Mindfulness and Running: Even Easy Runs Deserve Some Attention

When training for a big race, particularly a marathon, one of the biggest challenges is grinding through all the unglamorous miles. Most training plans consist of lots and lots of easy runs, while the exciting pace workouts, tempos, and intervals make up only about twenty percent of the training. As a result, those non-workout runs start to feel like slogs and jogs, and we might find ourselves tempted by Bertha to lie on the couch, because really? After weeks and weeks of this, easy runs seem soooooo boring.

It’s pretty easy to get psyched up about a workout or even a long run. Now, whether this excitement for workouts is a good or bad thing is an entirely different post. The point of this one is that it’s easy to find the motivation to do the hard stuff. It’s exciting to test our fitness, strength, and will. It’s fun to learn a few lessons for next time, and when we’re focused on hitting our splits, the miles usually fly by.

But easy runs are really important, and I know you might not believe me yet, but I swear there’s a lot to get excited about when you see a jog, slog, or recovery run on your training schedule. Yes, even on the easiest easy runs, there is a lot to discover. Every run deserves some attention because there’s always a lesson. It’s time to get curious again!

Alright, so all the easy runs can’t be that boring because we wouldn’t get up day in and day out to hit the pavement. Most of the time, you don’t regret running, despite what Bertha says. Getting out the door is often the hardest part. To survive these boring runs, we usually drift off into imagination land, hold a conversation in our heads, or recruit others to run along and distract us. In contrast with mindfulness, this is a mindless approach. In a way it’s intellectual laziness, a coping mechanism to avoid the boredom and the discomfort of training when we’d rather do something else. It seems harmless enough, but when we do this stuff we might be missing some important lessons along the way.

Mental Strength

Going out for an easy run when you don’t want to builds mental strength. Sure you might go slower on these days than you otherwise would, or you might struggle with that dreaded boredom, but the fact that you laced up the shoes when you didn’t want to strengthens your mental muscle for your big race. Think about it: somewhere in that race you might not want to keep pushing yourself, or you might get bored and want it to be over with. The simple act of kicking Bertha to the curb, and lacing up for an easy run is a way to practice dealing with that.

Mind Workout

If once you’re out on an easy run and you still feel like crap, even better. No, I’m not crazy! Feeling like poop on an easy run is an excellent opportunity to use the experience to imagine feeling such poop during a race. Pace is not an issue here. Say to yourself, “How am I going to come out of this?” Most of the time, usually halfway through the run, we come out of it and feel better. These moments, even on an easy run, are a key workout for the mind.

Focus, Focus, Focus!

I titled this post Even Easy Runs Deserve Some Attention. How does one even give a run attention?

You give your run attention by paying attention to your breath for a couple of minutes. Turning to the breath is a simple way to practice focusing. You’re going to need that come race day, especially for the marathon. When you find your mind wandering off, begin to count the breaths as detailed here.

Expect the mind to wander. It’s normal. The key is that, when you notice it has wandered off, you bring it back to focus. You can train your attention, that focus you need for race day on your easy runs. It’s easier to do it when you don’t need to also focus on hitting a pace. That way when you get to race day and need to do some mental multi-tasking, it will be easier. Remember on those boring easy runs to FOCUS — at least for a little while.

P.S. You’re also meditating if you do this. Yes, you! See, it’s that simple.

Gratitude

Sometimes easy runs are, well, easy. They’re particularly easy when we want to get out for a run to de-stress. When you’re feeling this way, take it all in! Feel the breeze against your skin, smell the scents of spring abloom, listen to the birds having their own happy hour, taste the deliciousness of a warm Gu … uh, yeah, maybe that’s a bit extreme.

Nonetheless, when you find yourself in the moment, it builds the gratitude muscle so that when you’re racing, your head will more likely be in the right place. When you’re grateful for the opportunity to run or to race, you’re more likely to be focused on the process rather than trying to control the outcome. Allowing your mind to be in the present moment is the process. Soak it up! You’ll have a much better race no matter what your finish time.

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Just because every run deserves some attention doesn’t mean you have to practice these exercises on every run. In fact, a little mind wandering is a good thing. Sometimes the brain needs to run free while the body gets some exercise. Letting it wander is actually another way of giving the run the attention it deserves. But when you find yourself struggling to get through an easy run, these little exercises can not only help the run you’re in but also your big goal race.

Do you enjoy easy runs during training? How do train your attention?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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6 comments

  1. Ginger, I’m giving you a high-five to EASY RUNS!! I’ve read many articles written by exercise physiologists who discuss the benefits of ‘easy days’ – based on their research with runners, from novice to elite levels. I think it’s a means-to an-end type of approach: For me, it prepares my body for the two ‘heavy-duty’ /strength days: speed/track or hill repeats, and the tempo run. I definitely feel the positive difference in how my body feels since I’ve been incorporating ‘easy’ running days in my training… less aches and pains!

  2. Great post and reminder that easy runs are for much more than just recovery or base building. I have a couple of mindfulness tricks I do when things get boring. Sometimes i just tell myself we’re not supposed to feel great all the time and life would be boring if we did!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I like that, too! I often forget that not every run has to feel great and that if it doesn’t “feel” great doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not in shape.

  3. Ginger! I am so with you on this. I am also a distance runner with 11 marathons under my belt. My husband is a UCLA mindfulness instructor, and we realized that there was so much overlap with what he was teaching and what I was finding naturally out there during my long runs. With this insight and a bunch of research, we created Meditation on the Run, (meditationontherun.com) which is just what it sounds like- a guided mindful experience that you listen to while running. I hope you’ll check it out. Let me know what you think!