Running as meditation, and how I failed at being mindful

Welcome to Day 14 of my 31-day blogging streak!

 

In recent weeks and months, I have actively been trying to shift from viewing running as work to viewing it as meditation. Instead of using a run as a means to an end, I’m trying to practice mindfulness during my runs – appreciating the scenery around me, the sound of my feet rhythmically hitting the payment, the joy that I have the ability to run at all, and the exercise my body is getting.

Here are some examples of what I mean from a couple of runs I had in the last few weeks:

First run of the season in long sleeves!! Fall is officially here!! Today I ran with joy and gratitude. In the constant push to get running to produce something – a finish time, a weekly mileage goal, a faster pace – it's so easy to forget what it means. The rhythmic pitter patter of my feet and the way my body and legs happily take on the demand of exercise. The cool air in my lungs and the earned sweat and the feeling of resetting, of wiping away the build up of blahness from a long day at work. The colors that messily seep into the sky as evening darkness sets in. The way all the parts of me are gathered up and tied neatly together during each of these hours on my feet. Whether or not I ever set another PR or get faster or qualify for the Boston Marathon one day, running is always there for me. This is it. #running #halfmarathontraining #lakemichigan #sunset #runmilwaukee

A post shared by Hanna G (@hgichard) on

 

 

I understand that when training takes up a lot of time, and you’re really focused on a particular goal, it can get hard to be grateful and appreciative while you run. I get that. But I challenge each one of you reading this to try it on your next run. Don’t think about your pace or your stats or whether you’re on track for your weekly mileage goal or whatever. Just lose yourself in the sights and sounds around you, and let your monkey brain fall asleep to the crisp, soft sound of your shoes striking the ground. I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing this, but it really is a privilege that you get to run at all. Don’t waste it.

 

…are you ready to barf from my preaching yet? Good, because I’m about to tell you about how I totally failed at being mindful and meditative during my run last night.

 

Last night, I laced up for my first tempo run at half marathon effort of this cycle. I was pumped and ultimately a little nervous, because I knew that if my paces weren’t where I needed them to be it might mean my goal is out of reach.

This run had all the promise of a successful workout. Save for a couple Cosmic Brownies I wolfed down an hour ago, my nutrition had been good that day. My lingering soreness was gone and I was ready to burn off some steam from the work day. I even warmed up before the workout!

But after my warm up mile, the wheels came off. I charged into my first tempo mile paying no mind to the fact that I was supposed to ease into things and focus on my effort level instead of my speed. Midway through my 2nd tempo mile, I started to feel like crap. I was more than relieved when I had to stop at a traffic light because this was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like I was seriously going to throw up. The light turned green and I stayed a few more seconds to collect myself before soldiering on. After that fast first mile and the ensuing stomach discomfort, I had slowed my pace to a more maintainable level so I could get through the run. Eventually I began to regroup, and it wasn’t until the 4th and final tempo mile that I felt like I had recovered and found my happy pace.

Despite my malfunction, I couldn’t help but be disappointed when I saw my tempo splits later: 7:49, 8:01, 7:58, 8:06. But Hanna! That is the exact pace you wanted to hit! You did it! Yeah, I know. But those paces have never felt that hard before. I mean, what gives? Sure I started out too fast, but a 7:50 mile isn’t THAT fast. Although, in retrospect, the 7:50 miles I’ve run in the past felt easier because I didn’t start out with them.

This run left a bad taste in my mouth. But I feel more confident knowing I can learn from this. In a way, bad run experiences are gifts – they teach us lessons we really can’t learn from good runs where everything goes well.

I’d like to think my bad tempo happened because I needed to learn some lessons that will make me stronger in the remaining weeks of my half marathon training. In a couple weeks I’ll do this same workout again, and when I get to the 1 mile point in the route my brain will say to me “hey, this the part last week where we started going really fast. Now I know that I need to go a little less fast then what I was going at this point one week ago. Hey, last week I was going at this effort, and I remember that ended up being too hard, so now I know I can ease up the effort just a little bit and probably still hit my paces.

Training is about taking the good with the bad. Running is a lot like regular ol’ life in that way – some days are just better than others, and we don’t always know why. It’s possible that I could have done everything right, and even if I hadn’t eaten that cosmic brownie and had a stomach ache, I still might have had a gnarly run anyway. But I also know that a lot of the reason for this outcome was that I didn’t stay grounded. I was excited, I hyped up this workout and got ahead of myself, and all I could think about was running fast and seeing stellar splits on my watch. I wasn’t focused. I knew in that first tempo mile that my effort was way above half marathon level. But I did it anyway. I disobeyed the cardinal rule of training: “We train to race, we don’t race to train!

