Friday, 29 January 2016

Five Mindful Tips For Running

Admittedly, here in Dorset I have rich-pickings as far as scenic running routes are concerned, which turns a mostly enjoyable experience into a heart-warming thrill (although it should be noted that I am easily pleased). If I take my running shoes away somewhere urban, I find it much harder to enjoy pounding the pavements and inhaling fumes, than I do to slip-slide through mud or sand and inhale fresh, clean coastal air.

That said, I find it immensely difficult on some days to go for a run, especially when it is pouring with rain, blowing a gale, or when I'm tired or feeling a bit below par - not ill, particularly - but that kind of "meh" I get when I can't quite generate enough enthusiasm to get into my gear and venture into a field full of cowpats and mud.

Or, when I do get out, This Happens:

But then, isn't life like this? There are those days when it is sunny, dry and the pace of life is just right; then there are the days when some sort of challenge appears and it has to get dealt with, even if things get messy.
 At times, when I'm training for an event,  I'd rather be tucked up at home in the warm, dry cosiness - instead of jogging through howling wind, the rain lashing like piercing rods. So I run mindfully. I let the frustration, the begrudging feelings surface, and I "run it out". I use the energy to power me further, I buy into the pain of the moment and then leave it a few steps behind me as the feelings pass.
So if you're training for any kind of running event, whether it is your first 5k or a marathon, here are some of my mindful tips to add to your training regime, whilst staying safe and listening to your body.

1. Enjoy the view. Whether your vista is a ragged coastline, emerald pastures or cracked pavements through housing estates or busy cities, take everything in. Soak up your environment. 
If you're looking down at the ground, you may not see the birds collecting twigs for nesting, the dolphins in the bay, the changing colours of the leaves; the neighbour's cat that has been missing for days five miles from home, the broken swing in the park, the elderly man on his daily walk to the newsagent for his paper, the latest Banksy masterpiece, or the lamp-post you're just about to run into. LOOK UP! It's worth saying at this point, that whilst you're running, always pay attention to your body. If it is hurting, listen to it. Learn to distinguish between pain that is your body adjusting to new strength; and pain that is damaging you.

 2. Set a challenge. If you're training for something, add in a little curve-ball to each of your runs, even early on in the regime.  It could be to vary your route to include running up the hill that you are trying to avoid, for example. In this case, as you're running/walking up,  your legs and your lungs might feel like giving up, so pay attention to what your body is telling you - slow down, hear and feel everything, but continue until you get to the top. Then turn around and look down, to see your progress. Even if you didn't get the whole way up without stopping or walking, you made it - you set a challenge, and you rose to it. Remember this next time you come across a problem you need to solve, and apply the same principles. And keep going: if you keep on keeping on, the next time you run the same hill, you will probably find you go a little further.

3. Acknowledge your freedom of choice. You could have stayed in bed, gone to the pub, or watched TV. But you made the decision, whether you really wanted to or not, to get out and run. Congratulate yourself on this, and accept that your choice has given you the freedom to experience your self. This might sound a bit hippy, but think of it another way: you get to do something healthy and good for your body and your mind, and you get to spend some time alone, out and about. As you're running, even if you are disliking the experience so much that you wish you were lying in bed under warm covers, relish the fact that you chose to be your own best mate, for a while. You will thank yourself later as your endorphins kick in, or you lose a few pounds as a result.

4. Work through a problem in your mind. One of my favourite running techniques when tackling a big hill, is to pick out something that's been bugging me for a while, to pick it apart and problem-solve as I run up the hill. I start at the bottom, whilst considering the whole problem. Then, as I move upwards, and as the gentle burn in my legs begins to heat up, I confront the problem. I allow the frustration, anger or other emotions to power me up the hill; before I know it, I'm at the top, over the worst of it, and ready to take on the challenge in my mind. It works for me every time. Try it! 

5. Give yourself a little treat at the end of the run. For me, knowing that I can get into a hot shower and have a cuppa is enough to get me through anything. One weekday morning I found myself on a 10-mile run with a friend. It was a cold winter's day on a route into high ground, which took us into thick fog and icy cold rain. It was a rural village where everything was closed; even the sheep looked cold. A farmer, passing in his tractor, looked at us as though we were mad as we ran along the road, heading further into the fog, waving at him to thank him for slowing down for us. We realised at this point that we were probably far more eccentric than we'd previously thought, but carried on regardless. There was no alternative! 
What got me through that run was the thought of getting home into a warm shower, a cup of tea and feeling all pleased with myself for getting through a tough 10 miles. Nothing beats that feeling!

So, whatever your running style, make some space for mindfulness during your run, keep it in the moment (don't wish the miles away), focus on one step at a time.


I run my own mindfulness courses throughout the year. Contact me at to book a place.

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