Distance Running: Meditation in Motion

Distance running pushes more than just your body. To really enjoy a long run, you have to shut off nagging thoughts and just go.

If  you follow me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen me talking about marathon training and the accompanying long weekend runs. My running partner and I have been training for a couple of months now for a marathon that he’s running in October. I’m not planning to run the marathon, but I jumped at the chance to train with him, just to see how far I could push myself, distance-wise.

Distance Running: Marathon Training

We’ve been following Hal Higdon’s marathon training regimen, which includes shorter runs during the week and a long run every weekend. You gradually up your mileage, and the longest run you do is 20 miles towards the end of your training schedule. If you check out the schedule, you’ll see that the weekend runs give you “break weeks” where you don’t run as far followed by a week where your mileage jumps up considerably.

The night before our first big jump in mileage, I had nightmares about it, but after we’d finished our nine mile run, I felt amazing! Exhausted, relaxed, and centered. Part of that feeling was from the way you push your body when you’re distance running, but part of it was from the mental effects of hitting the road.

What I’ve learned from marathon training is that distance running isn’t all about physical fitness. Of course, your body needs training to handle a 10, 15, or 26 mile run, but the real struggle when we add distance isn’t so much physical as mental. Distance running is about quieting your mind and falling into your pace, your stride, and your breath.

Next>> Quieting Your Mind to Run the Distance

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Lululemon Athletica

distance running

Setting out on a long run feels very much like meditation, and like meditation it takes work to get into the right mindset.

Your brain is naturally going to want to gauge how far you have to go, and it’s those nagging thoughts that often make you want to cut things short far before your body is tired. The key to a long run, like the key to practicing meditation, is that you’ve got to clear your head and exist right there, in the moment.

How to Achieve Distance Running Meditation

There was an episode of Radiolab recently where they interviewed an ultra-marathon runner who talked about the rhythm of your stride and your breath. She described it as “poetry,” and I think that’s just about right.

To get to that sweet spot, you want to shut everything out of your head and focus on your breath coming in and out and your feet as they hit the pavement. What the ultra-marathoner talked about – and what’s worked for me and my partner – is a double inhale and exhale, paired with two strides. It works like this:

  1. As your foot hits the ground, you take a short breath in.
  2. The next time your foot makes contact with the pavement, take another short breath.
  3. Take another step and breathe out.
  4. Take one more step and breathe out again.
  5. Keep this rhythm going, breathing in and out and focusing on your stride and let other thoughts fall away.

You don’t want to count your steps or your breaths. Just breathe. In, in. Out, out. Step, step. Step, step. Before you know it, your mind will be quieter, and you’ll have found your rhythm.

Have any of you tried distance running? How did you prepare mentally for those long runs? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Danielle Walquist Lynch

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Alicia N.
Alicia N.4 years ago

I am not a big runner or like to run, period! but.......... just like a month ago, I;ve decided to run just to get condition cause my thinking is to do rock climbing.... oh boy! I suffer, yes I suffer. I can do 50 or 60 miles on my bicycle or hike for 7 hrs. but running ha ha maybe "if" lucky 15 min.
Anyhow..... I just need to focus and breath and not give up, cause running is really good for you! Thanks for the tips.

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Magdalena Redyk
Magdalena R.4 years ago

Great article. I've never had a run after which I didn't feel better. It has a way of really clearing the mind.

Dawn M.
Dawn M.4 years ago

For me, the first couple miles of a long run are for getting all systems in sync: feet, check; arms, check; breathing, check. At mile three or so, all the parts have found a comfortable rhythm and my brain checks out.

Some people claim they use running as a time to think through problems or to connect with creativity. My runs allow me to leave conscious thought behind, a kind of time travel. My feet just move in the now until I realize the time has flown and I'm nearly home.

Those couple hours of living in the absolute now give me the strength and peace to face the craziness of the rest of the day.

Becky Striepe
Becky Striepe4 years ago

Mychael - That makes a lot of sense! I'm going to try it.

caterina caligiuri


Olga B.
Olga B.4 years ago

I have been doing the double inhale/exhale ever since I started running at the beginning of this year. I was told and always thought it was wrong! But I couldn't help it! I actually tried to stop doing it. I was even made fun of when I told a friend about it. Thank you so much for this article, I feel much better about my "weird" breathing now.

Mychael Lee
Mychael Lee4 years ago

I do long runs a lot, and my step/breath pattern is in threes. That way I don't feel like I'm favoring one side or the other with an inhale. For instance; left foot strikes and I inhale sharply through my nose, followed by an exhale from my mouth on the next right/left...then the next inhale is on the right foot, etc. Seems strange to explain but it feels much more balanced to me.

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

At my age plain walking would do.

Laura Walls
Laura Walls4 years ago

Perfect timing - I am training for a marathon this November (my third but the last two were 20+ years ago!)(I am 58) and I intend to try this breath/step idea this weekend with my long run. Thanks!!!!