But I also like to think there is a hidden glimmer of sunshine in this run. During my 4th and final tempo mile, I had finally started to regroup and get back in my element. I wasn’t running as fast, but I was still plugging along at a brisk clip and I was feeling pretty good. Things had clicked back into place. And what do you know – that mile ended up being 8:06, which is exactly my A goal pace for the half marathon. I like to think this is a sign from the almighty running gods that my goals are within reach and a 1:46 half is meant to be. Granted, at the time I didn’t exactly feel like I could run another 10 miles at that pace, but I’m guessing that has more to do with the fact that I burned up all my energy in that first tempo mile.

 

Stay grounded, my friends.

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24 thoughts on “Running as meditation, and how I failed at being mindful

  1. Love this. If I’m having a tough time on a run, I make myself take a beat to think, I don’t have to run – I GET to run. I’m LUCKY to be able to run, both physically and that I made the time to do it. And I always feel better 🙂

    1. It’s so true! I worry about my attitude shifting again once I start marathon training – hopefully the lessons I’ve learned during my “fun running” period will carry over!

  2. You are so right. All of us that are able to run should be grateful. If I ever find myself saying “I HAVE to run x miles tomorrow” or something like that, I stop myself and say “I WANT to run tomorrow.” There are so many people out there who would love to be able to run 1 mile, let alone what many of us are doing during training. It’s easy to get caught up in numbers, but we must really remember why we started running. I doubt it was to run a certain pace or qualify for Boston. Such a good point and I’m glad you reminded me of this today, Hanna!
    Also, don’t beat yourself up about that run! Your paces were great – and the hard fought runs are the ones that make you a better runner and racer! I have no doubt that you can get that 1:46!!

    1. Thank you! Oh I sure hope so!

      I also remember that at one time, I WAS one of those people who couldn’t run a mile. Sometimes remembering how far I myself have come is the best mindfulness!

  3. You might have hated how you felt on your run, and even though you hit your times were disappointed that it didn’t feel easier, but this is the run that is going to help you come race day. When you are racing and you feel good and things get hard, you can reflect on the day you did tempo miles and they didn’t feel good. When they didn’t feel easy. I posted a quote last week that resonated with me and it carried me through Hartford and I keep hearing it in my own head. We don’t train so it hurts less, we train so we can tolerate it. That run you did will help you tolerate it on race day! And I love the beginning of this post. To use running as a form of meditation. You know, yesterday was the first time in 17 weeks that I went for a run. I’ve been running for 17 weeks – more miles than ever before – but I didn’t go for a run until yesterday. I ran whatever pace I wanted. I stopped and took pictures because it was pretty. Yes, I found a pole in the park and busted out some pole inversions because I felt like it. It felt great to just be out there – and I just ran a marathon Saturday. It should have hurt. But I felt light, like a weight had been lifted. I have another one in less than a month but I feel a lot more relaxed about it – and your post is a great reminder that we run for so many more reasons than just to hit a certain mileage or nail a certain pace.

    1. I love that quote! It’s funny you mention that because during the last couple miles of Grandma’s, when I was gaining speed but it was HARD, you know what I thought of? My MP tempo runs from training. I suddenly remembered all the runs where I’d been struggling through the miles and thought “uuughh this sucks” but ended up finishing anyway. And during the race, I said to myself “this is really no different than those runs, there just happens to be more people here. If you can do it then, you can do it now!” And before I knew it there was the finish line!

      I LOVE that you busted out pole moves on a run! That’s so fun! I think it shows that you had really let yourself go and prioritized having fun

  4. Running is so much more fun and satisfying when I remind myself that it is something I get to do and not have to do. That being said, some of the runs I am the most proud of are the ones where I didn’t want to go, the miles were complete garbage, but I went anyway. Those are the ones I find myself pulling from on race day knowing that I can do hard things and there is usually something good at the finish line. I 99% of the time like a run no matter what my attitude was going into it. I may not be mindful and grateful during, but I reap those benefits later in non-running stuff. PS I’m loving you daily writing challenge, it’s been really fun to read!

    1. Thank you!

      I totally agree, there has to be a balance – anyone who wants to improve at running has to accept that there will be days that require discipline and not every run can be happy happy fun time. But I think there is a place for mindfulness even in those runs where you need to push yourself out the door. I think this is when it becomes even more important to remind yourself that running is something you get to do. It can get tiresome and guilt-trippy, but it really does help when my conscience reminds me that there are so many people who would be BLOWN AWAY by the fact that I’m running 7 miles on a week night.

