- Why You Should Give Mindful Running A Try
- How To Start Mindful Running
- Mindfulness – What is Mindful Running and How Do You Do It?
- What Exactly Is Mindful Running?
- How Do You Run Mindfully?
- How to Keep Those Benefits Going
- The benefits of a ‘mindful’ run
- The Benefits of Making Running a Mindful Practice
- Transform Negative Thoughts
- Recover Faster
- Getting Started with Mindful Running
- What Is Mindful Running — And Why You Should Give It A Try | Polar Blog
- What Is Mindful Running?
- Can mindful running help you run faster?
- Mindful running experiment part 1
- Mindful running experiment part 2
- Why practice mindful running?
- For whom is mindful running useful?
- I Tried Meditating While Running and Scored a PR
- How Mindful Running Works
- What Mindful Running for the First Time Is ~Really~
- How Mindful Running Taught Me That I'm Stronger Than I Think
Why You Should Give Mindful Running A Try
While you might consider running and practicing mindfulness to be very different activities, there is a good deal of overlap in the benefits both can provide.
Both, after all, give you the chance to take a break from the hubbub of everyday life, and if you struggle with the stillness of meditation, you might even find that running is a more effective way of doing so than traditional meditation.
Mindful running can be seen as using your running as an opportunity to set aside whatever in the past is troubling you, ignore any potential future problems and just be in the present.
It’s an activity that can provide as much of a boost to your mental health as to your physical, giving you a reason to enjoy – and even look forward to – running that goes beyond simply losing weight or improving your fitness.
“People often struggle to find the motivation to get out for a run, approaching it with a view that they would rather be doing something else or that they are only doing it because they think they should for the physical benefits,” says psychotherapist Michelle Shanley, who is working with running-gear retailer SportsShoes.com.
“This negative perspective isn’t motivating. Instead, approach a run with an attitude of ‘I want to give my mind a rest, connect with my body, improve my wellbeing and offer myself time to appreciate my surroundings’. That presents a run as a positive opportunity, rather than an obstacle.”
How To Start Mindful Running
For your first foray into mindful running, Shanley recommends changing your route, or if you do have to stick with your usual route, at least run it the other way around.
“This will be a constant reminder to you that this run is different, and help you think about what different sights and sounds you’re perceiving,” says Shanley.
Shanley also recommends checking in on your body before you start running.
“Take a few moments before you start to really notice how your muscles are feeling,” says Shanley. “Notice if your shoulders feel tight or if your legs are heavy from your previous run.
You might be aware of feeling energised or tired. Allow yourself to do this without berating yourself in any way, but instead use it to simply increase your awareness.
Repeat this process when you return from your run, making sure to notice any differences.”
Getting to know your body will also have the benefit of enabling you to set mindful targets for your runs how you’re feeling.
“Increased body awareness enables us listen to what our bodies are telling us,” says Shanley. “As you become more adept at doing this you learn to tailor your run this information, rather that setting yourself goals that ignore how you are feeling that day.”
Listening to your body during your run can also help you avoid niggles turning into serious injuries. As you become accustomed to how your body feels at different stages of a run, you can identify which aches and pains are normal, and which might be a potential problem.
It’s all too easy to be harsh on yourself when running if you’re not performing as well as you’d hoped, focussing on negative thoughts how hard the run is feeling or how far off a target time or pace you are. This is an issue that can affect you outside of your exercise routine too, of course, and Shanley suggest that taking a mindful approach can help you deal with this negativity.
“We are often our own harshest critic and this mentality can become toxic for our overall wellbeing,” says Shanley. “Awareness and acceptance provide the tonic to this and running provides the ideal opportunity to train your brain to be kinder to yourself. This is a practice that will not only benefit you while running, but will also benefit your overall wellbeing.
“Picture a large tree next to a gently flowing river. Every few seconds a leaf slowly floats down from the tree, lands on the river and slowly floats downstream. Every time you experience a thought that is unhelpful, picture it settling on a leaf and floating away.
“Accepting that you have these thoughts while knowing you do not have to internalise them enables you to feel increasingly empowered and autonomous.”
While many assume one of the requirements of a mindful run is that you get away from technology, you can also use technology to help you get used to the idea. The Nike+ Run Club app has partnered with mindfulness app Headspace to provide a series of guided mindful runs, where Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe talks you through the process.
