The Simple Way I Learned to Enjoy Running Again

How running became a moving meditation practice for me.

woman mindful running outsidephoto credit: shutterstock

I used to love running and had no problem lacing up at least a few times each week. I ran in the rain, I ran in the snow; I even ran San Francisco’s insanely steep hills for my first half marathon. And I didn’t even need music. That’s right, I actually enjoyed running without music.

But, after taking a very long year and a half break from running (thanks to a difficult pregnancy and post-birth recovery) I’ve been finding it hard to get back to that sweet spot where I enjoy it. Instead, my mind has been wandering and I’m constantly checking my watch to see if I’ve gone far enough that I can turn around and head home. In an effort to get back in step, I reach out to Lululemon’s director of mindful performance, Danielle Mika Nagel, to chat about the benefits of mindful running. The Canadian-grown brand recently launched a new campaign called “Let Your Mind Run Free,” complete with run routes, training guides and yoga routines specifically for runners. (New to running? Go from walk to run with our 10-week training plan.)

“Mindfulness is about living in the present moment and becoming conscious of your thoughts, words and actions. Become aware of your thoughts while running,” says Mika Nagel. What you don’t want to be doing during your run is constantly thinking about when it will be over. (Exactly the problem I’m having.)

Mind over matter

Like a lot of things in life, just getting started is often the biggest challenge. It’s not unusual to pretty much hate those first couple kilometres of running. In fact, even the pros struggle with it—including Mika Nagel’s mom, two-time winner of the Boston and NY marathons, Michiko (Miki) Gorman. “She would always say that the first few miles are ‘junk miles’ where your mind is going everywhere including quitting,” Mika Nagel tells me. Sounds familiar. Luckily, mindful running can help. Research has found mindfulness to have a positive impact on pain perception and discomfort, meaning I probably won’t feel as uncomfortable (What side stitch?) and I’ll be more likely to stick with it.

This is just one of the ways that running is very similar to meditation. (Feeling sluggish? Boost your energy with 5 minutes of meditation.) “Running allows you to transcend all the noise and slip into that ‘sweet spot’ of presence. Meditation is exactly the same. No one closes their eyes and slips into that ‘sweet spot’ immediately. It can take a while,” says Mika Nagel. To help me get there, Mika Nagel has a few suggestions for how I can get started with mindful running.

Mindful running: How to get started

Know your ‘why’

“Begin each run, or even every morning, by setting an intention,” says Mika Nagel. “An intention acts as a guide so when things aren’t going your way, you can refer back to the guide.”

Tap into your surroundings

If you’re running outside in nature, bring attention to your five senses, one at a time, for a few minutes at a time, says Mika Nagel. Bring awareness to what you see and the beauty of the environment. What do you hear? Can you feel the breeze on your skin? What do you smell? Breathe it all in. (Find more inspiration by visiting one of the world’s best running destinations.)

Give yourself a pep talk

“If you’re not running in nature, you can invite a mantra into your awareness like ‘I am strength, I am light, I am ease;’ whatever works for you,” she says. “Training your mind in this way allows you to shift your attention when it moves to something that may not be so pleasant, like knee pain or a side ache.”

Guide yourself

If running in silence isn’t your thing, try a Spotify playlist, guided meditation (like the one below), or tune in to a mindfulness app or podcast.

Be patient

“The nature of the mind is to wander,” says Mika Nagel. “We have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. Being mindful is to have an awareness of your thoughts and choosing which thoughts you want to keep and which to dismiss.”

Post-run reflection

“After your run and once your heart rate comes back to baseline, take a few minutes to sit and meditate,” says Mika Nagel. “Pause and appreciate the moment without it slipping by.”

Next, learn all the ways yoga can make you a better runner.