MIND YOUR STEP

How to Incorporate Mindfulness in Your Running Life

Our muscles are stiff from yesterday’s workout. Breathing is laboured before we settle into our rhythm. That nagging ache in our knee from an injury years ago puts all our focus on our body when we’re out for a run, or even before we set foot on the trail. Are we eating right? Have we stretched enough? We can spend so much time preparing physically to run that it’s easy to lose touch with the psychological half of performing at our best. After all, we’re made up of body and mind, so how do we practice mindfulness when we’re moving?

We talked to Saucony ambassador, marathoner, and certified yogi Heather Colasuonno about the mind-body connection and how to keep our head in the game.

“To me, mindfulness is bringing awareness to what exists in the moment I am in without wanting to change anything,” Heather says. “It is being open to all experiences, sensations and emotions – even the hard or uncomfortable ones. While leaning into the discomfort, it is constantly telling myself that everything passes, and I am safe.”

But it wasn’t always so clear. In 2017, Heather broke her foot with 8 kilometres to go at the Hamilton Marathon. “Embracing hurt may have been my only mindful practice at the time because I limp-ran to a 3:08 finish with tears of pain rolling down my cheeks,” she remembers. When the diagnosis came in and recovery meant a good three months “essentially trapped in my house,” Heather was faced with the decision to suffer, or to make the most of a tough situation. But it was the fact that she could make that decision that changed things for her.

“I made great strides in embracing stillness and being able to live in the present moment and even enjoy it. I journaled daily, and quickly took notice of all I had been missing and overlooking - it was right in front of my face.”

Since that time alone with her thoughts, and falling in love with yoga where she is able to dive even further into a more positive, aware and mindful outlook, she has kept herself injury free, and come to see the power of mind over “matters.”

“There is of course a large physical component to running,” Heather says. “But I believe the way we approach a run psychologically can have the most impact. It can make or break a race and filter your experience training day in and day out. Running can be downright painful, hard and devastating. But it can also bring feelings of elation and a deep sense of happiness and satisfaction. The key is where we choose to direct our focus.”

And we can start with a little gratitude before we even head out the door. It can be as simple asking ourselves, Do I have to run today? Or, Do I get to run today? “After all,” Heather reminds us, “it’s a great privilege to do what we do.”

Once out there, it becomes even more important to check where our thoughts are drifting so that we don’t trip ourselves up. “Notice how you feel that day,” Heather says, “But don’t allow it to define you or create judgement. If it is uncomfortable, know it will pass. Resisting a thought or emotion will have you become more caught up in it, and before you know it, it has defined not only your run but your ability as a runner as well.”

It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially in this day of constant comparing on social media, but a crucial part of staying mindful is, in a way, keeping to yourself.

“The mind can manage pain, govern self-talk and choose what to focus on,” Heather says. “So ignore how you think you should feel, and embrace the way you do on any given run. Don’t concern yourself with what a pace looks like on Strava. Once we reference others for our choices or actions, we are immediately out of alignment and not practicing mindfulness.”

For Heather, the mind-body practice always comes down to our “Why.” “Always choose race or running goals that are intrinsic to you,” she says. “Ask yourself, If you weren’t able to post about it, would you still want to do it? If the answer is no, then you will never find a flow in working towards that goal. The journey and the end process will be unfulfilling.”

Keeping a daily journal to check in with our feelings, incorporating the relative “stillness” of yoga into our training cycles, or even reciting a mantra while running to remind ourselves of why we’re out there are just a few ways Heather suggests that we can practice mindfulness as runners, until it becomes a natural part of our training.

“Knowing you can do hard things physically and work through hard things mentally removes so many blocks and limiting beliefs about yourself,” says Heather. “What was once ‘hard’ becomes ‘making progress’.”