I gave the “End Of Day Run With Headspace” guided run a try on the Nike+ Run Club app, during which Puddicombe and Nike running coach Chris Bennett discuss how to run mindfully to release the stress of the day.
This revolved around focussing on the body and the foot strike in particular as a way to drag your thoughts back to the present moment when you find yourself starting to think about work or other concerns.
If you’re unsure of how to go about running mindfully and appreciate the idea of being taken through it step-by-step, these guided runs, which are all free on the Nike app, are a great place to start.
Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Mindfulness – What is Mindful Running and How Do You Do It?
Part of the appeal of running is how mindless it is—just one foot in front of the other. But what if you could make it more mindful? It’s easy to talk about that in theory (people have been touting mindfulness for years), but it’s more difficult to do it in practice.
Science is catching up with theory, though, proving that mindful running is not only legit, but also something that any runner can benefit from.
For example, a 2016 study published in Translational Psychiatry shows that combining directed meditation with running or walking reduced symptoms of depression by 40 percent for depressed participants.
Which is partly why some of the biggest athletic brands in the industry are getting on board.
This summer, ASICS launched the world’s first “blackout” track to train the mind; in an on-site experiment, led by Professor Samuele Marcora, the Director of Research at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, and Jo Corbett, Ph.D.
, lead researcher at the Human Performance and Health Research Group at The University of Portsmouth, they found that psychological factors (such as sight and sound) have a significant effect on endurance performance.
Plus, Nike recently partnered with Headspace on a series of audio-guided mindful runs via the Nike+ Run Club app; Lululemon dropped their #letyourmindrunfree campaign—complete with an 8-week 10K running guide and 14-week half-marathon guide that include guided mediation; and Saucony launched the White Noise collection to honor the sport's meditative effects.
The sudden push to make mindful running more mainstream has to do with helping athletes gain an extra edge. “It’s almost a last frontier in physical training,” says Headspace co-founder Andy Puddicombe.
“I think there’s been this realization that there’s actually a whole domain that hasn't been explored yet: the mind.
And if you speak to any elite athlete, they will tell you that 90 percent of it comes down to the mind.”
What Exactly Is Mindful Running?
Mindful running is a vague term that means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but it really comes down to being present, says Chevy Rough, a mindfulness and performance coach on the ASICS Sound Mind Sound Body team.
“It’s purely about being mentally connected within your movement and not being distracted,” he says. “Distraction can come in the form of other people, noise, technology, but it can also come in the form of cultural pressures.
You know: ‘How fast do I have to go?’ ‘How far am I supposed to go?’ ‘What is the definition of a runner?’”
It’s important to differentiate between mindfulness and meditation, says Puddicombe.
“When we meditate, we're taking ourselves away from everyday life, away from activities, to actually pray in an environment where we can train the mind in mindfulness: how not to be distracted, how not to get caught up in thinking, how not to be put off of feelings of discomfort,” he says. “Then, when we go out and run, we’re taking whatever we learned in meditation and applying it.”
To run mindfully, then, you have to shrug off those external distractions and pressures and really listen to your body: What does your breath tell you about your body? How fast do you feel going? “People connect to different things,” says Charles Oxley, another mindfulness and performance coach on the ASICS Sound Mind Sound Body team. “The breath is the obvious one, but some people connect with past memories or parts of their bodies with previous injuries, and those connections unlock the door for deeper connections within yourself.”
The point is to get the conversation you’re having with society and back into a one-on-one convo with your body, how much sleep you’ve gotten, how much you’ve eaten, how good that nutrition was, and where you’re at mentally. “The more connected to your running, the longer you’ll be able to keep running,” Rough says.
How Do You Run Mindfully?
Staying present in an activity that seems designed to help you zone out is way easier said than done. But there are ways you can physiologically prep your body for zen, and tricks you can try on the run to stay dialed in.
“The more connected to your running, the longer you’ll be able to keep running,”
Most importantly, there’s the cooldown before the warmup. The what now? Think about it: “Ninety percent of people lead very busy lives, with lots of stress and lots of pressure. When they come running to the gym on their way to or from the office, their thinking about deadlines, meetings, their families,” Oxley says. “They’re already in a stressed-out state, and then they’re going to enter the even higher stress state of exercise.”
