A mindful approach to running: part two
Last week we spoke to mindfulness teacher and ITV’s Sugar Free Farm mindfulness coach Frances Trussell about how she came to the practice and her tips for mindful exercise, particularly long-distance running, as we build up to this year’s London Marathon. In the second part of her interview Frances explores how to incorporate mindfulness into a daily routine, while one of her clients – an accomplished long-distance runner who has taken part in countless marathons – shares his experience of incorporating mindfulness into his practice.
Frances Trussell, Mindfulness Teacher
How do you maintain a practice so that it doesn’t feel like a chore, or keep going when you start to feel better?
Meditation should not be another stick to beat yourself with. If it is, then that's life telling us to look at who it is that's holding the stick. It's a trick of a mind that likes to run wild, to tell you that you don't need to meditate anymore, like an unruly puppy that still likes to pee in the corner when you are not watching.
What time of day do you prefer to meditate? Is there a 'perfect' time?
Meditating consistently is far more important than when you meditate – do whatever works for you and your schedule. Most people report that their day tends to run with greater calm and clarity when they meditate in the morning, but a big part of mindfulness is not living by other peoples’ standards of what is best for us, but being in tune with what makes us feel good, after all ‘perfect’ is just perception.
What are the long-term benefits to maintaining a daily practice?
There are a huge amount of proven (not by me, but by real scientists in many hundreds of studies) benefits to long-term regular practice, including increased immunity to disease, increased ability to focus, improved memory, sense of wellbeing, self-esteem and compassion. It is proven to reduce stress, the recurrence of depression and anxiety, lessen worry and cycles of rumination. In general, it increases our mental strength and resilience and helps us to experience more happiness in our lives. In my view (this is the non-science bit), it is basically a superpower and how we help evolve our emotional intelligence and that of future generations.
Mindfulness has had a lot of press coverage lately – is that helpful?
Yes and no. It is easy to get a bit ‘blah’ about things that are seen as the latest fad, often this can turn people off to something that genuinely holds benefit for them. I'd urge people to look beyond the headlines and give it a go for themselves before dismissing it.
What, if any, are the common misconceptions about mindfulness/meditation?
That it's all about colouring books, or just for academics, or hippies. Future generations are likely to find this amusing as looking after our mind becomes seen as just as important as looking after our bodies - as the saying goes 'it's a no-brainer'.
Can mindfulness help people who want to run more but don't enjoy it?
Absolutely. Ask what is it about running that you don't like? Usually it's not the action we are doing that we dislike but the story we have told ourselves around that thing, or what it means to us now, or in the past. If we approach anything we 'don't like' with a fresh attitude of openness and allowance, we give ourselves the ability to see with new mindful eyes.
Do you think it can help you stay injury-free, or at least help you to recognise when it's time to stop?
Mindfulness is the art of listening, when we listen to the messages of the body, rather than the story of the mind, we hear what our body is really saying to us. When we are more tuned into what is really going on for us maybe we get the opportunity to interpret a sensation in a more accurate light – to readjust our alignment, to breathe more deeply, to let go of tension in one area, or increase it in another.
We often talk about hitting a 'wall', particularly with the marathon, can mindfulness help with that? Can you avoid the wall completely, do you think?
Last week, I talked about the idea of beginner’s mind. That can certainly help, but I thought this might be better answered by a marathon runner. I spoke with a runner client of mine – Daniel Turner – to find out how mindfulness specifically helped him with training and running marathons. Here’s what he had to say:
“It was over 10 years into my semi-serious running life that I discovered meditation and mindfulness. At that point, I had completed four marathons, at least 20 half marathons and countless other training and non-training runs. I was a runner, through rain, sleet, snow and sun. And, like most runners above the beginner level, there were times when I took it way, way too seriously. My journal-ling fastidiously tracked distance, total times, lap times, conditions and whether I'd had any need to address bladder issues. My mind was narrowed to a fundamental belief that ploughing through the mileage equalled better running; I found joy in the accomplishment and fun in the numbers.
“I had reached a level of obsession that made it surprisingly easy to ignore aches and pains; this single-mindedness eventually led me to the heartbreak of major knee and Achilles injuries, wrecking months and months of training. After I studied meditation with Frances, I undertook a mindful rethink of life and the joy of running.
“My daily run route follows the north path of Battersea Park in London. Halfway along this path is a magnificent Buddha statue, which is a less than subtle reminder to be mindful and is now my trigger to use body scan meditations during the run. This takes me out of my head and makes me scan through my body to check for aches and pain, and with all the time that a mid-distance run gives, I can do this time and time again. Mindfulness teaches you to turn in to discomfort, rather than resist it; when I start to feel tiredness in my shoulders, I don't slouch and slump to get some short-term relief, instead I accept the fatigue and listen to my body. Each time I feel a niggle, or a sharp pain, I resist the urge to make any over-compensating adjustment to my form. I face it and use the out breath to release stress and let go of the pain. The results have had an incredibly positive impact on my stamina and recovery.
“I have also found that a secondary benefit to mindfulness running is not using running as thinking time, rather using it as a unique glimpse into the early morning or late evening environment where I live. I deliberately leave the arguments and counter-arguments of the day behind and notice the shapes of the houses that I pass, the woodpeckers, the lawn mowers, the smell of the trees and the different contours of the roads and everything in-between. It’s the stuff you miss when you have imaginary conversations to a banging techno playlist.”
Make sure you read 'A Mindful Approach to Running: Part One' where we talk to Frances about how and why she got into mindfulness, the basics or being mindful and how it can improve our exercise regimes.