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.

 

Marathon Training 2019 Day 6: First “Long” Run

November 28 2018 Morning run pic 1 medium version“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together” – Vincent Van Gogh

Today’s run was what could be considered the first “long run”, although compared with the other long runs I will be doing in my training this will seem more like a short run. After my dynamic warm-up, I ran for ~50 minutes on some trails near me that are flat. Very convenient! It’s nice not to have to feel the impact of training on the roads for all of my training runs. Plus the view from Davidson Mesa, In Louisville, CO where I ran are spectacular! I kept the pace easy for this run, although I had to remind myself several times not to push the pace. Long runs like today’s run, will help me build my aerobic fitness for my upcoming marathon in September. Along with building my neuromuscular fitness through the mobility and strengthening exercises I did immediately after my run, I am setting myself up to smoothly transition into more marathon-specific training in a few months.

Here are the mobility and strengthening exercises I did after my easy “long” run:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~30 seconds for each leg)
  • Pushups (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and back (done with resistance band, 10 repetitions for each direction)
  • Prone planks (~30 seconds)
  • Side planks (~25 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~20 seconds)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Double leg hip bridges (10 repetitions)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions times for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (7 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (7 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (7 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~30 seconds for each leg)

After this I did foam rolling for quadriceps/hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves for ~10 minutes.

Recommendation: For today’s run, I recommend performing a dynamic warm-up and then running at an easy pace in a flat area for 25-50 minutes, depending on your running experience, goals, and time off from running. I also recommend performing any of the exercises above that you know how to perform properly. You should also perform a cool-down.

Tip of the Day: I recommend spending at least 2-3 months building your aerobic fitness, mobility, and strength before engaging in half- or full-marathon specific training, especially if you are a beginner runner or have not been running consistently for the past 6 months are longer.  We can lose a substantial amount of aerobic fitness in a very short period of time (sometimes as little as two weeks!).  So, it can be beneficial to build or rebuild your aerobic fitness, so that you can be more effective once you begin more challenging workouts.  Building your aerobic fitness is tremendously important if you are planning to run a half or full marathon, and is also beneficial for shorter events such as 10ks and 5ks. The important adaptations, such as when performing long runs at an easy pace include: strengthening the heart which increases stroke volume (amount of blood pumped in each beat), and lowering heart rate at rest and during submaximal exercise, increasing the size and density of mitochondria (so can produce more energy aerobically), increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, increased blood volume and blood flow, and increased number of blood vessels (capillaries). So your body is able to deliver more oxygen to your exercising muscles and you are able to produce more energy aerobically.  Your body also becomes better at clearing lactate and you become more economical runner.   This is also a great time to be incorporating proper recovery, such as foam rolling which I have mentioned in previous posts.  I will go into more detail on recovery and other aspects of training in future posts.

 

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

Have a great day!

 

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

Reference:

  • Daniels’ Running Formula Second Edition. Jack Daniels. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2005.