As some of you are probably aware, I have been training to run in the Cardiff Half Marathon, which is happening in less than two weeks’ time, on 1st October 2017. Prior to this, I wasn’t a runner, the furthest I had ever run was 5k and that nearly killed me, or it certainly felt that way.
I wanted to take part to challenge myself, as well as to improve my fitness and overall health. I found a 12-week half marathon training programme on the internet and off I went. The first couple of weeks involved running for no more than 30 minutes at a time, although this was hard enough. Gradually over the weeks it built up to two medium length runs during the week and a long run of up to two hours at the weekend.
As the weeks went on, I kept waiting for the point where the runs would start to feel easier and I might even enjoy it. Unfortunately, with three weeks to go, that moment still hadn’t arrived. Every time I ran, it would feel just as hard as the first time, my face so hot it felt like it would explode, struggling to breath, blisters on my feet and aches and pains in my legs, neck and shoulders. I started to feel anxious and doubt that it would ever get any easier. How was I going to cope with at least three hours of running when even a short run of 40 minutes felt horrible?
What has all this got to do with Mindfulness? I hear you ask. I started to think about how Mindfulness has helped me over the years to cope with the ups and downs and stressful events in my life. I wondered if I could apply what I had learned to a physical activity like running. I knew that Mindfulness could be applied to other physical activities like walking, so I decided to try an experiment.
The next time I went for a run, I meditated on my breath in the morning, before running and then set off to do my usual route, which involved a long hill. Running up that hill has always been a horrible experience, fighting for breath and legs burning all the way. This time, within a few moments of running up the hill, my calf muscles started to burn. I decided that instead of trying to ignore the pain, I would do the opposite and direct my attention towards it. I dropped my awareness down into my lower body, starting with my feet and carried out a body scan. This is a common Mindfulness practice that is usually carried out lying down, where you scan through the whole body, bit by bit and notice the sensations. I noticed the contact between my feet and the ground, then scanned up my legs to the burning sensation in my calf muscles. I stayed with that feeling and explored it for a while, noticing specifically which part of the legs were burning and going deeper into that sensation to really experience it fully. I directed my breath into the sensations in my calf muscles and imagined I was breathing into them.
I stayed with that feeling for a while and then continued to scan up the body. As I did, I noticed that the burning in my calf muscles had receded and in a few moments, it had gone completely as I directed my attention to other parts of the body. Before I knew it, I had reached the top of the hill and was back on the flat!
I was amazed by the power of paying direct attention to an unpleasant sensation instead of trying to block it out and push it away. I have been using this technique on my training runs ever since and, although it’s still not easy, it is slowly becoming more comfortable and I feel confident that I can work with pain in the body, in the same way that I can work with emotional pain and stress.
Yesterday I did my penultimate long run before the event, using the body scan whenever I noticed I was flagging or feeling uncomfortable. It was a two hour run with plenty of hills and at a few points, I noticed that I was actually having fun! Wish me luck for the big day.
If you would like to learn how to carry out a body scan and other Mindfulness practices, why not come along to our next Retreat Day at Beggars Reach Hotel on 28th October? Places can be booked on our website or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mindfulfuture.wales
Jo is a director of Mindful Future and an accredited Breathworks Mindfulness Teacher. Breathworks is one of the leading Mindfulness organisations in the UK