Why A More Mindful Run Is Crucial For Urban Runners
Written By: Michelle Shanley
Most people imagine mindfulness is sitting crossed legged with your eyes shut; this could not be further from the reality. Mindfulness is meditation you can practice on the move.
Just adding a few tweaks to your running routine will ensure your workout nourishes your mind as well as gaining the physical benefits.
Psychotherapist Michelle Shanley (BA (Hons) SW inc DipSW.) explains why being more mindful is especially important for people who regularly run in the city and urban areas:
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the psychological process of accepting our surroundings, experiences and ourselves in the present moment without judgment.
Mindfulness enables us to centre ourselves, become grounded in our present and consider what is really important to us right now by quieting the noise of the past and the future. We have become accustomed to living in the future, causing us to feel anxious about what has yet to come. We spend time reviewing the past, worrying about things we may have done differently resulting in us feeling depressed. Or we are looking at a screen, scrolling through social media concerning ourselves with the business of others and using it to feel better or worse about ourselves. More information on the importance of mindfulness can be found on the NHS website.
Why is mindfulness important to runners?
Running mindfully could improve your performance and increase your overall enjoyment of your run. Some people may consider that mindful exercise needs to be practiced in green spaces but I would actually suggest the opposite; there are a lot of benefits to be gained from tuning into yourself and being more mindful when you’re regularly running in an urban environment:
1. Mindfulness improves your running motivation: People often struggle to find the motivation to get out for a run, approaching it with a view that they would rather be doing something else, or that they are only doing it because they think they should for the physical benefits. This negative perspective isn’t motivating at all. Imagine instead telling yourself, I want to give my mind a rest, connect with my body, improve my wellbeing and offer myself time to appreciate my surroundings. That sounds very different, approaching a run as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.
2. Mindfulness improves your running performance: When you’re out running, how much attention do you pay to the app on your phone? Your sports watch or the buildings on your route? And how much does your performance over your last mile or km dictate your mindset? Do you give yourself a hard time if you’re not going fast enough after the first mile? Does this discourage you or drive you to risk injury by picking up your pace? Consider this, turn the voice off, turn the watch round, change your route or run the other way round and instead listen to yourself, your body, your thoughts. Go with your pace, when it feels easier go faster. Feel a niggle in that hamstring? Slow down for a while. Going with the natural ebb and flow of your body and its ability can actually improve overall performance. Mindful running offers the opportunity to do exactly that.
3. Mindfulness helps reduce running injuries: My last point, about listening to your body’s natural ability, goes hand in hand with reducing the potential for injury as you run. If you practice mindfulness when running you will become increasingly astute of noticing your body and listening to its signals. Combining this with being more compassionate of yourself means you are less likely to ‘just keep going’ for the sake of reaching a distance and putting yourself at risk of injury. This holistic approach also pertains to quicker recovery and the true sense of ‘train smarter, not harder’.
4. Mindful runs ease the stress of city living: We are all obsessed with notion of ‘the next chapter’, waiting for the next thing in our lives to come along, the better job, the bigger house, or the longer, faster run. We become accustomed to carrying out tasks and performing roles, especially in a city environment where it is so easy to get caught up in distractions. When we live in the future like this there is a danger that we miss our own fundamental needs, and fail to praise and credit ourselves for what we achieve today. We all know the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise to support physical wellbeing but how often do we consider promoting our emotional and psychological wellbeing? Practicing mindful running provides an antidote to living in city-mode. Just because you live in a busy urban place doesn’t mean you have to soak it in at every opportunity. Calm your mind when running by noticing when your thoughts are veering into the past or future and gently bring your awareness back to your breathing, the pavement beneath your feet and in doing so notice how you feel. The sense of wellbeing you achieve is one you can practice at all times when you need a moment of peace within the whirlwind of life.
How do I start running mindfully?
1. Change your route: For your first mindful run, take a different route than usual, or run your normal route the other way around so that you constantly reminded this run is different, and think about what different sights and sounds you’re perceiving.
2. Before you take a step: Before your run take a minute to become aware of the colour of the sky, the sounds around you, and the ground beneath your feet. As you become aware of these things tune in to your body, what physical sensations are you are experiencing? How rapid is your breathing? What emotions are you feeling? As other thoughts enter your mind, become aware of them then gently bring yourself back to the present again without self-punishment and with kindness.
3. Use an app: Ahead of the Pegasus 35 release, Nike have partnered with guided meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. When Headspace first began developing its app, they worked with top sports psychologists to determine exactly how athletes can benefit from mindfulness. They found that training mindfully will ensure an athlete is preparing, performing and recovering in the most efficient and effective way possible. The app will help provide guidance on how to make your run mindful, find out more about the details behind the partnership here.