Mindful Running Changed My Life – Here's How You Can Do It Too

Mindfulness can have a positive influence on performance, as well as making running a whole lot more enjoyable.

At the top of a hill, I pause to watch the sunset – the beauty of nature helping the stresses of the day melt away. Today’s run won’t be among my fastest, but a new PB is the last thing on my mind; all my focus is on the pure sense of contentment I’m feeling.

Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the evening light softening around me, let alone stopped to appreciate it. I’d become obsessed with logging my distance and speed on fitness trackers; running for other people – showing off my data on Nike Run Club, Strava or Instagram – rather than myself.

Then, somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon a mindful running podcast. And everything changed.

Rachel Moss

Mindful running is all about tuning into the present moment and becoming more aware of your body, mind and the environment around you as you run, explains coach and journalist Mackenzie L. Havey. “Applying mindful awareness to your running can help you operate with greater intention and relate to things like physical discomfort and negative thinking in more productive ways,” she tells HuffPost UK.

“Not only can mindfulness have a positive influence on performance, it also makes running a whole lot more enjoyable,” Havey explains. (Her experience prompted her to write her book: ‘Mindful Running: How Meditative Running Can Improve Performance and Make You a Happier, More Fulfilled Person’.)

Amy Benziane, 29, from London, used to experience feelings of guilt or failure if she didn’t run a certain amount of miles each week. But now she’s also embraced mindfulness, and has since starting running for the sake of running. She uses it “to make space for myself and my emotions,” she says. “I jog, walk, sprint, sing and sometimes I throw my hands in the air and dance! It feels so cathartic and not like a punishing exercise at all.”

A photo Amy Benziane took on her run.
Amy Benziane
A photo Amy Benziane took on her run.

For some, mindful running has been helpful in coping with tragic life circumstances. Stephanie Nimmo, 50, from London, also used to obsess with running apps, but in the last few years her husband and her daughter have both died and she’s become a single parent to three teenagers. With this drastic life change, she’s also altered her runs.

“Mindful running has definitely helped me through my grief and stress, some days I feel like a tightly coiled spring, getting my shoes on and just getting out really helps,” she explains.

“Sometimes I will listen to a podcast if I’m on a very long run but mainly I just enjoy being out. Sometimes if I’m running on trails I let my mind wander and just notice what’s around me, I love to see the seasons change in Richmond Park.”

Nimmo says ditching apps and trackers has been a big help. “They were adding to my stress,” she says. “Running free really helps free the mind so that you can just let thoughts drift and and let them go.”

Stephanie Nimmo
Stephanie Nimmo

You might assume mindful running means letting go of your sporting ambitions, given that you’re focussing on yourself, rather than speed and distance. But according to Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the meditation app Headpsace, it’s not unusual for mindful running to boost physical fitness, as well as improve mental health.

“So many people spend their run trying to distract themselves from the discomfort of running, but it’s in resisting that we create tension,” he tells HuffPost UK. “If we can recognise and accept that, often, that tension tends to disappear.”

Mindful running can help us run with better form because we’re more aware of how we’re running, he argues, which helps to avoid injury and aids faster recovery. And if running more mindfully helps us to enjoy running more, it can act as a helpful nudge to get us running more often.

That’s a helpful side effect that Sonya Barlow, 26, from Windsor, can relate to. As someone fairly new to running, Sonya initially struggled to jog for two minutes without stopping. Now she’s up to a solid 17 using the free guided mindfulness runs on the Nike running app.

“A guided mindful run makes me feel relaxed but most importantly stronger and better about myself,” she says. “It teaches me that I can overcome my own mental barriers to run a minute longer or even another time.”

Of course, trying to run more mindfully doesn’t mean you need to ditch fitness trackers all together, or even at all. Nimmo has signed up for a Stockholm marathon in June and plans to “dust off the Garmin” so that she can pace herself in the lead up to race day. If you find trackers useful, then there is still a place for them in your routine.

But it’s no exaggeration to say mindful running has changed my life for the better – when I’m feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, pulling on my trainers is my form of therapy. To get you started, too, here are five tips from Mackenzie L. Havey.

How to start running mindfully:

1. Re-frame running: While your daily run can be a great time to brainstorm or mull over the day’s stresses, that type of thinking takes the focus off the run itself. Re-frame certain runs as “sacred” and dial into a more mindful state by paying attention to the moment-to-moment experience.

2. Establish a mindful mindset: Turn lacing up your shoes for a run into a short meditation by paying attention to how the lace feels in your hands and how the shoes feel on your feet. This is something we often do mindlessly, so it’s worth spending a little extra time to take notice.

3. Do a body scan: As you begin a run, spend a couple of moments scanning your body from your head to your toes. Notice how each part of the body feels—Are you holding tension? Do you feel loose and relaxed?

4. Choose an anchor: An “anchor” is something that helps keep your attention on the present moment. Runners often choose their breathing or footfall. Allow that anchor to be your focus for part or all of a run and each time your mind wanders, simply redirect it back to that anchor.

5. Discover mindful moments throughout your day: You can train your brain the same way you can train your muscles. Try to take brief moments throughout your day to slow down and be present. The more you practice this, the easier it will become when you’re running.