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I know I’m not alone in saying there have been more than a few days over the past year when I struggled to get out the door. Overwhelmed by the storm of thoughts swirling in my head, no races on the calendar, missing my run crews—why bother?
I’ve always been a very goal-oriented runner, but in this context, my relationship (sometimes bordering on obsessive) with times, paces, and performances felt futile. Yes, goals help drive motivation and progress. But the troubling times we’ve all been living through seemed to overwhelm the enjoyment of the run. I couldn’t help but think back to the “before times.” You remember, don’t you? No, not just pre-pandemic, but when you first started running. Back when you had no reference point for—or reason to concern yourself with—the boatload of time, pace, and distance data spat out by a GPS watch. You just ran, with fresh eyes (and maybe lightly burning lungs) taking it all in as the run transported you to a whole new world.
As I metaphysically returned from those days back to the present, I recalled the words of mindfulness pioneer George Mumford in his book, . Mumford writes: “The hardest thing, after all the work and all the time spent on training and technique, is just being fully present in the moment.” That’s where mindfulness comes in. Tapping into the experience of the run and making the choice to let the noise go. Getting back to the power of running to take you places and free your mind to spark your greatest ideas. Keep reading below to learn how I achieve “runfulness.”
To help everyone tap into the power of runfulness, Brooks is inviting all runners to share how runfulness led them to game-changing ideas. Now through March 31, share your story for a chance to win funds to make your on-the-run dreams come true.
The power of meditation
Just as our bodies change as we run more, the more you practice mindfulness the more your brain adapts. Now, this isn’t just something you might hear from someone trying to sell you healing crystals—the science is there to back it up!
Not only does mindfulness change how you mentally take in the run, but it can also physically alter structures in your brain. Studies show that mindfulness practice improves your brain’s ability to build neural pathways, decreases stress, improves mood and focus, and yes, might even boost endurance performance.
Build the bridge
By bringing mindfulness into your daily runs, you’re building a bridge between your body and mind. I like to think about scanning my body, starting at the crown of my head and working down before I even step out the door. I’ll do this while I’m drinking my coffee, just bringing myself into the feeling of the moment. What’s the fresh coffee smell like? How do my feet feel touching the floor? I try to maintain this awareness as I step out the door and go through my run. Breathing deep and smelling the fresh pines along my route, feeling the gravel crunching underfoot—staying tuned into the experience as it is happening!
All too often, we let other thoughts take us out of the present moment. Mindfulness won’t remove those thoughts, but a steady practice will give you the tools to choose where your mind goes, like choosing your running route. Once you get to that point, things get really exciting—runfulness can take you places a simple runner’s high cannot, and help inspire self-improvement or ideas to elevate your community and the world.
Your daily practice
No one goes from zero to zen overnight. This is something you build on from day to day—just like your fitness. You can use each run as an opportunity to make mindfulness part of the daily goal, just as much as the mileage.
Set yourself up for more success by first trying this on your easy runs. It’s a bit easier to be in the moment when your lungs aren’t screaming at you and your legs aren’t straight lactic. Easy runs are a comfortable structure to test things out, just like a new pair of shoes. After you’re able to remain present when the stakes aren’t high, you can start taking those tools with you when you’re in a hard spot!
Unlocking the next level
Through this day-to-day accumulation of miles and mindfulness, you might find yourself in one of those perfect runs. Athletes sometimes call it “the zone” or in “flow.” It’s that point where you’re so locked into the moment, feeling your body work through each step that your mind starts running along with it. Not wild and out of control, but with purpose. Neatly navigating the roads and trails while your mind nimbly moves from thought to thought. Breaking through an old way of thinking, shrugging off thoughts that won’t serve you well, tapping into the simple joy of the moment. Runfulness in full stride.
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