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Steps to being a mindful runner

mindful runner

As your runs get longer, the motivation to push through can get difficult, especially in the cold weather.

Have a read of these useful tips from sports psychologist, Andy Preston. These will not only help during your run, but through the course of your training as well!

1) Spend time to appreciate your running

Before a run starts, think for a few moments about how you feel right now. Ignore any thoughts/ feelings about what you are about to do. Focus on the physical sensations you are experiencing. As your run continues, continue to think about your physical experiences. For example, do you feel a sense of freedom because you are running?

2) Spend time during your run to appreciate your training session

Ignore your GPS watch. Don’t look at your mile splits, or distance covered. Before being asked to tell people about ‘how it went’, ask yourself what you appreciate about the run. Is it the environment you run in? Is it an interaction with a fellow runner? Or the solitude of being a runner in a big space like your local park or favourite trail. Seek out the pleasures and sensations in your run.

3) Stop worrying about the past or future. Focus on the here and now

Missed training sessions. Fitting in a run between the other stuff in your life. Getting in your long run. Being on target with your marathon plan. All these concerns really affect the joy you should be experiencing as a runner. As you prepare for your run, make sure it is ONLY the run that you are thinking about. Chances are, whatever it is you need to do when you get back will still need doing.

4) Seek out the positives as you run

Running in itself never changes. It’s only how you perceive it during your run that affects your experience. For example, running up that hill is tough. Your heart rate elevates, your legs hurt. But the hill isn’t going to shrink. So reward yourself for achieving that hill climb, rather than grimacing and thinking about how hard it was (or how hard the next one is going to be).

5) Make your pre (or post) run a part of the experience

Use those minutes getting your kit on, sorting out your equipment, keys, shoes, etc to find the runner in you. And use the end of your run to still be a runner. Take some slow, deliberate breaths and feel calm. Think about how good it feels to be a runner. Try to relax any tense muscles, particularly in your shoulders, neck, back and legs. Think of it as a ‘zone’ around you as a runner. Enter that zone before your run, and slowly exit that zone afterwards. Let those around you know that pre- and post-run are ‘Do Not Disturb’ moments.

6) Allow yourself to experience difficulties, pain, discomfort or exhaustion

These are inevitable occurrences for marathon runners. And we don’t really have much control over them. We can decide how much control they can have of us. Sometimes, we let them overcome us, or allow them to cause us to think of quitting. Your mind might be screaming at you to walk out for a while, or worse still, to quit altogether. Rather than trying to block out these thoughts, or fighting them with negative self-talk, allow them to pass through your mind unhindered. If you see them just as ‘thoughts’ – they are like bubbles in a stream. They come, and they go, and they burst.

If you accept that they are part of the running experience, and accept that you can still move forward to the finish line as you experience them, you can allow yourself to gradually focus on the other things you are experiencing. The crowd on race day, for example, or the reward you are about to experience for all the training miles you invested.

7) Make a Marathon Day Mindfulness plan

Decide what can be worried about in advance (getting to the baggage trucks, queueing for the loos, finding your starting pen) and put your plan in place. Rehearse the plan in your mind in the days before hand. Find out where the ‘dead time’ will be, when you’ll be stood around, killing time waiting for things to happen. And during those times, think about the mindful skills you’ve learned since tonight. Practice being calm. Practice focusing on the raceday experience, and think about the positive experiences happening in your mind. Think about what is going on around you. Visualize your goals, and picture yourself moving towards them.

8) Run your race for the sake of running

You’ll probably know what finish time you want, and might know what your splits could look like. Let your legs and heart take care of those goals. Allow your mind to be in control of what you experience. While training, seek out the qualities you have as a runner that make you strong. For example, determination, or the ability to run through sore muscles. When you face challenges during your marathon, focus your mind ONLY on the qualities that make you strong. Step by step, road junction by road junction, mile marker by mile marker, you’ll be able to manage your race with positive, strong thoughts.

9) Don’t be fooled by the finish line

The finish line does not represent the end of your marathon. It’s the part where you stop running. The marathon finishes when you wish it to. As you gradually regain your senses and equilibrium, take plenty of time to drink in the experience. Allow yourself to go with whatever emotions, feelings or thoughts you are experiencing. This is not the time to look back at the last 26.2m (or your GPS watch). These moments will be uniquely personal to you, and will last a long time in the memory. Enter the mix zone/ family reuniting area when you are ready to, and not a moment sooner.

Andy Preston

Sports Psychologist

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