassi:                        It just went over to the dark side, running [inaudible 00:33:43] all the way.

Sarah:                      So was that 2010, 2011 while [inaudible 00:33:48]?

Cassi:                        Probably six years ago. So in 2012, 2012 probably when I found it.

Sarah:                      Okay. All right. Okay. So when I asked folks on Twitter to share their athletic happy place, you said it's trails, and you wrote, "Some are tried and true, lovely for location, stress release and scenery." So is there one trail or perhaps even one particular spot on a trail that for you, you're like, "Yeah, that's my happy place," or is it just trails in general?

Cassi:                        I would probably have to say trails in general. There's no dream trail. Part of the fun is they're all a challenge in their own different way, and they all offer their own unique beauty. So just in general.

Amanda:                Yeah, I'm familiar with where she is and what the trails are out there. I consider this part of the country, our trails are I think fairly technical compared to other areas. We've got our share of rocks and roots and ruts and things on the path. Would you say that you really like... Is that your happy place, the more technical trail, or do you like a nice buffed smooth trail? Which one is your preference?

Cassi:                        I would still consider myself pretty much a baby trail runner. Over the course of the summer, I've come to appreciate the technicality of our area in a way that previously I kind of thought that's for crazy people. They're insane.

Sarah:                      So talk us through that a little bit more. I mean, what made you change your mind about that and how did you become more proficient on the trails?

Cassi:                        I love both road and trail running, but on the road I have traffic, there's everything going on in the neighborhood. I could be listening to music and of course The Mother Runner podcast. But the trail makes me unplug and focus on what I'm doing. I have to be there in the moment. I really have to be in the step because the more technical it is the more I have to be there, one foot in front of the other. I can't look 20 feet ahead of me because I could trip and fall. So I really have to focus on what I'm doing. And at the same time just kind of gives you a moment to process and you just kind of [inaudible 00:36:12] because you're trying not to get injured, but at the same time you're just unplugged. You're out in nature, you're hearing everything going on around you in nature. It's quiet. It can be a bit spiritual if you haven't fallen on your face or seen a snake.

Amanda:                Oh, that's funny. I agree. I agree. And so, are you on the trails a lot more than the roads these days? What for you, you kind of addressed this, why the trail is your happy place versus the road. So do you tend to stay more to the trails now, now that you've kind of gotten more into it lately?

Cassi:                        I do now. I spent the summer most of the time on the trails and that's going to win out over road most of the time if I'm able to get up there. I do prefer to make sure that I have somebody I know around me because safety is a concern. But if I had the choice today or any day of the week to go on trails versus road, I would always choose trail.

Sarah:                      It's not like you just started concentrating and became good at trail, or would you say that, were there other techniques that you use to get more comfortable and proficient on the trail?

Cassi:                        I would say that we do have some amazing trail runners within the area, and they are always willing to help you if you have questions. They post also a lot online that they're just meeting. They will let you ask anything you want, be in their ear, few tips on form, but also time on trail just does improve your step. It makes more confidence, the more you do it the better you do get.

Sarah:                      So what type of questions did you ask people or if someone else asks a question, and the answer really kind of clicked, what are some of the things that made a difference for you?

Cassi:                        Mostly it started with form. Like how in the world do you go up hill? There's a whole different up hill on trail than there is on the road. They're both hard but then you add trees and rocks and just extreme crazy elevation. There's the unevenness of it. One trail runner told me to imagine that I had a helium balloon attached to my belly button, kind of holding me up and forward so that I didn't hunch over, things like that. Pick up your feet mantra, pick up your feet, pick up your feet. Because if you don't, you're really going to do some damage to yourself when you hit... I always say the roots reached out and they attacked me. They attack rocks on the trail [inaudible 00:39:07]. Like, they got me.

Cassi:                        Then they have great tips on fueling because you can't go by mileage, because you could take a whole lot longer in terms of time to cover a mile than on the road. So when to fuel, what to look for, because some stretches of trail you might not need to fuel as often, whereas other stretches, you really need to watch what you're taking in for hydration or calorie wise. And we're very lucky to have experienced trail runners in the area that I can always turn to and ask questions.

Sarah:                      So going back to the idea of the trail being your happy place. So when you're like stressed or overwhelmed in real life, do you ever conjure up a mental picture of a trail in an attempt to just chillax and calm down a little bit?

Cassi:                        Well, I don't have a particular trail, but I could say that this summer we had a lot of rain. Some of the relaxing, calming images that come to mind when you ask that question are the rain caused a lot more water crossings this summer, and it would literally be breathtaking. You would have to stop and just say, “This is just wild. Look what nature has done,” and just get your feet wet sometimes up to your knees and just go through it and have fun like a kid. And it was just relaxing and de-stressing. And when I think about... I sometimes wish I just need to go back there and just kind of lay back, chill.

Amanda:                Wade through some water.

Cassi:                        Yes. You can. [inaudible 00:40:56] again.

Sarah:                      Nice. Nice.

Amanda:                So I guess your husband's [inaudible 00:41:02] runner and one of your daughters is as well. Do you trail run with them? And does that allow you to get that kind of happy place sensation, or just having someone around you making you less aware of the surroundings and maybe not quite as zen of an experience?

Cassi:                        It's not as zen of an experience, but it is still quite rewarding going with my daughter. As we like to say when we ran a lot of times we're able to share things we wouldn't otherwise in real life. That's a really wonderful time that we were able to share. She's not currently running because she's the one expecting the twins. But I have shared a lot of time on trail with her even when she has dragged me out there, and I didn't want to go and just came back, and it was just like, "That was the best 10 miles." We talked about anything and everything and really connected. With my husband, he's a challenge because he's the one who sees me on the tough times when I'm having a hard time. And he's the one who's like, "You can do this, you can keep running, you can go up this hill. Come on, let's go." And that's when we might have some intense discussion.

Amanda:                I like how you put that.

Cassi:                        But we're still married and we still do trail.

Sarah:                      Oh, my goodness. So do you have a happy place that's not athletic or no?.

Cassi:                        I love to garden.

Sarah:                      Oh yeah.

Cassi:                        Yeah. I really love to garden, and we have chickens. We like to sometimes just sit out there and watching the chickens. We call it chicken TV. Yeah, I'm a bit of a homebody, so I would say I like to petter around the house, petter in the garden, read on the porch, that kind of thing.

Sarah:                      Oh, I'm a big, big reader on the porch and lately I've retaken up needle pointing on the porch. So I'm right there with you.

Cassi:                        Porch time is a good time.

Sarah:                      Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. Exactly. Are you a trail racer as well as runner?

Cassi:                        I would not say anything that I have participated in with race and the title, wasn't race for me.

Amanda:                You didn't happen to do the River Valley run races at all by chance?

Cassi:                        I did not. I recently did Maryland heat at the [inaudible 00:43:33].

Amanda:                Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Sarah:                      And what was the distance on that?

Cassi:                        I did the 25k distance. But just about 16. My friend Sibel and I, we got lost, so we did 17.

Sarah:                      Oh boy.

Cassi:                        Yeah. Extra time. Renamed all the trails.

Amanda:                Well those are my stomping grounds right there, so that's cool. I'm glad to hear you were out here. Yeah.

Cassi:                        Cool.

Sarah:                      Nice. Nice. Well, we wish you many happy miles on the trails Cassi. It was good talking with you.

Cassi:                        Thank you.

Sarah:                      Thanks. Bye bye.

Amanda:                Bye bye.

Cassi:                        Bye.


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