To bring your body a stress state before working out, Oxley suggests assuming a formal breathing position (back up against the wall or lying down on the ground) and focusing on the breath. “I get my clients to think about deep breathing into the bottom of the lungs, really engaging their diaphragms,” he says.
“It doesn’t have to be fancy, it’s just about slowing down the breath—and every time your mind gets distracted, you want to bring it back to that slow breath.” Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing you can set your watch for; some people may chill out in five breath cycles, some might take ten minutes. “Focus on your breath until feel the difference,” Oxley says.
“When you start to sense that calm feeling, that’s your internal chemistry shifting down some gears.”
If your intention is to run mindfully, you want to shed any anchor points (your GPS watch, your phone, your music) that might distract you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for the entire run; “even five minutes can teach you something,” says Puddicombe.
Once you’ve shed those external distractions, stay present by focusing on two important questions: “How am I breathing?” and “Where am I looking?” It’s not about maintaining a certain breathing pattern, rather decoding your breath to determine where you’re at. Breathing too fast? Slow down.
Feel you could hold a conversation easily? Maybe speed up a bit. Try to breathe through your nose as much as you can. Mouth-breathing is a stress response, so focusing on nostril breathing keeps you in a more relaxed state.
And keep your gaze soft and wide, toward your periphery, instead of focused, to stay in that chill zone, Oxley says.
You’ll start to notice more the more you stay in that zone, adds Puddicombe. “You definitely take in more around you; you notice more about your posture; you notice more about your technique; and you learn about your body,” he says. “And if we're not learning, then we've learned something wrong.”
How to Keep Those Benefits Going
You can use the same breathing exercise from your pre-workout cooldown for your actual cooldown. “You have to flush your system out after a run; you can’t go from a state of stress just simply standing still,” Rough says. The more you slow the breath down, the more you connect to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and recovery.
“Recovery doesn’t start until you’re actually in the parasympathetic state,” he says. “People skip the cooldown all the time, but if you’re not recovering, you’re not making adaptations—you’re just learning how to suffer better.”
Don’t let time (or the lack of it) hold you back from this especially-easy step in the recovery process.
“Obviously, the gold standard would be to take five to ten minutes after your workout to do some breath work,” says Rough. “But it’s breathing.
You can get on with your life and still use the exact same tools—at your desk, in your car—to bring your body its stress state and move on with your life.”
The better you get at practicing this during and after your run, the better you'll be at pulling it up when you need it outside of running, too.
The benefits of a ‘mindful’ run
When did you last spend some time truly alone? I don’t mean a lazy evening scrolling on your phone or on the couch watching TV. By alone, I mean time away from technology as well as people.
Most of us are pretty bad at carving out this time even when we do have an opportunity. It can feel a little uncomfortable to switch everything off and do nothing.
There are too many temptations and even with the best of intentions we get distracted by social media, Netflix or our WhatsApp messages.
Worse still, we feel guilty for sitting down when we know there is a long list of jobs to be done. Or is that just me?
I am not very patient at sitting still on a cushion, but I do enjoy my own company when on the move. In recent times, I have been enjoying some solo, leisurely, scenic runs. When I run alone, I don’t get distracted by the constant ping of my phone or the growing pile of laundry at home.
I am not clock-watching or making conversation so instead I have no choice but to listen to my internal running monologue. I become aware of what is going on in my head and almost listen to the conversation as an outsider. I feel calmer, stronger and more confident when I return.
Indeed, I have long praised the benefits of finding a running buddy or group for motivation and support, but sometimes a break from everyone else is not a bad thing.
Our minds need time away from the constant information overload but we struggle often to prioritise this time-out. Mindfulness is recommended widely today as a way of quietening the mind and the incredible benefits of mindfulness practice have been well-documented.
Decreasing anxiety while helping us to improve sleep, mood, creativity, cognitive function, body awareness and general wellness should be enough incentive for anyone to give mindfulness a chance. Yet we are often too impatient and restless to patiently sit still and attempt to clear our busy minds.
Thankfully, there are no rules to suggest we have to be sitting to be mindful.
Mindful movement can be just as valuable to the body as a sitting meditation. Walking or running solo can be your path to mindfulness too. Mindful running involves bringing our attention to one focus or thought in our run.
We can choose to think about an element of our running technique, our breathing or even the sound of our feet hitting the ground. We can focus on the scenery, the sounds and smells or the feeling of the wind in our face.
