Meditative Running Part 4

FINAL THOUGHTS ON RUNNING AND MEDITATION

by Alan Thwaits

Here’s an example of how a meditative run can play out.

This spring, I did a 35K run, a training run for a marathon. I used one of my standard training routes, which is a straight out-and-back along a major suburban/urban street that goes from Mississauga, where I live, into Toronto. On a Sunday morning, it’s not busy at my end, but there’s more traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, at the Toronto end. That’s OK, because it means that for the first third of the run I get time to dial in pace, form, and focus, and on the last third of the run I get to run into a meditative place without too many distractions.

I spent the first 10K or so of the run finding my form. I adjusted my posture, my breathing, and my pace. I did some visualizations, and made sure that I stayed relaxed. The middle section of the run meant more traffic and a few semi-serious hills, so I had to focus for that. On the way back, I began to feel tired. At the 25K mark, I was feeling tired enough that my form and pace were suffering. So I made the necessary adjustments, re-focused, and relaxed. I tried not to think about getting to the end of the run, and about the hot Epsom salts soak that I’d have. I adjusted and re-focused. My form gradually improved, my breathing evened out, and I was running smoothly again, and at my target pace..

Then, all of a sudden, I realized that I was only 2K from my home. I’d run about 8K (almost an hour) without being aware of the passage of time or distance. I’d obviously been paying attention to intersections, traffic lights, and so on – but I’d done so in an altered state. I finished the run feeling renewed, refreshed, and happy. I’d achieved optimal.

Practice yesterday’s running tips even when you’re doing an ordinary run. None of it will come easily at first. Be patient with yourself, and keep doing it. In time, you’ll be able to fall easily into each one of these practices. And all of your running – not just your meditative running – will be better for that.

As you get better at disciplining your body, you’ll find it easier to bring your full attention to your run. “Attention” here means much the same as “being in the moment.” Don’t think about getting to the end of your run. Don’t think about your job, or what you might have for dinner. Don’t worry about your personal problems. Don’t even think about the good time you had last night with your friends. Just run. Run this run. And be there whatever the run is like. It’s easy to be in the moment when everything’s going well. It’s much harder – but even more important – to be in the moment when you’re tired or cold or frustrated because you’re not running well. Be there, no matter what, for the duration of the run.

If you do that (and you must practice, over and over again), you’ll soon learn to focus quickly and easily. I don’t mean focus in a narrow, laser-like sense, but focus in the sense of being fully aware, fully alive, and fully human. You’ll be you, utterly and completely. The feeling may not last for long, but you’ll know it and you’ll remember it. And it’ll be easier to find the next time.

Towards the end of your run, come back into ordinary reality. At the end of a meditative run, do a quick debrief, and later on reflect on what you experienced and what you learned. That’ll help you come down from the high. It seems that we’re not meant to stay in optimal states. They’re lovely while they last, and they’re great teachers, but the whole point of them is to help us do better in our everyday lives. Please don’t get addicted to peak experiences. If you do, you’ll just be frustrated and heartsick. Stay in the real.

That’s it. As I said at the beginning, this is pretty basic stuff. But it’s a good way to start your meditative running practice.

If you have any questions, post a comment here, or contact me via my Barefoot Journey blog.

If you’re interested in learning more about barefoot running, I’m going to hold a “Basic Barefoot” workshop in the Spring of 2011. For more information or to express your interest please visit this post.

Run well!

Meditative Running Part 1

Meditative Running Part 2

Meditative Running Part 3

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Next Tuesday: The Men’s Sport Kilt Giveaway winner is revealed!