Hey, runners! With the fall marathon season right around the corner, it's time to train both your body and mind for any big events you may be running this fall.
Though my own marathon days are over, at least for now, I’ve learned from experience that much of the skill involved in running a marathon is mental. Training for a run not only conditions the body but should also condition the mind.
This is especially important for running long distances, such as the challenging 26.2 mile marathon. The marathon requires mental endurance. Runners will have to push through negative thoughts that tell them to stop, that they can't go on, or that they can't go faster. It involves accepting a certain amount of discomfort and fatigue. And if you're going to enjoy the event at all, you'll need to be focused on the present moment.
Just as our minds wander as we go about our daily routine, the runner’s mind tends to wander and get caught up on thoughts about performance, pace and splits instead of focusing on the moment-to-moment experience of running. This can lead to frustration and anxiety which in turn negatively impacts performance.
So how can you get out of your head and run the marathon with more ease and less anxiety? By running mindfully.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully focused and aware in the present moment, allowing thoughts and sensations to come and go without getting too wrapped up in them. It’s about accepting things as they are in the moment, not judging your experience or trying to change it.
So how do you go about achieving this?
Just before your big run, find a quiet spot and bring your awareness to you breath. Scan your body for any tension you might be experiencing. Consciously relax your muscles and ease your mind into a calm, alert state. Those nagging thoughts about performance quieted, you have the ability to attend to your surroundings.
As you walk to the starting line, take in the sights and sounds around you. As you wait for the start, feel grounded by the sensation of your breath, which will stay with you throughout the race.
Fast forward to mile ten. You’re calm and focused. You aren’t preoccupied with your split from mile eight, or how you’re going to feel on mile 18. You’re focused on the present moment, which keeps you calm and assured. You don’t try to avoid thoughts and sensations or get involved with them — you acknowledge the thoughts and sensations and return your focus to your breath.
You're aware of unnecessary tension and let it go so that you don't waste your precious energy. You're deeply connected to your body and your breath, which keeps you striding toward the finish line.
Tips for running mindfully:
1. Focus on your breath.
Notice the sensation of air coming into and leaving your body. What does it feel like? What does it sound like?
2. Notice when a thought arises but choose not to get involved with it.
Instead, simply return your attention to your breath.
3. Bring awareness to any sensations you are experiencing in your body.
Don’t try to avoid or distract yourself from discomfort. Observe as the sensation comes and goes or notice the quality of the sensation. Unless what you're feeling is painful (beyond just being uncomfortable) try not to judge the sensation or give undue meaning to it. Of course, if you are feeling intense pain, your body is letting you know that there is something wrong that needs attention.
4. Deal with the next mile when it comes.
When you find yourself involved in thoughts about the miles you already ran or the miles to come, remind yourself to focus on your current stride.
5. Practice mindfulness during your training so you're prepared for the big day.
Begin this practice when you’re warming up for your training runs and stay with it while you train.
6. Before your run, also practice mindfulness while simply sitting.
Try doing this for 10-20 minutes each day for at least a week before the race.
7. Try yoga for cross-training in mindfulness.
Yoga is moving meditation, so it's great practice for running mindfully as well!
By focusing on your breath and letting your body do what it does naturally instead of forcing it or holding tension unnecessarily, you can move with greater ease and efficiency.
Good luck, runners!
Photo Credit: Robert Randall