Each time we notice our mind wander, we bring our attention back to that original focus.
All solo runs don’t necessarily need to be consciously ‘mindful’. Sometimes, we just need to let our mind wander and escape from reality. I use these solo runs as an opportunity to run gadget-free. My watch stays at home so I am not under pressure to hit any distance or speed targets.
I have intentionally not replaced my broken set of headphones so music won’t drown out my internal running monologue. If the thought of running without a watch or background music sparks fear in you, trust me, the miles still count. The only difference is that a few numbers on a screen won’t dictate the success of your run.
I am enjoying running how I am feeling without being told I’m too slow or too fast by a gadget.
In the first few minutes, without the distraction of conversation or music, I notice every imaginary niggle, tightness, laboured breath and sound and could easily convince myself to return home. The voices in my head are mildly entertaining.
They are a bit reluctant to get going at the start, but just the body, once they have warmed up they tend to be more positive and optimistic. Those first few minutes pass slowly. But then something magical happens. I settle into the run and almost forget I am running.
The voices now become the equivalent of spectators on the side of the marathon course. They rally behind me and encourage me to continue. You can’t stop now, you have come this far.
There comes a point in most solo runs where you find yourself enjoying the run. The freedom of being alone, with no one to answer to, in a body that is feeling strong is empowering. Behind the scenes, even better things are happening. As each mile passes, the mind quietens and worries and concerns seem to evaporate or reduce in importance.
Everything seems to be a little more manageable and organised after it has been processed on a run. Indeed, we may not have solved any issues but we return feeling more able to deal with them. I have noticed that my best creative ideas hit me when out on these solo runs.
Running has a strange power of settling the mind and pointing us in the right direction if we just listen to what our body is telling us.
For those of you who enjoy a tough training session, nothing brings you more into the present moment than a series of solo lung-busting speed intervals. There is no one to cheer you on or pace you around the last bend. You only have yourself for company.
Getting comfortable listening to, and responding to, the voices in our heads takes practice and solo runners are often more disciplined than us group runners on race day, as they have learnt to silence the background noise and push on through discomfort.
We can all benefit from the social side of running, but there is a wonderful sense of freedom and discipline to be gained from these solo adventures. These freedom runs are some of the few times in my week where I don’t have a person, computer or a phone to interact with.
I am both my own cheerleader and coach for that 30 minutes as there is no one else to do that work for me. Being alone on a run allows me to get more comfortable with my own company and what is going on inside my head.
Whether your solo run is a mindful run, a structured speed session or simply a leisurely escape from the madness, time spent alone is good for us all, even if it on the move.
Give it a try this week.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie
The Benefits of Making Running a Mindful Practice
Mindfulness is typically presented as a seated meditation practice done while seated on the floor.
However, as runner, you’re probably turned off by the prospect of sitting still, seemingly doing “nothing.” The good news is that mindful running allows you to achieve the same health benefits as a seated meditation while on the road or trails. And that doesn’t mean zoning out and disassociating from the running experience; rather, it’s just the opposite.
Mindful running lets you experience the full richness of running and really notice how it elevates your mood, refreshes your mind, invigorates your body and simply makes you feel awesome.
Of course, running doesn’t always feel awesome or hard, but that’s how mindful running can help: mindful running frees you from judging yourself on how you look, how fast you’re going or how you’re “performing” and simply enjoy running.
Mindful running frees you to experience more playfulness and adventurousness while running that you may have lost in the pursuit of PRs, weight loss or weekly mileage targets. While those things are all fine, they’re not what keep you running year after year, decade after decade.
Mindful running is the practice of fully immersing yourself in the present moment experience of running, its immediate effects on your body and mind, free from judgement, self-consciousness or self-doubt.
In this state, you notice tap into your highest executive-level brain functions, reduce stress hormones, raise your confidence, sense of personal power, bottomless motivation, flood your brain with happy hormones, strengthen bones, muscles and ligaments.
Here’s how mindful running does this:
Transform Negative Thoughts
Mindful running can cultivate feelings of peace, contentment and gratitude, which can do wonders for elevating self-confidence. But what interferes with these positive emotions are the automatic or unconscious thoughts that dominate our minds, just below our level of awareness.
