You know how running makes your body stronger, builds fitness and makes you feel great.
The tricky part, however, is knowing just how much running is enough to create the best results. Run too much or too intensely, and you risk overtraining or injury. Running mindfully helps you determine how to balance running with recovery to give you the best health and fitness outcomes.
Before discovering mindful running, I spent two decades running under the guiding principle that “more is better” until my body became too broken and exhausted. Mindful running has become my favorite tool for noticing when things like lingering fatigue or waning motivation are actually early warning signs that I’m overdoing it.
Running-related pain injury is another warning sign. Instead of viewing an injury as a setback, see it as part of the biofeedback system designed to keep you from doing further harm. All too often, in the mistaken belief that running is supposed to hurt, runners push past minor pains until they develop into debilitating injuries.
Mindfulness is a powerful and effective method to becoming your own coach so that you can avoid these pitfalls and get better training outcomes.
Here are seven more ways mindfulness improves your running :
1. Know the right pace
Eighty percent of your running volume should be at a very “easy” pace. Chances are, you’re running too “hard” too often. Save your moderate- to fast-paced workouts for speed days and just cruise the rest of the time. Ditch devices that measures your pace-per-mile and instead learn to run by feel. Mindful running lets you discern what feels easy versus hard, which will vary from day to day. Things like a poor nights’ sleep, being slightly dehydrated, having a stressful day and a whole host of other factors influence your effort output.
2. Builds your confidence as a runner
Unfortunately, technology makes it easier than ever to compare your mileage, speed and race results to those of friends and strangers. But comparing your performance to others’ erodes confidence, whether you’re aware of it or not. Such comparisons are a distraction from your intrinsic enjoyment of running and exacerbates feelings that you’re not training hard enough.
Mindful running shifts your focus from how you compare to others to how you compare to yourself. You replace external success measurements (like race results) with internal rewards, like deriving confidence from your own evolution as a runner. The first step is to set an intention about how you want your run to feel today, thereby creating an internal and immediate reward for your efforts.
3. Achieves better fitness gains with less structure
Rather than relying on numbers related to mileage, pace, sessions per week, laps and intervals to manage training, mindful running frees you to focus instead on less tangible–yet far more valuable–ways to build fitness and measure your progress. For example, fartleks (which means “speed play”) are fun ways to pepper fast-paced running into your routine.
This kind of workout, done without a watch, involves simply speeding up and slowing down at random intervals. Mindfulness is the cue for when to shift your effort level. Feeling strong and fired up? You’re ready to speed up. Heart rate maxed out or posture deteriorating? Time to slow down.
4. Makes you more motivated to run
Running triggers the release of hormones and endorphins that are known to bring about feelings of happiness and a sense of well being. However, it’s possible to miss these effects entirely when your mind is elsewhere and you are disconnected from the running experience. Using mindfulness to tune out hectic thoughts circulating through your mind allows you to notice the transformation that happens while running. This process does wonders for your motivation, as it enhances your association of running with enjoyment rather than pain, discomfort or boredom.
5. Improves running form and efficiency
Proper posture greatly influences your running efficiency and likelihood of developing injury. Being mindful of whether your back is straight, core is engaged, elbows are driving back (instead of outward) can make running feel far easier. Maintaining this posture while running without tension so the limbs can swinging smoothly from their joints, requires less energy to propel you forward.
With practice, your body becomes strong enough to maintain good form, even at higher speeds.
6. Informs you when you’re ready to step it up
Mindful running helps you recognize your training “sweet spot,” which is when you’re running volume and intensity aligns with your available energy, time and health limitations. It also lets you know when you’re ready to step it up by adding new elements such as strength exercises, hill repeats, track workouts or more mileage. Mindfulness cultivates the self-knowledge needed to recognize that, when running is too easy or even boring, you’re ready make it more challenging.
7. Attains the effortless sensation that is “flow”
In the magical state known as “flow” you have a heightened sense of relaxed control over your body and running feels engaging yet effortless. Mindful running cultivates the circumstances in which flow can occur. This happens because you’re focused on the sensations of running, are highly in tune in with how your body is responding to the effort and are confident in your ability to meet the challenge before you.