Fitness and Performance
Mindful running: how to run faster, further, and feel more fulfilled
You’re out on a run. You’ve got your headphones in, music is blaring and you’re constantly eyeballing your wrist to check your speed, while simultaneously finishing off an argument with a co-worker in your head…. And breathe. Sound familiar?
With that in mind, it might not come as a huge surprise to know that if you cut out all that noise to focus on your breathing, the movement of your body, and your surroundings, you can actually improve your running performance. Not only that, it can also make running a lot more enjoyable.
What is mindful running?
Mindful running is the process of becoming mentally connected with your body during your run. It is running without distractions, so that you can feel present in the moment and completely in tune with your body. Mindful running is an effective form of training for both the mind and body.
What’s the difference between meditation and mindful running?
Mindful running is the application of a meditative state to your physical training.
Static meditation – sat down with your eyes closed – is a practice designed to help you remove stress and distraction, to find focus and calmness in the mind.
- Mindful running
Mindful running is applying principles of meditation to your run in order to remove distractions and focus on how you feel while running – your breathing, how your muscles feel, and even how well your feet fall to the ground as you calmly pace through your run. Notably, it enables you to be in tune with your body and notice what is affecting you performance.
How can mindful running help me run faster?
Mindful running can improve your speed and overall running performance.
“Many runners are well disciplined in strength and endurance training, but training the mind is often an afterthought. Mental strength is a really important asset to a runner’s performance. Your mindset can be the difference between you and your next PB,” says Bodyset Runfit Service Specialist, James Lee.
In fact, in 2018 Asics launched the world’s first black-out track to train the mind; an on-site experiment led by the University of Kent and the University of Plymouth. The research uncovered that by running in the darkness with just a spotlight to guide them; runners can focus their minds more clearly on their performance. It found that psychological factors such as sight and sound do have a notable effect on a runner’s performance.
While many of us are used to training our bodies to run longer and faster, it’s important to train our minds too.
“Some clients have even expressed that they ‘expect’ to get tired at certain points in the run because that’s what they’re used to. Nerves, and a lack of self-belief or focus can also be what stop us pushing through pain barriers and achieving our goals. The ability to focus our mind is a strong asset in overcoming those hurdles and improving running performance,” says James.
How do I run mindfully?
There are a variety of techniques that runners can use in order to stay zen while running.
Warm up your mind
Separate your mind from external distractions before you start running. Just a couple of minutes stood still, focused on your breathing, with your eyes closed, can help you take your mind and body out of its stressed state, and into a calmer realm in preparation for your run.
Drop the data
That means your music, your phone, your GPS watch and any other tech you’ve got attached to you. Running tech is fantastic for measuring results but it can be very distracting. This doesn’t mean don’t use it; just try to not look at it for the first five minutes of your run at least.
Do a body scan
As you start your run, scan your body from head to toe. Are you holding tension anywhere? Can you loosen up and adjust your movement to help your body relax?
Check in on your breathing
This isn’t about trying to force a breathing pattern. Try to tune into your breath throughout your run. How are you breathing? If you notice that you’re breathing fast, then try to slow it down. If it feels really easy then perhaps you can increase your speed. Breathing in and out of your nose can also help to keep your body in a relaxed state.
Choose an anchor
Your anchor is what helps you maintain focus throughout your run. Whether that’s your breathing or your footfall, redirect your mind to that point of focus each time it wanders.
Widen your gaze
You don’t have to find a fixed focus point to glue your eyes too. Instead, keeping your gaze soft, wide and towards your periphery can help you enter and maintain a more fluid and relaxed state of mind and body.
Cool down your mind
Take the time to walk and breath after you’ve completed your run. When you slow your breath down, it’s easier to connect to your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and recovery. Many runners skip cool downs, but recovery doesn’t start until you reach that parasympathetic state. Recovery is key to muscle growth and performance. Taking the time to cool down can also help you carry this chilled state of mind through the rest of your day.
In summary, mindful running can help you become a faster and happier runner. By tuning into your body, you can find a peaceful state, elevated from the burdens of ‘how far am I running?’, ‘how fast am I running?’ and other pressures associated with performance. Instead of focusing on what you ‘think’ you should achieve, your body tells you ‘how’ to achieve it. Most importantly, mindful running takes the stress out of your run. It takes you back to why you fell in love with running in the first place – it feels good!