by Benita Zahn
Karen Bertasso Hughes at Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon 2019
What do you think about when you run? If I had a dime for every time someone asked me that I could have a closet full of fancy running clothes. What DO I think about? Truth is, not much and everything. Oh sure, when I start out, I’ve got my to-do list running through my head and frankly I get that squared away before my first mile. I may think about a story I’m working on, how to fix an issue I’m dealing with. But for the most part I don’t think, that is, not in the traditional sense. Instead, I think about being mindful and that opens a new dimension. I listen to my breath, to the sound my feet make on the ground. And if I’m lucky I sense the full range of my body in motion and I let it go. A few times I’ve reached, what I call, nirvana – that sense of being at one with your movement and the world. In short, that’s being mindful, and for runners being mindful can make the time on the road more fulfilling.
Given our unusual times, it’s no surprise mindfulness is garnering renewed attention. It can help redirect our angst and soothe our souls. Mindfulness has many definitions, but basically, it’s the psychological process of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment. Okay, a little woo – woo sounding? In essence, it means paying attention to the moment and that usually involves asking questions. What does the sun feel like on your face, arms, body? How about the smell of freshly mowed grass? Do you hear that dog barking in the distance, the shrieks of delight from neighborhood kids? It’s the stuff that’s all around us that we often don’t pay attention to but that colors our world.
Many of you probably listen to music when you run. Fine. It can help you pick up or maintain a specific pace. But it separates you from the action. By the end of your run, I bet, you don’t know what you saw because you were focusing on the tunes. You might not even really know how you feel other than, IT’S OVER. There’s nothing wrong with that, but mindfulness experts will tell you, you’re missing out on a fuller experience.
Runner and hiker Sally Drake doing yoga
Okay – so how to start this mindful running? Start by focusing on your breath, much like you would do in yoga. In fact, it’s suggested that you do a bit of deep breathing before you start your run. That can also help you relax in preparation of your run. How many of us rush to get ready for a run? All that rushing saps energy.
Once your feet are moving, examine your form and make adjustments if necessary. How’s your stride, too short, too long and how quick is the turnover? Do I like running at this pace? How do I feel when I run at this pace?
These are good first steps to being mindful. As you get into the rhythm you can feel yourself getting in sync. That’s another aspect of mindful running. It helps you be one with you. Researchers find that the more connected you are to your running, the more you’ll be able to keep running.
If you’re the type of runner who needs to distract from what you’re doing, this can be tough. But stay with it. In essence, you can still find distractions, only different ones, and ones that provide benefits. For example, focus on the trees, the color of the leaves. Just that. From tree to tree. That action can be both a distraction and focal point. By being mindful you may find room to organize your thoughts, attend to problems, discover solutions.
Kristen Mellon running in Maine
And yes, you will still think. It’s not about shutting off your mind, but rather redirecting it. Now you can focus on your body. How do I feel? Is there a pain that needs attention? Am I working as hard as I can? Do I need to slow down?
And yes, there’s a payoff. As we become more in tune with ourselves, we improve our running – the form, the endurance, the joy.
So turn off the tunes, don’t check your watch as frequently, and let your feet lead the way so your spirit can join in.