In this week's Journal Tina Chantrey sheds light on how to introduce mindfulness into your running training and explores its potential to transform your relationship with running.
Mindful running. The term seems to fall between a sport and an alternative way of life, but using this simple technique could transform your relationship with running.
What exactly is mindfulness? It’s where we focus on present moment awareness. This means focusing on what you are feeling 'in the moment' in your body, mind, as well as being fully aware of your surroundings.
Instead of allowing your thoughts to overrun, in an endless loop, you acknowledge them as they pop up in your mind, then let them drift off. You concentrate instead on how you are feeling. The easiest way to get into this state is to notice your breath as it moves into your nostrils, then down into your lungs. Just as you would in meditation. Or put your focus in your stride, noticing how your feet feel as they hit the ground, then take off again. Just as important is connecting with your surroundings; what can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel?
By choosing to focus on what you are feeling, instead of thinking, you can react to your body as it is working. Every time you run, practise on focusing on what you are feeling only in that moment. This can free your mind from dwelling on a race that went terribly wrong, or dreading a long run that you know is going to be tough. Instead of worrying, break down each run into small segments and focus only on the one you are in.
The benefits are multiple: not only can mindfulness help reduce stress, but focusing on the ‘now’ whilst running will improve your emotional well-being, your concentration, sleep and immune system – and may just lead to that elusive PB.
We are all busy, often stressed and sometimes overwhelmed in our modern technological society. Unplugging from technology, as well as expectations or fears helps to improve your sense of balance, and ultimately will encourage you to run from a place of freedom, instead of struggle. It’s a skill you can transfer to any aspect of your life, from coping with your child’s meltdown, a demanding friend, to successfully meeting a tough deadline at work.
How to introduce mindfulness into your training week
Whether you are warming up, starting a series of intervals, running a race, or cooling down, with practice, you can incorporate mindfulness to enhance your whole running experience. Before you step out of the door, take a few moments to scan your body, from head to toe. Do you feel tension in your shoulders? Is your knee niggly? How straight does your spine feel? Can you stretch your toes out in your trainers? Then think about how your mind feels. Are you worried about a deadline at work? Do you feel tired or stressed due to certain responsibilities? And look outside of yourself… does the air around you feel cold or warm, can you smell the sea, mud, or smog? Can you hear birdsong, traffic, the sea? All will help bring you into the moment.
As you ramp up the pace really tune into your body. Feel your feet hitting the ground with each step, your hips as they rotate, your elbows pushing backwards. There’s a strong possibility if you are racing that you may start to experience fatigue, or pain as you push yourself to your limits. Instead of getting carried away with the pain, observe it, try not to attach any emotion to it, or prophecize what the outcome of your race may be. Using mantras, such as ‘strong’, ‘fast’, ‘calm’, ‘happy’, ‘steady’ will help you stay in the moment. Deciding not to battle with your negative thoughts can help you accept that in most runs, there may be some fatigue, struggle and pain. Try to exist with these sensations, rather than analysing them.
During your cool down, do another body scan. How do your muscles feel now? Are they warm? Tight? Or sore? Accept the run for what it was, and feel grateful for doing it, without going into a full post-mortem.
Being mindful whilst running may help you get into the zone, or ‘flow’ quicker, especially if you practise running in the moment regularly. When you reach this state and running feels effortless, you are more likely to surprise yourself with PBs. By observing your body and how it feels, rather than automatically pounding the same routes every week, you’ll be much more tuned into its needs, meaning less injury.
Letting go of our internal chatter may take a while to master, as up to 50 percent of our lives are given over to this constant mind babbling. Persevering with mindfulness will reap benefits though. Focusing on the inwards and outwards flow of breath, from your nose down to your belly, as well as the rhythm of your stride, can help you to constantly bring your mind back to the present, every time it wanders off. By achieving this mental balance, learning to take time away from the constant chatter of your inner critic, and instead of clearing space for your inner yogi, you will experience reduced stress, improved emotional wellness and far higher levels of motivation. Setting you up for those PB races.
Tina Chantrey is contributing editor at Women’s Running magazine and author of: The Divorce Survival Guide: How running turned my life around
If you’re looking for motivation and ideas to improve your running, every week Tina posts a new session to try in her Strava group, @shewhodaresruns.