Meditation and running may both be in the wellness sector, but I think a lot of people may question whether there’s a direct link between the two or if they just stand alone. Speaking from personal experience, meditation can not only enhance your running performance, but also your overall enjoyment of the activity. Designating ten minutes a day for breathing meditation has repeatedly proven to help me stay more centered; connecting my mind and body to enjoy the sheer act of living.
Meditation can help us deal with that looming voice in our head. I’m sure you’re familiar – that inner monologue that tries to sabotage our workouts and progress by keeping us grounded on the couch. The voice that fuels that sense of imposter syndrome; telling us we’re not good enough and keeping us in a place of complacency.
When it comes to running, the energy expenditure and work that goes into the activity can deter some people from engaging in it at all.
On the days where I’m really not feelin’ it, I know that once I start running a few kilometers, I get into a flow state; letting my thoughts flow freely and embracing the feeling of relaxation. With my harder training days that include tempo or HIIT workouts, plugging in some EDM tracks and feeling my feet hitting the treadmill (or pavement) to the beat of the song can be a cathartic experience. Before adopting a mediation practice, I did enjoy my runs, but the frequency of enjoyment, dealing with “the voice”, and pushing through hard workouts has become easier since I’ve kept up a consistent practice.
However, I think it’s worth mentioning that practice alone may not be enough. I think it’s important that we actually understand the reasons why we choose to engage in meditation and how we can make it relevant to our daily lives. When I first started to meditate, I hated it. I couldn’t even sit for 5 minutes…seriously the longest three and a half minutes of my life. I remember being confused as to how this practice had become so popularized across the world.
It was only when I started reading resources on the meditation practice, using guided meditation apps, and actually going to meditation classes at a Buddhist temple with an experienced teacher that I learned the true value of what the practice brings.
Jon Kabat Zin, author of the famous book Full Catastrophe Living explains that the patients that arrive at the stress clinic with skepticism, but openness end up getting the most of their practice after the 8 weeks. Jon also notes that people who think meditation is a solution to their problems or, on the inverse, believe that the practice is futile will end up disappointed.
Mediation is an activity with no defined end goal which, for goal-oriented people like myself, it can be difficult to fathom. Staying curious, being openminded and ensuring we’re not chastising ourselves over any passing thoughts can help us get the most out of our practice.
We know by now that as much as running does require some level of physical fitness, it’s mostly mental. All the running challenges, ultramarathons, and marathons require some degree of mental training. With endurance sports, the battle is mostly in your head. If you focus on how much longer you have to go, it can be an awfully long experience, but if you remain present and focusing on how you’re feeling in the moment then it can be much more enjoyable.
When I ran my first 100-mile race, I knew that I couldn’t dwell on the distance ahead. Mulling over the remaining distance would be too overwhelming and I would most likely end up with the big, dreaded DNF (did not finish).
I had to force myself to be intensely present. I needed to avoid looking at my Garmin and just take it one aid station at a time. Meditation taught me to listen to my body and my mind – adjusting my pace if my body wanted to slow down and acknowledging that sometimes negative thoughts would surface in my mind. As soon as I experienced any sort of pain, I acknowledged it and told myself that it would pass. My 100-mile race was one of the most memorable and best experiences of my life. I listened to The Power of Now almost three times to remind myself to stay intensely present; breathing in the fresh air and observing all the beautiful scenery the Haliburton Forest had to offer.
When it was pouring rain and I resembled a drowned rat, it wasn’t fun, but I told myself that I needed to experience some miserable moments in order to enjoy the good ones. I ran through a nice little downpour with a receptive spirit; not trying to achieve any sort of outcome in terms of time, but just to finish the race…however long that took. I opened myself up to experience what I experienced. When I got lost and missed an entire 10k loop, leaving my headlamp over 13 miles back when it was going close to dark, I felt severe anxiety and panic. I told myself to surrender to the circumstances, accept it, and let go. As soon as I accepted what was, I was able to think rationally and everything worked out (as life tends to do). My pacer met me at a different aid station, the race director let me do the loop I missed at the very end, and I ended up finishing first place and third overall.
If I resisted, the outcomes would have probably been much different. I might have dropped out, or the anxiety and worry I felt may have manifested into physical pain on my body. Meditation taught me to accept what is. It was the key to successfully completing the race.
I will leave you with this final thought: adopting a practice can help you overcome mental roadblocks in training, especially during those grueling training sessions. Meditation can help you laugh at and ignore the voice in your head, giving you the boost to finally sign up for that race you always wanted to run.
You’ll be able to enjoy your runs even more. Paying attention to nature, the sound of your breathing, and being grateful for your body’s ability run.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Alan Singer
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael Alan Singer
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David R. Hawkins
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle