Overcoming Challenging Runs with Mindfulness and How You Develop Your Mindfulness Muscle

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“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” – Joshua J. Marine

Hello Runners,

Recently I’ve had some really challenging runs including a 20-miler. Certainly the further we get into marathon training, the more challenging the workouts can be, whether it’s a 20 mile run or a tempo or marathon goal pace run for a sustained period of time.

In these situations, as well as those in other areas of our life which require us to push ourselves to help us grow as a person, we need to get uncomfortable being uncomfortable. Obviously, easier said than done. This is something that elite runners are able to do quite well, and there are probably aspects in your own life in which you do this well. Maybe it’s with your job and/or juggling multiple responsibilities. Maybe it’s giving an important presentation or networking.

As Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness share in Peak Performance, when you begin to feel uncomfortable during a tough workout or event it can help to have a conversation with yourself such as, “This is starting to hurt now. It should. I’m running hard. But I am separate from this pain. It is going to be okay.”

This touches upon the importance of being mindful and developing mindful fitness, which you can apply to other aspects of your life such as giving a presentation, dealing with a challenging client, dealing with a challenging child, etc.

By being more mindful, you create the space for you to choose how you respond to stress, instead of having an automatic response to stress. While you are immersed in the challenge, you can use mindfulness to remain calm. After a challenge, mindfulness lets you choose to turn off stress and transition to a more restful state.

Developing mindfulness is like developing a muscle. One great way to do so is through mindful meditation, which I do for a few minutes each day, typically first thing in the morning and before I go to bed.

Research studies have shown mindful meditation to be extremely helpful in overcoming stress in military personal, and it can help athletes in all sports manage stress, improve focus, and enhance performance.

To be mindful is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the moment, without judging yourself and without being distracted by stressful experiences from the past or stressful anticipation of the future.

Guidelines for Mindful Meditation:

  • Choose a time to meditate when other distractions are minimal. A great time might be first thing in the morning or before going to bed. Another option might be during your lunch break.
  • Find a quiet, comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck, and back straight but not stiff
  • Set a timer so that you are not distracted by thoughts about the passage of time
  • Begin breathing deeply, in and out through the nose
  • Allow your breath to settle back into its natural rhythm and focus on nothing but the sensation of breathing, noticing the rise and fall of the abdomen with each breath; if thoughts arise, notice them and don’t suppress them. Acknowledge your thoughts and use your breath as an anchor. You might visualize your thoughts as puffy white clouds and watch them disappear across the sky. Direct your focus back to the sensation of your breath.
  • As you conclude your meditation session, sit for a minute or two, become aware of where you are and then gradually get up.
  • Meditation can be a challenge itself because our mind can be super active and it can be difficult to quiet the mind. So, start with one minute and gradually increase the duration, adding 30-45 seconds every few days.
  • Consistency is important in building your mindful muscle, just like building any other muscle. Along those lines frequency of meditation is more important than duration.
  • Apply your growing mindfulness abilities in everyday life and have calm conversations with yourself during stressful periods
  • Realize when you want to “turn it off” and then choose to leave stress behind. Pausing to take a few deep breaths helps to activate the brain’s command and control center, instead of allowing the portion of the brain that responds automatically to take over.

You can also use guided meditation to develop mindfulness. This may be easier, especially if you are just starting out. Some apps which will guide you include Insight Timer, Headspace, and Pranayama. (Disclaimer: I have no associations with Insight Timer, Headspace, or Pranayama.)

So, incorporate a few minutes of mindful meditation into your day and strengthen your mindfulness muscle to help your performance during difficult training runs and your next event.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

P.S. If you know anyone who might benefit from this post, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

 

References

Peak Performance. Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. Rodale, Inc. New York, 2017.

Beyond Training. Ben Greenfield. Victory Belt Publishing  2014.

Jha AP, Stanley EA, Kiyonaga A, Wong L, Gelfand L. Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion. 2010 Feb;10(1):54-64.

Jha AP, Morrison AB, Dainer-Best J, Parker S, Rostrup N, Stanley EA. Minds “at attention”: mindfulness training curbs attentional lapses in military cohorts. PLoS One. 2015 Feb 11;10(2)

Solberg EE, Berglund KA, Engen O, Ekeberg O, Loeb M. The effect of meditation on shooting performance. Br J Sports Med. 1996 Dec;30(4):342-6.

Zanesco AP, Denkova E, Rogers SL, MacNulty WK, Jha AP. Mindfulness training as cognitive training in high-demand cohorts: An initial study in elite military servicemembers. Prog Brain Res. 2019;244:323-354.

Gaëlle Desbordes, Lobsang T. Negi, Thaddeus W. W. Pace, B. Alan Wallace, Charles L. Raison and Eric L. Schwartz. Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 01 November 2012.

Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes. What are the benefits of mindfulness, July/August 2012, Vol 43, No. 7

Lillian A. De Petrillo, Keith A. Kaufman, Carol R. Glass, and Diane B. Arnkoff.  Mindfulness for Long-Distance Runners: An Open Trial Using Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE). Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Volume 3: Issue 4, Pages: 357–376.

Rachel W. Thompson, Keith A. Kaufman, Lilian A. De Petrillo, Carol R. Glass, and Diane B. Arnkoff. One Year Follow-Up of Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement (MSPE) With Archers, Golfers, and Runners. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, Volume 5: Issue 2, Pages: 99–116.

Lucia Bühlmayer, Daniel Birrer, Philipp Röthlin, Oliver Faude, Lars Donath. Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review. Sports Medicine, November 2017, Volume 47, Issue 11, pp 2309–2321.

 

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