Running: A new approach

Hopefully you’re reading this post because you like running. That’s great, because I like running too, and that’s what this is all about.

But recently, I started thinking about my relationship with running. It’s probably fair to say that, like most people, it’s actually more of a love hate affair. I often struggle with the part preceding the run (ie getting out of the door) but love the feeling afterwards. Thankfully I tend to remember this endorphin high the most, which is the reason I haven’t given up. Yet.

The thing is though, once out on a run, I tend to go through the same process (which might sound familiar). It takes me a while to get into things. The first 20 minutes is a bit tough as the body adjusts from being sedentary to active. But after finally getting comfortable, I often turn my focus to the end of the run. Counting down the miles and minutes. Distracting my mind by listening to music. Tricking it into thinking I’m not going far by breaking up the run. Just one more. Etc

You get the gist. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve always relied on (and had faith in) these tools to get me through long runs. But with more marathons and a big, scary ultra looming on the horizon, I can’t help but think that I might need, well, a bit more assistance. After all, listening to music for ten-plus hours could get boring, (or maddening) quickly. Plus, trying to break 50 miles down into 5 x 10 mile chunks doesn’t really distract from the fact that it’s still an EFFING LONG WAY.

So I picked up a copy of the book ‘Running with the mind of meditation’ by Sakyong Mipham, a Tibetan lama and spiritual leader. I’ve always been curious about meditation and regular readers may notice I’m also interested in the mental side of running more than the physical side (which possibly explains why I struggle to do strength and conditioning work).

I’m about half way through the book, but so far one of the things that I’ve found particularly interesting is the concept of ‘running in the moment’. It encourages you to be present in your run, rather than thinking about the past or the future (ie how far you’ve got left to run) and to focus on your breathing. By being more aware of yourself while running, it’s easier to keep track of your natural running rhythm and strangely enough I’ve found that paying attention to this (rather than running to the beat of music) has made my recent runs more enjoyable and actually quite relaxing. I’ve even arrived at work after the morning’s run commute and found myself in a strange state of peaceful transcendence for the rest of the day. Plus, time seems to go much more quickly when you’re not worrying about how long there is left to go.

In a sense, this approach uses the concept of ‘starting from where you are’ – focussing on the present moment rather than being consumed by something that hasn’t happened yet (ie finishing the run). It’s funny, because we spend our lives worrying about what’s around the corner and wishing we were two steps ahead of ourselves, but forget to enjoy and appreciate the activity we’re engaged in until the moment has slipped away.

Picture via Nicola Rowlands

(PS if all the spiritual bullshit hasn’t scared you off and you’re still reading, I can highly recommend the book and will report back fully when I’ve finished!)

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12 thoughts on “Running: A new approach

  1. I recently attended a Running and Mindfulness day organised by Dave Jelley (jelleylegs.co.uk) and this book was mentioned. I read it in a weekend, and can thoroughly endorse your recommendation. Easy to read, interesting and enlightening. Even if, like me, you’re not into mediation, spirituality, or getting in touch with your inner being, it’s still well worth a read and has plenty to apply to running. And by the way, if you want a fantastic guided ultra running experience in stunning North Yorkshire, I can’t recommend Jelleylegs highly enough.

    • Thanks for sharing the info – that sounds like a fantastic day and something I’d be interested in. I’m really curious about meditation and have had a go (but not very good at it – practice is needed!)

  2. I’ve had the same epiphany recently! A few weeks back I ran in a 10k race which was blisteringly hot and I came probably the closest I’ve ever come to giving up. I always listened to music whilst out running but found that, in the heat, the music was literally driving me bonkers. I took my earphones out for the last 3k and re-found myself. Since then I have not put the earphones back in and have found it much easier to notice what’s going on with my body when I run and to find the’zone’.

    I’ll be interested to hear how the book turns out and hope it continues to help with your ultra training.

  3. I think this sounds great, no BS involved. Getting in touch with yourself, however that may sound, can only lead to improvement. Can’t wait to hear how this works out for you.

  4. That’s really interesting. I may have to try to incorporate it on my runs. Normally I either mentally write a new blog post, berate myself, or zone out totally. I’ve always sucked at mindfulness, so maybe this will help. 🙂

    • I also zone out on long runs and write stuff in my head – I suppose it’s a similar tactic of occupying the mind. I find it helpful too. Yeh, I can’t say I’m great – my mind jumps between stuff and I can never focus on one thing. Meditation is meant to be good for that.

  5. I saw the book mentioned (by yourself possibly Cat) a week or so ago and it arrived this morning. Looking forward to reading it, and what you’ve said has only reinforced this. For me the hardest part of running is overcoming the mind trying to prevent me from pushing beyond what it thinks is acceptable. Hopefully this book will help teach me some new methods of telling my mind to shut the crap up, and allow me to endure a bit more.

    If I really break it down I suppose the whole issue comes because of what I have turned running into – it used to be an escape and a way to close off from pressures and work, whereas now it is mainly training in aid of further or faster. I dare say I shall discover if it is possible to have this dual purpose for running, or not!

    • The book is great – TBH it doesn’t really suggest any magic answers so far – I really liked the part about paying attention too and accepting little aches and niggles when running though, rather than blocking them out. And I suppose I started in a same place to you (although my motivation was probably fueled by staying in shape too).

      Enjoy the book – let me know how you get on!

  6. When I was at a talk by Stuart Mills he went into a lot of detail about the bizareness of runners’ mental approach to their sport. Firstly he highlighted the self-deprecating blog names of of those that write about running – your’s isn’t too bad, but look through a list of those you read and you’ll probably see a lot of ‘idiots’ like me or ‘plodders’ or ‘miserable people’ or ‘slow people’ etc.

    His other point was why do we always insist on breaking a run down into decreasing chunks? Why on a marathon do we get to 20 miles and think , thank god, only 10km to go! We do it because we love it, if we don’t enjoy our running why the hell don’t we find another hobby to do?!? I’d never thought about it before. I cruised through my 50 miler with no music (or any auditory support) and lived for the enjoyment of running along the glorious North Downs Way. Wouldn’t have wished for it any other way. Don’t get me wrong though, I still counted down the last 10-15 miles though, which was a shame! Not sure if I’ll enjoy the 100 quite so much though

    The books mentioned in your blog and the preceding comments sound interesting though, I think I’ll give them a try!

    • Hey, thanks for your comment, Chris! The blog name thing made me laugh, it’s so true though (possibly part of the British self-depricating humour too!). But I agree, I just started thinking that it’s crazy to spend so much time doing something that you’re not actually enjoying and focussing on the end. I was chatting to some newbie runners yesterday who were talking about not enjoying running and using crazy-sounding apps to motivate themselves. I suppose when you start it’s often hard until you build up fitness to run comfortably, but they sort of seemed curious about this approach working (rather than thinking it was crazy, as I expected).

      I’ll check out Stuart Mills – sounds like an interesting guy.

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