Running is an inherently mindful activity. Sometimes this gets a little lost, perhaps among competition, or when running feels more like a chore, or maybe when the rain is lashing down. But the mindful, meditative qualities are always there, even if it takes more time or effort to find them.
There is hardly anything simpler than putting one foot in front of the other, feeling the movement of the body. This simple quality lends itself to a potential for mindfulness that can be tapped into and drawn from for an increased sense of overall wellbeing.
It’s important, or valuable at least, to approach your running in an aware, mindful way in order to get the best from it, and from yourself. Awareness unlocks the potential for both improvement and fulfilment. This awareness covers running technique, effort level, goals, and also the awareness of the environment you’re in and the value of the activity you’re doing.
With the situation that the country – and the world – finds itself in at the moment, the value of running, and its ability to deliver these mindful rewards, is greater than ever.
Usually I try to appreciate the little things in life, and in particular the things we may often take for granted. Now, as our movements are restricted and our environments have become more limited, I’m finding I’m more and more grateful for - and attentive to - the simple daily pleasures – things like the birds singing, the arrival of blossom on the trees, the sun and clouds in the sky, and so on.
Running is a way to connect to all of these things, and in particular to nature and its surroundings. And as well as helping us to connect to nature, I find that running also has the ability to bind us to places, and a to a time within those places. By doing this, it creates memories, makes memories stronger, and in a way magnifies the experience of living.
Looking back, I find that some of the places I remember best – or most fondly – are because of the running routes I used to take in those places. For example on the day after I moved from South to East London, I went for a run to explore the new area. I discovered a large patch of green (Wanstead Flats), full of trees, trails, birds and a lake. I distinctly remember the time of day (early evening, late summer) and the feeling of running around these new surroundings.
I feel that a) I may not have discovered that area, or at least so soon, if I hadn’t decided to go for a run, and b) that if I wasn’t running – solely for the purpose of freedom and discovery – that this memory wouldn’t be so strong.
It’s true of other times and places, too. Often on a holiday, or when visiting a new area, I’ll choose to go for a run to discover and learn more about the area – usually in the early morning, when the world tends to be at its quietest and most humble. I can look back and remember various running routes in lots of places, along with particular things I saw on those runs. Pelicans taking flight over the sea on a beach run in Santa Barbara, locals queuing outside a bakery on a run through the town of Chamonix, following the path of a boat as I ran along the coastal trail near Polperro, Cornwall.
Running is a means of discovery, and I find that it tends to be when you ask less of running, it gives you more. When approaching it without demand or high levels of expectation, it can bring rewards that transcend objectivity such as pace and distance – rewards based more on raw experience and the feelings associated with living in the present.
This is not to say we shouldn’t have goals within our training that are based around metrics such as pace, speed, distance. These are the things that often provide straightforward purpose, discipline, and targets. And right now you may be looking for support with how to bring these factors into your weekly running. These things – often when combined with training for an event – tend to be what give us structure and focus day-to-day. They help us drive forward, towards an end goal such as a marathon, a 5k, a particular time goal.
But some of the inherent benefits of running are elements that are less easy to define. It’s why if someone asks why you run, you may struggle to give a clear answer. You may struggle to find the words to describe why. You may resort to the simple answers like “because it keeps me fit”, or you may joke and say “because it means I can eat more cake”.
But I believe that – at least some of – the reasons so many of us run, are because of the mindful qualities it brings to life. It’s a form of active meditation, and many people credit running as an essential part of their overall wellbeing.
Right now, in these uncertain, difficult times, running mindfully is, as runners, almost all we have. There are no events to train for (at least not imminently), nor is there the ability to head to a local track or club to compete or meet with others.
We can use these times to appreciate the more holistic benefits of running, and we can learn and carry these forward into our running – and our lives – in future.
Because what we have at the moment is the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. The ability to look up at the sky, to listen to the birds, to notice the blowing of the wind through the trees.
And at the moment, that’s enough.
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