A couple of years ago, while hiking across Rarotonga, the local guide (the cool looking dude in the picture above) told me he was meditating while we were making our way through the bush.
“Bullshit,” I thought to myself (because apparently my inner-voice has no manners). “How can you be meditating if you’re moving?”
You see, this episode happened in my past pre-running life, a few months before I discovered things like runner’s high or those special places in my head that I can only get to while running. My idea of proper meditation involved sitting down with my legs crossed, eyes closed, and a whole lot of “oooom” sounds (something I had never tried either).
Not long ago, Josh Gale wrote a review of a book that Amazon keeps on hinting I should read by adding it to every recommendation email they send me – Zen and the Art of Running. His review, more than Amazon’s tiresome targeted marketing, got me interested in finding out more about the relationship between meditation and running. This week, thanks to a nasty cold, I’ve spent a pretty outrageous amount of time reading about running (and no time actually running). I’ve found myself going through a really large number of articles about mindfulness and running.
“Zoning out”, rather than meditating, is likely to be the most helpful thing I do to cope with long-distance running, on top of things like hydration and proper fueling. You know, those runs when everything just falls into place and you find yourself running effortlessly, going through a training run without even noticing the kilometers ticking by? Yeah, those ones. Unfortunately, it’s something I don’t feel like I have much control over. Sometimes I set out on a long run and the universe is all “yeah, Vera, go you!” and my brain does what it’s supposed to do. Other times, well, it sucks and I just turn around and run back home because why the hell not. The interesting thing for me is that my runs hardly ever come to an end because my body is tired, it’s always my brain that gives up first.
Lately, I’ve been wondering about how great it would be if I could control that element of my running as much as I can control how much I eat or drink during the run. If I could train my brain to go the places it should go, every run would be a pleasure rather than a task, right? Don’t answer, I’d rather keep that hope. Since one of the things I dread the most is the possibility of running becoming so much of a chore that I stop enjoying it, this is something worth considering.
In my last trail run, I tried giving this whole mindfulness idea a go. I still don’t know much about it at all but that has never stopped me before. I went with the “repeating a word (or mantra) to yourself over and over again” idea for one of the uphills, tried counting my steps while going up another hill, and focused on my breathing (and coordinating my breathing with my steps) on a third climb. As much as cool hip Vera wants to dismiss this sort of stuff as just new-age bollocks, cool hip Vera doesn’t actually exist and the fact is that I ran the three hills that I know for sure I would otherwise have walked. So, there.
New-age stuff 1 Super Generic Girl 0
Now I find myself wondering if the secret to excellent running actually relies more on one particular muscle, rather than the muscles on your legs. (I’m hinting at the brain, get it? Get it?)
The trick might be to actually focus on the run itself, rather than trying to distract myself from the run. I mean, there has to be something right about this because that 60-something year old man in the picture climbed to the top of that hill with no effort, while meditating, while I got up there wondering where I’d left my lungs along the way. Surely this is enough of a reason to consider looking into this some more.
Either that or I’ve just been taking far too many drugs for this stupid cold. Don’t mind me.
Haha. “Don’t mind me”. So clever.
Again, I’m sorry. There’s some pretty strong over-the-counter stuff for colds these days and I’ve been taking it all.
What I really want to know is whether you’ve ever tried meditating while running, what are the best resources for me to learn more about it and, if that’s not what you do while running, what in the world do you do? Tell me everything!
Related reading, if that’s what you’re into:
The Zen of Running and 10 Ways to Make it Work for You
Running with the Mind of Meditation
June 21, 2013 at 11:25 pm
I count to 8 a lot, that seems to stop my mind thinking too much. Then I focus on my form… then I count to 8 a lot… etc And on sunday at our cross country 6k I tried specifically not to think, and I beat my handicap by 50seconds. Interesting… sometimes, well most of the time I think it is my mind in the way…
June 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm
Good to know that it does work, Kate!
June 21, 2013 at 11:37 pm
I feel like tramping does this for me. Just getting into running and have felt a bit like this on the trail, definitely feel like the brain/mind is the weakest thing while running!
June 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm
It really is. My brain is the first part of my body to want to give up, long before my legs get tired. Even on hikes!
June 22, 2013 at 3:27 am
I recognise that man! What a great memory of climbing that hill – or rather a great memory of devouring fresh, local fish sandwiches on (his wife’s) homemade buns on the top of the hill. I totally agree it’s more often mind over matter (leg muscles). Music seems to help, prayer often occurs during my runs, but sometimes really focusing on the run, the breathing, the pace actually helps me. Weird?
June 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm
Oh how neat that you hiked with Pa too! Loved meeting him, such a character!
June 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm
Do you think the cross island trail is runnable? Going to Raro on Monday for a week so it’s now officially in the ‘holiday run’ plan 🙂
June 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm
Hmm… I wouldn’t recommend running it or even hiking it by yourself. It’s a really confusing hike, with tracks going off in all sorts of directions and no signs telling you where to go. I highly recommend you get in touch with Pa and have him take you – he’s an awesome guy and you’ll love meeting him! Here’s how you can get in touch with him: http://www.pastreks.com/
Have fun in Rarotonga! It’s such a beautiful place! 😀
June 23, 2013 at 7:26 am
Two years ago I ran a 4 mile race that changed my life. My running life any way. My buddy who is faster kept pulling me along and I ended up running 7:20 miles. It was crazy faster than I had ever run a 5K.
As you allude to, running is mostly in your head. We rarely have a condition that causes us to stop running. It is usually that we decide we can’t run fast any more, screw the PR, it’s not really worth feeling this way etc. A million reasons to slow down.
That day I pushed my body harder than my mind wanted to. I realized that I could do it. I could over come that lazy voice in my head that says, “good enough”.
I know running is for fun and should be fun. For me it is. When I push past that voice in my head and achieve a new PR that is thrilling.
For me, once I discovered that I could run through the pain or discomfort my running improved.
For 5ks and 10ks I’ve also discovered that if I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up, I’m not running hard enough. If you feel good during a short race you not are leaving it on the course. You are saving it. For what?
I guess I would say that I focus on my goal. When I’m tired or struggling up a hill I tell my self that this is where I’m going to loose my PR. Is that what we came here to do today? Of course not!
June 25, 2013 at 3:30 am
So this is going to sound super cheesy, but when i’m trying to zen out on a run, I start thinking of all the things I’m grateful for. Not only does it kick my ass into being more positive, about pretty much everything (usually-yay!), I can come up with a heckuva lot of things to be thankful for, so it fits long runs beautifully 🙂
Sounds like an awesome hike! Hope you’re on the mend soon!
June 26, 2013 at 1:04 am
Pray. As silly as it might sound, that is what I do. And then zone out. And then remember things….only to forget them. again. Oh yes, and consider my pace…and talk to myself. Literally. Out loud.