How to use mindfulness to overcome running struggles

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Problem: Pre-race nerves

Solution: ‘Closing your eyes, connecting with your breath, and following it up and down your chest can ease the butterflies,’ says pro ultra runner and meditation coach Timothy Olson. ‘Before a race I also resolve to have fun; to accept each moment however it plays out; and to be grateful for my body, mind and loved ones cheering me on.’

Problem: Mid-run muscle cramp

Solution: ‘I take a breath and allow my body to be at ease, relaxing my muscles and mind,’ says Olson. ‘I scan my body. I check my posture, ask myself how much I’ve eaten and drunk, and I problem-solve. If I need to stop and stretch, I accept whatever emotions arise and try to just witness what I’m feeling, rather than reacting negatively.’

Problem: You feel beaten

Solution: ‘Problems are inevitable, so your reactions are the key,’ Olson says. ‘Look at the situation with a curious mind. Often, you can find something positive. Still, it’s okay to be frustrated and to let those emotions ebb and flow. Try to be grateful that you are capable of running, living, laughing and suffering.’

Problem: Mother Nature rains on your PB

Solution: ‘I use mantras a lot, which can be a single phrase such as “Just breathe”, “I am resilient” or “I am a mountain,” Olson says. “Sometimes I say my sons’ names. I once heard someone whispering ‘Just one more mindful step’ as he climbed up a steep ascent on tired legs.”

READ: Beat your racing fears


Try it

1/ Sit with your eyes closed. A spot with minimal distractions is ideal, but you don’t need a monastery: the point is to practise tuning out intrusions.

2/ Focus on your breath – breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.

3/ Quiet your brain. ‘Imagine your mind as a clear, calm blue sky,’ says Olson. Sometimes a storm of clouds obscures that blue sky, but it’s always there in the background. Ride your breath into that less turbulent space.

4/ Do a body scan. Take stock: how are you feeling? Where do you feel tense? Where do you feel light? Don’t try to change anything, just observe.

5/ Suspend judgement. ‘It’s OK if you’re having a stressful day,’ Olson says. Try to notice how you’re feeling without becoming discouraged. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath – again and again and again.

6/ Build endurance. Start with five minutes; work up to 20 or 30. ‘Meditation is exercise for your brain,’ Olson says. ‘The more you do it, the easier it becomes.’

READ: Benefits of meditation for runners