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.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Lululemon Athletica
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:
- As your foot hits the ground, you take a short breath in.
- The next time your foot makes contact with the pavement, take another short breath.
- Take another step and breathe out.
- Take one more step and breathe out again.
- 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