How Mindful Running Made Me Faster
Today, I ran my fastest mile, 2 miles, and 5k. Ever.
And you know how I did it? By not setting such harsh expectations on myself about how my run should be.
Years ago when I used to run, it was incredibly difficult for me to let go of thoughts that would race through my mind. My time running would be spent ruminating over things that happened that day, comparing myself to others, or being self-critical if I missed a time or distance that I wanted to attain. Over time, this kind of negative thinking unconsciously developed into an automatic loop that trickled into my daily life.
After I hit a tough point in 2011, I stumbled upon mindfulness and began to detach myself from these negative thoughts. Since then, I’ve incorporated mindfulness into my daily running practice, which has changed my life in many positive ways.
Mindful running is nothing new. In fact, the practice has existed for thousands of years. From the lung-gom-pa runners in Tibet, to the marathon monks in Japan, to the Incan messengers of Machu Picchu, humanity has a long history of pairing running with meditation. The lung-gom-pa runners would spend years in silent meditation before running 400 miles at a time. You’d be surprised what your mind and body can do once you let go of limitations.
Mindful Running 101
If you want to start incorporating mindfulness into your running routine, I’ve included a few tips to get started below. I’ll go more in depth on techniques later, but hopefully this gets you started.
Before the run.
Before getting ready to go running, do a 10 second scan of how you’re feeling. Are you anxious, confident, frustrated? If you have the time, you can take a couple of minutes and sit down, take few deep breaths and allow your mind to rest, or listen to a short meditation — my favorite is the 10 minute meditation on Headspace. If you do this each time you may start to notice a pattern about your feelings — good or bad — that will help you respond more skillfully.
During the run.
As you begin running, take a moment to take in your surroundings. Be aware of what’s around you, of the sights and sounds, your breathing, the aches and pains of your muscles and joints, your muscles as they work during your run, your feet as they hit the ground, the wind as it hits your skin, your hair rustling in that wind.
Notice how the mind responds. Is it with a feeling of pleasure, of having “escaped” work or home, of stretching your legs and getting some fresh air? Or is it a feeling of mild anxiety about the hard work you’re expecting to experience later in the run? Rest in awareness of these thoughts, knowing that they are not permanent.
As you settle into the run, concentrate on your breath. The breath brings in energy, or prana. If you start to feel restless or anxious, resist the temptation to try and get rid of it somehow. This may feel counterintuitive at first, but there’s method to the madness. In moving closer to it, in fully experiencing it and even encouraging it, you’ll experience a complete shift in the usual, habitual dynamic and very often the pain is released as a result.
Obviously, the longer the distance you want to run, the more difficult it is to remember these principles, so make a point of checking in regularly with yourself to see if you’re present throughout the run.
After the run.
Regardless of whether it was a bad or good run, take a moment after finishing to practice self-compassion. Congratulate yourself and be thankful for such a strong body that can take you to beautiful places.
Adding mindfulness to your running routine won’t happen overnight, and like anything else, will take practice. But over time, you will start to realize that the limitations you put on yourself — and on your running — are much more mental than physical.