Why do you run? To be faster? To help manage stress?
At various points in my life, I've run for all of these reasons and then some. In college when I competed at the Division 1 level, running was about proving myself. Nothing mattered more than achieving, winning, and being tougher than other people. After college, my focus shifted. Yes, I ran to burn off the stress of having a real 9-to-5 job, but I mostly ran to be thin. A part of me desperately wanted the physique of someone who competed even though I never intended to lace up my racing spikes again.
Eventually I got so fed up with running—and all of my baggage from it—that I ditched it altogether. For eight years, I barely ran a step. A few months ago, though, I realized I missed being outside on the trails. I missed the wind on my face and the runner's high. So I decided to get back in the game. I returned to the sport I once loved. Only this time I wasn't worried about achieving anything or getting anywhere. My only focus was to simply be present. To my surprise, this simple change in where I rested my attention transformed everything. It helped me not just uncover more joy and ease in my run—but it helped me connect with myself in a deeper, more meaningful way. Now, I know I want that for me, and I want it for you. Here are five ways you can practice presence and train your mind just as much as your body.
Before you start running, stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. You're welcome to close your eyes or you can keep your eyes open with a soft gaze. With your feet grounding you down, welcome your attention to your breath. Take a moment and see what your breath is communicating to you. Is it shaky or smooth? Shallow or deep? Are your cycles of breath expressing anticipation or apprehension? Whatever you notice, just let it be without trying to change it.
Ease into it.
As you begin the run, know there's no need to rush to settle into a steady pace. Instead of pushing your edge right away, simply allow your joints to warm up. You'll know you've got a good rhythm going if you're able to maintain a conversation comfortably.
Allow yourself to feel it.
Have you ever paid attention to the felt sensations in the body on a run? I'm not talking about how the body looks but how it feels. What does it feel like to have your feet rebound off the ground? What do you notice as the legs move through space? Get curious, and take your time. We're not used to sensing into how the body feels, so don't be surprised if this is a new, unfamiliar practice. As you continue to make your way up the body, pause at the core, you might even notice an appreciation for the strength inside your core, your very center. Think about the way your core shows up to support you and helps drives the body forward. Once you feel into the core, gently guide your attention into the sensations present in the arms. Notice how the arms swing back and forth to maintain a natural rhythm.
I've learned that when we really feel what it's like to be physically present in our bodies, our relationship with ourselves starts to shift. Everything we do to grow and drive ourselves forward comes from a place of love, kindness, and potential rather than deficit and not enough.
As a runner, it can be easy to ignore pain and detach when the going gets tough. This practice of tuning out when you feel discomfort is exactly what I want you to avoid. Challenge yourself to stay present with the physical sensations in the body even when it's not comfortable or easy. Do your legs feel heavy? Do you have a side cramp? Is your breathing labored and fast? Whatever's showing up moment to moment, just notice. You don't have to like it, but if you can practice observing it and not judging it as good or bad, you'll increase your mental strength as well as your physical strength.
Make space for compassion.
So many times I'll be out on a run, and I'll think, "Ugh! Why is this so hard? What's wrong with me?" It's crazy how expectations of how we think it should be getting in the way and invite our inner critic forward. Instead of getting swept up in negative self-talk or wishing things were different than they are, what would happen if you extended some compassion and met your inner dialogue with kindness? For a long time, I felt like even having critical thoughts was a problem and a sign of weakness. I've learned that the goal isn't perfection. It's not about being able to control every thought and loving myself 100 percent of the time. It's about meeting my inner commentary with kindness and knowing that the freedom and joy come from letting this moment be exactly how it is—without trying to smooth it out or change it.
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