These unconscious thoughts become the stories you tell yourself over and over until they become so ingrained that they are part of your identity. Without you even being aware of it, you may be limiting yourself with such unconscious thoughts as:
“Oh I have bad knees and can’t run a marathon,”
“I’m not good enough to do that race,” or
“I would be a real runner if only I had more time for it.”
Mindfulness allows you to notice these automatic thoughts (usually negative) and replace them with more positive ones. This way, you re-write your story using thoughts that support a story in which you’re already a capable, confident and strong runner.
This is much more than a positive affirmation; you’re also supporting the relaxation response, which is critical for recovery and healing.is observing your thoughts without identifying with them. Rather than the goal being to stop your thoughts (impossible, not to mention frustrating!), you simply observe the thoughts and let them pass.
You can only build fitness as well as you can recover. Why?
Because it’s only after exercise that your body begins the essential biological process that creates fitness. This is when muscles are rebuilt, tissues strengthen, bones get stronger and your cardiovascular system adapts to more stress.
Remember, running is a form of stress that breaks things down, so having a plan for recovering better must precede any changes to your running routine, adding speed work, increasing mileage or strength work.
However, if you don’t provide the right circumstances for adequate recovery, these repair processes can’t take place.
Being mindful of your energy, aches pains and other signals your body is sending you helps you give your body what it really needs.
That may include more nourishing food (instead of empty calories), more sleep, more time to play and goof off, or more stretching. What would feel good to your body right now?
Getting Started with Mindful Running
Grab your copy of the Mindful Running Quickstart Guide below for my three easy steps for getting started with mindful running today.
What Is Mindful Running — And Why You Should Give It A Try | Polar Blog
Is mindful running all about taking it easy and slow or can it actually help you run faster? Here’s what mindful running is along with a few reasons why you should give it a try.
With more technology than ever to track metrics, heart rate, running power, lactate threshold, and VO2 max, it can be easy to slip into constantly eyeballing data during your runs.
Even if you do wait until after your runs to go over your data, a lot of runners choose other distractions music, audio books, or even podcasts to get them through their workouts.
The problem with using distractions to get through your run is that you may neglect training your mind.
While these things aren’t necessarily bad, one commonly neglected aspect of running is training the mind. By taking a more mindful approach to running a few times per week (or even as part of a warm-up or cool-down), runners can improve mental conditioning that will in turn boost performance, recovery, and bring some of the joy back to the sport you love.
Let’s go with the flow and explore what mindful running is and why it’s beneficial for runners of all levels.
What Is Mindful Running?
The most basic definition of mindful running is to become mentally connected with your body during your workouts.
While there are many different ways runners can practice this technique, the principal idea is to get rid of distractions while you run, concentrating on how you feel.
Whether it’s looking at your metrics every minute, being overly concerned with how fast or far you have to go, or even thinking about that argument you had with a co-worker during a run, these things tend to take away from the mind-body connection and being in the moment.
You can use many of the principles of meditation in mindful running.
Even though meditation and mindful running do have their differences, the two practices are often used together.
Meditation concentrates on removing the things in our life that cause stress or distraction in order to create calmness in the mind.
When you practice mindful running, you can use many of these same principles to not be distracted by things outside of your activity, focusing instead on embracing how you feel and being in tune with the body.
Being connected with your running often moves the focus towards things your breathing, how your arms and legs are moving, or parts of the body that may be feeling tight or weak.
While some runners learn to ignore the pain or difficulty that running often inflicts, mindful running embraces everything going on within the body, from nutrition to how much sleep you’ve gotten the previous night, to create an awareness that puts you more in tune with your body.
Can mindful running help you run faster?
In the past, runners have typically focused on physiology and physical conditioning as a way to improve performance. Going further, adding intervals for speed, and doing strength training have become the common approaches, while mental conditioning is often an afterthought.
The problem is, always focusing on physical abilities without also training the mind can create a disconnect, causing negative thoughts and a higher perceived exertion when things aren’t going your way during an event.
While there have been limited studies on the subject in the past, Asics recently conducted an experiment with runners of varying ability levels to determine just how much running performance can be affected by psychological factors.
Mindful running experiment part 1
- Participants were placed in a controlled environment (150-meter track, indoors) and asked to each run two separate 5Ks at different times.
- During the first 5K, runners ran around a dark track with only a spotlight that allowed them to see a few feet ahead. There was no clear finish line, no music, and no metrics to monitor.
