Running has been known to produce a runner’s highs but can it bring you closer to enlightenment?
In an attempt to combine my two passions of running and travelling, I am on a quest to run a marathon on every continent. After recently arriving back from Zimbabwe where I completed my 6th and most awe-inspiring marathon yet, I noticed how running mindfully can enhance this unique life experience.
Below are four techniques I use to run a more mindful marathon:
- Ignore The Time.
When we register for a marathon, we naturally have expectations of our finishing time. We may want to beat a personal best or qualify for Boston. There is nothing wrong with having a goal or wanting to improve. The problem arises when the goal consumes the event, overshadowing everything else.
The last few miles of the New York Marathon are arguably the most stunning. The route traverses through 5th Avenue with amazing support from the crowd, lining the roads 5 or 6 deep. The run then meanders into the iconic borough of Manhattan before finishing in Central Park with jubilant celebrations.
As I was so focused on achieving my goal, I didn’t savour the best part of the race. I was more interested in my watch, looking at it every 30 seconds, then the scene that was unfolding in front of me, in one of the most fantastic cities in the world. I achieved my goal, completing the marathon in 3 hours and 58 minutes and I was very happy with my result. However, I was more satisfied at the end of my last marathon at Victoria Falls, despite finishing in a time of 4 hours and 2 minutes. In Victoria Falls, as I ran, I still looked at my watch, but instead of working for my time, it was serving me.
- Enjoy the pain
Running a marathon is not meant to be easy, pain is in the name! (not literally but you can make ‘harm’ from it). Unless you are a sado, you will want the pain to be over as quickly as possible. Remember though, you have to go through the struggle to get to the sweet feeling of satisfaction. You can not have achievement without sacrifice. You signed up for this marathon, you wanted to do it, now embrace the pain (within reason).
At mile 18-20 of the Melbourne Marathon after the initial buzz and enthusiasm had worn off, and my body’s glucose levels were nonexistent, I hit the dreaded wall. I started to countdown the number of miles I had left, longing for the ordeal to be over. Like Jekyll and Hyde, I had a mental battle with myself. Yes I am hurting, Yes I am in pain, but I signed up for this marathon, I want to run a marathon on every continent, I told myself. In order to achieve what I want, I must go through the pain, there are no shortcuts.
Often when you notice the pain and acknowledge it, it gives the pain less energy.
- Mindful Breathing
If you lack the energy to be with your pain, try being with your breath instead. Your breath is one of the only things that you can control both consciously and unconsciously. Not only will conscious breathing increase mindfulness but it will also reduce your pain.
Your breathing can aid your mental state and also optimize your physical performance. When your breathing is shallow, it signals to your brain that your fight or flight response has been activated. As adrenalin and cortisol is deposited into your bloodstream your nerve endings fire and your body will undergo a number of dramatic changes.
Breathing deeply helps to physically relax your body, reduce muscle tension and anxiety. Deep, diaphoretic breathing is the most efficient style of breathing, allowing more oxygen to flow into your bloodstream. Needless to say, oxygen is a very important component to how efficiently you run a marathon, playing a key role in burning your body’s fuel reserves.
Not only will breathing consciously assist you to be more mindful but it will also make you a better athlete, helping you to breathe more optimally and also reduce any pain that you are in.
- Notice Your Senses
The noises from the crowd, the smell of sweat and the taste of the sweet sugary shots makes a marathon an intense experience on your senses.
When there are so many different things vying for your brains attention you fail to truly notice any. It’s the same when lots of people are shouting at you at the same time, you don’t hear anything that is being said.
Open your senses to see and feel the whole marathon. Use the mile markers along the route to mindfully observe each sense, start with one sense and then after a mile, move to another:
Sight: What do you notice around you as you run? What colours do you see? Often when we run we naturally look forward, take a moment to look in a different direction. Look at the sky (as long as it is safe to do so) and notice the clouds and how the sun shines through. Observe the insignificant things that you might not ordinarily look at.
Smell: You may notice the sweet smell of an orange handed out at a water stop or the exhaust fumes from cars. When I ran in the Colombo marathon in Sri Lanka, the roads weren’t closed for the most part and we had to run between buses, rickshaws and cars. The smell of exhaust fumes was often overwhelming. Despite the unpleasantness of this, the smell continues to remind me of what I went through to complete the hardest marathon of my life.
Sound: What can you hear? Notice the subtle sounds, the sound of your feet hitting the road, the birds singing. Also notice the most intense sounds of the cheerings crowds and the rock bands playing to motivate you keep running.
Taste: Taste is like our sense of smell, it is very deep rooted in our brains. You wouldn’t think that our sense of taste would be very engaged during a marathon, but some of the most poignant memories of my marathons actually come from taste. My most recent marathon was in Africa and as it was hot when we finished, we were given an ice lolly which was exactly what I needed. The cold, sweet taste of a lime ice lolly should be mandated for all marathons.
Touch: About 40,000 steps are required to run a marathon. Every step that you take is an opportunity to notice your sense of touch on the ground. One of my favourite things to do when running is to give high fives to the crowd. Not only does the crowd get excited when you take the effort to do so but it also shows your appreciation for their suport.The connection you make when you high five someone gives you energy, it connects you with them and you become one with their support.
David de Souza
Co-Founder of Satorio.org. Aspiring adventurer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. An Englishman in North Carolina. Running marathons one continent at a time.
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