  5. I think I’ve enjoyed my marathon training cycle so much because it was so meditative. I always started out the run a bit creeped out because it was so early in the morning to be out there by myself, but once I got into things it was so peaceful – especially in the summer when the birds were chirping and the sun would be coming up at the end of it. I never thought I would be someone that ran without music, but it only took a week for me to fall in love with the quiet around me. Don’t fret that rough tempo, they’re a dreaded workout for a reason!!! My most joyful part of a tempo is when it’s over 🙂

    1. I am the same way – I used to run with music but after some time without it I realized I actually like not having it and just being all alone with the world around me. I’m so glad you’ve managed to make your easy training runs meditative – I could definitely tell you were enjoying your cycle more than most, so I’m going to have to remember this when I start heavy training again! Is there a way to be as meditative on the treadmill? LOL.

      And yes – tempo runs feel great when they’re over but man do they suck until then!

  6. I have so many thoughts on this. I used to see running as a means to an end as well. Then I got over confident, then underconfident following injury. Right now, I am just happy for each mile and step that I get, and though that means that sometimes I have to get my bum out the door, I know that even a bad run (barring getting hurt) is still a blessing that I give myself. **I hope you don’t think I am preaching! I am simply talking it out***
    I look at running with a relationship with myself, and that leads me to comparing it to a relationship that I have with anyone else: is it always perfect? no. But does it fulfill me? yes. Do I like being out of sync with it? no. but do I know that sometimes, a little rain is a good thing, because it makes the grass greener and teaches me that i can survive? That is a tough lesson to learn, but it will carry you a long way.

    1. Not preachy at all!! I love hearing others’ thoughts and experiences with this. I can tell from reading your blog that your more grateful attitude toward running has really paid off in your racing, too.

      And you’re so right – like any relationship, it can’t be 100% sunshine all the time. But eventually you get to a point where you understand that the rough parts are part of the process and it’s worth seeing them through. If you’re in, you’re ALL in.

  7. I gave up running a while ago, to focus solely on yoga as my means of exercise. You’ve inspired me to attempt running again. Maybe I can do both 🙂

    1. You can totally do both! I know several runners who do a lot of yoga and it seems to benefit both ways. I wish I did more yoga…maybe one day I can make it a habit! But of course, do whatever makes you happy and what works best for you!

  8. I like the perspective you’ve brought in here, about knowing that in a couple weeks these paces will feel much easier for you. And that’s so true! Training really is about learning from EACH run, and the hardest runs are the ones we learn the most from. I am so happy to finally be back in a place where each mile feels like a gift, even if they’re tough, because I spent most of September and early October completely mentally shutdown.

  9. I love this post. My training hasn’t been great in the past couple weeks, but you know what, on Sunday I GET to run a marathon. I don’t have to run it. Thanks for reminding me of that. I’ll only get one first marathon and I want to go into it with a positive mindset.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about struggling during your tempo. Hitting tempo paces in training always seems harder than on race day. Plus it will be easier next time.

    1. Thank you Heather! I really hope you have a great race on Sunday. You’ve worked so hard and you deserve it. While we unfortunately can’t control everything that happens, sometimes just having that positive mindset really makes all the difference. Go get ’em!!!

  10. I love those breaks from training where running is just about running for the pure sake of running. I don’t run with music, which makes even difficult workouts more meditative and relaxing.
    As hard as this can be (I struggled with it at first), maybe you could try running your tempos by effort. I set my watch for time elapsed and distance and just let my breathing guide me. Some days I hit my goal paces, some days I surpass them, and some days I miss them, but there are so many factors (weather, time of day, what you ate, how you slept, other life stress, terrain, air quality, etc) that can affect pace that it always gives me a good workout and I enjoy it more.

    1. I actually already do run my tempos by effort. It’s something I’ve been doing since midway through my last marathon training. I don’t look at my watch at all while I run them. Thank you for the suggestion though!!

  11. I suck at being mindful on runs too! Especially when I have a particular goal in mind for the run. Tempos are especially hard to find that uncomfortable but doable pace in the beginning too. But trust me, Hanna, I believe you can do it! That’s a superb run and even better that you felt good in the last mile of it!! You found your pace and I have no doubt you will hit your goal by the end of the year especially with the mindset you took away from this 🙂

    1. Thank you! So true about tempo pacing. My body seems to forget that hey, these aren’t speed intervals, you dont’ get to stop in a couple minutes!

  12. So often we can learn things from a bad run- you are right that is the silver lining! Whether we went out with the wrong strategy or let our brain psych us out. Most of my morning runs are just “la la la” runs. I look at my pace afterwards but not during (unless it is speed work). I really like those morning runs in the dark. I usually have a good pod cast I am looking forward too and it is nice to have my “me” time before I take on the day.

  13. I think a tempo run is about the last type of workout I could do in which I could be meditative, but it sounds like you really had the opposite problem – getting way too psyched up. I can do the same exact thing: jumping into a workout and overdoing it on the first mile (or lap, or whatever) and then getting discouraged when I can’t match that overzealous pace. There really is a lesson in everything! You are getting so damn fast! I hope I can regain some speed soon.

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