Mindful running experiment part 2
- For the second 5K, participants were placed in a more race- environment. There were lights, cheering fans, clocks, and gadgets to monitor metrics.
- In the more psychologically difficult environment where runners were forced to focus only on their body, times were slower among experienced runners in the group by as much as 60 seconds, while less experienced runners slowed up to two minutes.
Why practice mindful running?
What the proponents of the blackout experiment actually show is that runners rely too much on outside factors during training and racing, and by training the mind regularly you can in fact improve performance.
When you think about it, it does make sense.
There will always be moments during a run when things get tough. It could be those times when you just can’t seem to maintain your pace, or that heavy feeling in your legs that suddenly becomes too difficult to ignore.
When the psychological battle becomes bigger than the physical one, it can be difficult to overcome if you haven’t trained your mind.
Maybe it’s that lonely spot on the course where there are no spectators, when none of the other participants are next to you, and the beeping on your watch isn’t enough to push you forward. This is the point when the psychological battle becomes bigger than the physical one, and if you haven’t spent enough time training the mind, it can be difficult to overcome.
One of the primary researchers of the Asics study, Professor Samuele Marcora of the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, had this to say about the experiment and overall importance of training the mind.
“We wanted to show the critical role the mind plays in athletic performance. The difference we saw between the experiment conditions in just one day is similar to the difference you would see after a four-week high intensity training program, so the mind shouldn’t be underestimated.”
For whom is mindful running useful?
While practising the mind can certainly benefit those elite runners looking for an extra edge, mindful running can be useful for just about anyone.
Whether you’re completing a recovery run or are simply someone who uses running to relax and destress, practicing mindful running in order to better connect with the body can be a good way to achieve a balanced state of mind and find joy in your running.
Dr. Jo Corbett, another of the collaborators in the Asics blackout study, spoke about this connection.
“Despite the challenging conditions on the track, almost every runner said they felt a kind of euphoria at some point, which they referred to as ‘pure running.’ It shows the power of getting more in-tune with ourselves by occasionally shutting out the distractions.”
Whether it’s to be a happy runner or a faster one, mindful running is a technique worth practicing and including in your workout regimen. Just strength training, yoga, or interval training, spending some time doing nothing but concentrating on the connection of body and mind will only make you a better runner.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.
I Tried Meditating While Running and Scored a PR
I was at an event recently for the release of Let Your Mind Run, a new book from Olympic marathon medalist Deena Kastor, when she mentioned that her favorite part of running 26.2 comes the moment she starts to struggle.
“When I get there, my first thought is, 'Oh no,'” she says. “But then I remember, this is where I get to do my best work. This is where I get to shine and to be better than the person I am in this moment.
I get to push my physical boundaries and my mental limits, so I really have fun in those moments.”
That's certainly not everyone's running mindset. I'd go so far as to say not many people actually enjoy the part of a long run when you realize just how hard it is and begin to question why you're even doing it.
But considering Kastor's roster of marathon wins and insanely speedy splits (she averages a sub 6-minute pace), there has to be something to this whole concept of bringing mindfulness and positive thinking with you when you're on the move, right?
Personally, I've always been a head case while running.
I've completed one marathon, and my biggest fear throughout training and during the race was that I'd hit a mental roadblock and dread every mile that followed.
(Thankfully, that didn't happen on race day.) I did get stronger during those months leading up to it though-I learned to stop counting the miles and just enjoy my time on the road.
But ever since that 2016 race, I've gone back to slogging through each step in an effort to just get the mileage done. Then I heard about people trying meditation while running-or mindful running, if you will. Could that actually work? Is it even possible? There's no way of knowing without trying it myself, so I took on the challenge. *Cue panic.*
The thing is, I don't always love being mentally present on a run. In fact, the idea of being totally in-the-moment kind of terrified me. I figured that would mean many thoughts about how much my legs hurt or how difficult it was to breathe or how I need to work on my form.
Previously, it seemed my best runs were on days I had a lot going on outside of my sneakers: a long mental list of to-dos to tackle, stories to write, friends to call, bills to pay. Those were the thoughts that got me through double-digit distances-not what was actually happening to my body or my surroundings.
But now that was precisely my new goal: to focus in on exactly what was happening ~in the moment~.
