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Health & Wellbeing

Mindful Running with Ultra-Distance athlete Dan Lawson

Hi Dan! First off, could you please tell us your story – why did you start running? How has running helped to shape your life and where has it taken you?

I ran a lot when I was younger, competing in my first half marathon when I was just 12! By the time I was a teenager I had other priorities and I didn't start running again for another 20 years or so. It was always my dream as a youngster to run a marathon and the urge to fulfil this led me to find running again. In fact I had no patience to wait for an entry into an organised marathon so I just went out and ran 26 miles in the South Downs and since then I have pretty much been out running every day. Running has helped to clear my mind, even to aid important decisions I have made in my life, it's funny how inspiration comes so easily to you on a big run. Recently I have been able to spend more time running or training and this has enabled me to hold my own against some of the best runners in the world, and race in some amazing places from vast salt deserts to huge mountains and ancient trails.

What is the overall biggest motivation that keeps you running?

The joy and calm it brings me daily.

Please list your achievements in running here:

I run for the Great Britain Ultra Team, we are current world and European champions at the 24hr distance. I am the world record beater for the distance run in a week on a treadmill. Course Record holder at the 145 mile Grand Union Canal Race, the 85 mile Ridgeway Ultra and Black Rat race in Cornwall. This year I finished second in the iconic 153 mile Spartathlon Ultra Marathon the 2nd fastest British time ever.

What is your definition of mindful running?

For me mindful running is not about switching off, which happens a lot when we run. We lose ourselves in our music or our minds wander of in thoughts about the day ahead. It's about completely switching on, really living every step of our run. Feeling the earth as our feet strike, noticing the wind against our face, smelling the scent of the wildflowers and bringing ourselves in touch with our body as it flows so naturally as we move.

You organise free mindful running workshops around the world, tell us a bit more about that, why do you want to spread the word to other people?

I feel so lucky that I get to run each day out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Most people do not have the time to do that. I am so grateful for the calm that brings to me and the beautiful things I see. I feel a kind of duty to help other people experience the same. To show them how much positivity running can bring into their lives.

The workshops are a mix of yoga, where we learn to be watchful of our bodies, meditation and cultivating that awareness of our minds and guided running where we learn to switch on rather than off.

What are your preferred environments for running?

I am happy to run anywhere, but I do love to get a bit of height. That sense of achievement when you reach the top of a big hill or mountain and you stop to look back at a stunning view. For that reason I adore the Alps, just breath taking.

Do you think that trail running in natural environments as opposed to, say, the treadmill at the gym, is more conducive to a higher state of mind? We’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

I think it's important that we all get to commune with nature, trail running allows us to do that. Being in our natural environment brings a calm and stillness to the mind. It allows us to switch on to the beauty all around us. The gym has many devices that encourage to switch off, music, television some treadmills even have TVs on the screens! How can we be fully alive on our runs when are minds are being taken elsewhere?

What would you say are the biggest physical and mental benefits of running?

Running is a natural movement, something we are programmed to do. When we practice it in our natural environment it brings a calmness to the mind. A place where we can be stress free and clear, where we don't need to think about anything, where we can just flow and be. Scientific studies have proven that regular runners are happier and calmer people. Physically our bodies simply love to move and, in particular, run. Obviously we feel fitter but also, and this is hard to explain, physically more ‘right’, if that makes sense.

What do you think about when you run? 

I try to switch on to everything around me. I try not to think but just to observe the sound of my breath, the feel of my feet bouncing off the ground, my posture, the rhythm of my feet, the countryside around me, the birds in the sky. I take it all in without attaching any thoughts to it. It's not easy at first, but when you get to that point, you just flow is brilliant.

Do you think that trail running can help combat negative or unpleasant emotions? If so, how do you think this is useful?

Of course any practice that involves you being very present can, you may be concentrating on a downhill trail, being mindful of where to put your foot next, by doing this you are catapulted into the present moment, where no negative or unpleasant emotions exist. You kinda get a holiday from those thoughts and that in turn can help to clear them from your head.

What would you say to people who were considering trail running but are restricted by barriers such as being time-poor, feeling self-conscious or unmotivated?

Find someone to go with, it's such a beautiful experience to share together. Don't be fooled into thinking it will have to be a long run either there are so many little footpaths and trails close to all of us find one and have little jog along it. As far as self-conscious what better place to be than out in countryside away from the town and hordes of people, that rabbit ain't going to judge you!

You can follow Dan and all his ultra running adventures here

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