Run free: leave your watch and ego at home
If running has become an additional stress in your life, give yourself a break with a little mindfulness on the run
It’s time to make our running more mindful. Photograph: Thinkstock
As runners, we often measure our success by the clock. We rate our run in distances and times. We can lose motivation to keep running as we compare our progress with that of others who appear better. Many of us are conditioned to believe that for a run to be successful we need to be pushing our body to our physical limits.
It is a pity that running is now an additional stress for so many people and has become another pressure on an already long to-do list. Surely running should be something to look forward to than just another task we “have” to do?
If you are a slave to running technology or feel as if you are losing your running mojo, I challenge you to leave the ego, the watch and the headphones at home and look at your running differently this summer. It’s time to make our running more mindful.
Mindfulness is everywhere these days. We hear of mindful walking, mindful eating, and mindfulness apps and classes are popping up everywhere. The benefits of mindfulness 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.
However, many of us are so busy that we don’t make time to experiment with mindfulness; yet we do try to fit in a run. If you can’t sit still to meditate, why not try to incorporate mindfulness into your run?
Being mindful when running is simply a matter of trying to focus on one thing. When running we are often distracted. We think about the end of the run, our dinner, and our plans for tomorrow. Very often we don’t think at all about what we are doing at that given moment. In this regard, recreational runners could learn a lot from elite athletes, who train their minds to focus as well as their legs to run. They are not thinking about finishing the race or standing on the podium; they are focused on the current step. Their mind isn’t wandering.
How to run mindfully
Pick one focus from the list below and commit to thinking about it as much as you can on your next run. Settle into a comfortable pace and keep returning your mind to the focus as you become distracted.
Ignore pace and choose a route you know well. I don’t expect you to maintain the focus for the entire run. However, whenever you catch your mind drifting, bring your attention back to that focus and start again.
Listen: What sounds do you hear on your run? Count them. You will be surprised by how many noises you have not noticed before, and how loud they are.
Look: If you are in the countryside, notice how many different flowers you pass. On a busy road, how many silver cars drive pass? In a busy pedestrian area, how many different shades of blue do you see on other runners and walkers? Notice how your awareness of your environment improves.
Breathe: Become aware of your breath. Instead of disguising it by playing your music louder, follow your breath. You might be breathing through your nose or mouth, deep into your stomach or light into your chest and back. Don’t try to alter it, but pay attention to it.
Relax: Feel your skeleton long and tall, and let the arms and legs feel loose and free. Keeping the limbs relaxed will help your breathing and allow tension from the day leave the body rather than overwork the limbs when running. Notice what parts of your body find it hard to relax.
Technique: Pick one element of your running technique and aim to practise it for as much of the run as you can remember. Choose your favourite tip from our Get Running videos before you leave home. See http://iti.ms/1g1LZOM
Count: Count your steps, the number of cars, the number of breaths or even the number of other runners you pass. Focusing on looking for the next one keeps your mind on the task at hand.
Thank: List everything you are grateful for today that you normally take for granted. Start with all the parts of your body that are functioning properly to help you run today. Move outside your body and be grateful for everything in your environment and everyone who has helped you be where you are today. Use your run as a chance to remember and appreciate them all.
Rhythm: Run to the beat. Anyone familiar with Chirunning knows how important the metronome beat can be to keeping our running light, effortless and even. Set your running metronome to 180 beats per minute and focus on keeping your steps in line with the rhythm.
It takes time, effort and a lot of determination to run mindfully. Initially, it can be harder than pushing your body physically, because your ego can kick in and you may be tempted to pick up pace as you see other runners. Be strong and remember the goal of your run.
Don’t waste your run stressing about speed and distance. Notice how running feels when these metrics no longer apply.
You might just start to get a lot more out of your running than ever before. Surely that is worth a try. Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie and designed The Irish Times Get Running programmes (see irishtimes.com/ getrunning). Mary trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free.