How Mindful Running Works
Kastor preaches the power of switching negative thinking on the run (and in life, really) to positive thoughts. It's a way to keep pushing forward and find new meaning in each step.
Andy Puddicombe, cofounder of Headspace, which recently teamed up with Nike+ Running to release guided mindful runs, also endorses mindfulness as a means of letting unconstructive thoughts float into your head, and then float right out-without bringing you down. (Learn more about how Deena Kastor trains her mental game.)
“This idea of being able to observe thoughts, pay attention to them, but not get involved in their story line is invaluable,” Puddicombe says. For instance, “a thought might arise that you should slow down.
You can buy into that thought or you can recognize it as just a thought and keep running fast.
Or when a thought comes up , 'I don't feel running today,' you recognize it as a thought and go out anyway.”
Puddicombe also mentions the importance of starting a run slowly and just letting your body ease into it, instead of pushing your pace right from the start and trying to get it done.
Doing so requires a focus on how the body feels through a run (again, the part I feared). “People are always trying to get away from the present, but if you can be more present with each step, then you begin to forget about how much farther there is to run,” he says.
“For most runners, that's a liberating feeling because you find that flow.”
With the help of meditation app Buddhify and the Headspace/Nike guided runs, that's exactly what I set out to do-find my flow. And, I hoped, a speedier one.
What Mindful Running for the First Time Is ~Really~
The first time I tried a guided meditation while on the run was on an especially windy, too-cold-for-April day in NYC. (That was also the day I learned just how much I dis running in the wind.
) Because I was so miserable, but really needed to get in a 10-mile training run before a half marathon, I decided to press play on an eight-minute walking meditation and a 12-minute stillness meditation from Buddhify.
The guides seemed to help at first. I enjoyed thinking about my feet hitting the ground and how I could make that movement better for my body and more efficient for my pace. I then started observing sights (the Freedom Tower; the Hudson River) and smells (salt water; garbage) around me.
But eventually, I was too unhappy to focus on the happiness talk, so I had to turn it off.
You know when you're trying to fall asleep, but you're super antsy and you think a meditation will get you to REM, but really it just makes you angry because it's telling you to relax and you physically cannot? That sums up my experience that day.
Still, I didn't give up on my mindful running dreams.
A few days later, I tuned in to a Nike/Headspace recovery run, where Puddicombe and Nike run coach Chris Bennett (along with an appearance by Olympian Colleen Quigley) talk you through the miles, telling you what you should tune in to in your body and encouraging you to keep your mind in each mile. They also discuss their experiences with running and how in-the-moment thinking has helped them succeed on the run. (Related: 6 Boston Marathon Runners Share Their Tips for Making Long Runs More Enjoyable)
Of course, some thoughts of assignments and unchecked tasks still entered my brain. But this experiment was reminding me that running doesn't always require a set goal.
It can just provide a moment for myself, a way to work on my fitness (mental and physical) without worrying about all the things I need to accomplish.
I can start out slow and forget about my pace, just reveling in the idea of putting one foot in front of the other.
What helped even more was speaking with Puddicombe about the power of paying attention to your body and what each step brings.
From him, I learned just how helpful it is to recognize the discomfort of a long, hard run, but not let that destroy the entire workout.
That includes letting the thought of tired legs or tight shoulders pass through my mind-and right out the other side, so I can keep a bird's-eye view on all the good things about the run.
How Mindful Running Taught Me That I'm Stronger Than I Think
I really put this negative-turned-positive mentality to the test when I set out to reach a 5K PR just last week. (A 2018 goal of mine is to break a few of my own records in races.) I went to the start line with a pace of under 9-minute miles in mind.
I ended up averaging 7:59 and finishing in 24:46. What's so great, though, is that I actually remember a particular moment during mile three, where I brushed off a “you can't do this” thought.
“I feel I'm going to die, and I think I need to slow down,” I said to myself, but I immediately responded with, “but I'm not, because I'm running comfortably hard and strong.
” This really made me smile mid-race because, previously, I would have let that one negative thought spiral into “why did you decide to do this?” or “maybe you should take a break from running after this is over.”
This new positive thought process made me want to get back out on the road for not only more races (and faster times) but also for more casual miles where I can just focus on me and my body. I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to the type of mid-run struggle Kastor speaks of, but I am excited to see how I can continue to strengthen my mind right alongside my legs.