I meditated every day for a month and here’s what happened to my running

I interviewed a runner once who told me that it was meditation that got her round a 24-hour track race. Then I read that Tim Olson, ultrarunner extraordinaire, attributed his win at the Western States 100-mile race (setting a new course record) to having taken it up. While I have no desire to run a 100-mile race, I’ve wanted to try meditation ever since. In the past, I’d gone so far as to download an app offering a free 10-day introduction, which took me four months to complete. The irony of my excuse - always feeling too busy or stressed to do it - made me determined to try again. But this time I opted for something a bit more hands-on, signing up for a weekend beginners’ course of Vedic Meditation with Will Williams to get me started.

Ommmm your marks

Vedic meditation, Will tells us, couldn’t be simpler. You silently repeat your individual mantra – a sound with no special meaning - while in a comfortable seated position, 20 minutes twice a day. When your mind wanders (and it will), you gently bring it back. The practice derives from India and is part of ‘Veda’, the ancient body of knowledge from India that also encompasses yoga and Ayurvedic medicine.

We receive our mantras as part of a ceremony involving flowers, fruit, candles and some chanting that we thankfully aren’t required to participate in. Then we’re ready for our first attempt. We close our eyes and allow 30 seconds to pass before beginning. At first, I find the shouting and laughing floating up from outside the pub downstairs distracting and annoying but gradually I start to feel calmer. I’m still aware of the street noise but I feel more relaxed, which I am quite chuffed about. ‘Maybe I’m quite good at this,’ I think. But time ticks on. I start to wonder what the time is. I hope I’m not going to miss my train. Is anyone else restless yet? I think my legs are going numb. I’m starving.  On goes my mindless brain chatter until I can barely stop myself sighing theatrically, let alone sit still.

When the 20 minutes is up, we spend a further two minutes with our eyes closed to let things settle. And then it’s over. I ‘fess up immediately about how difficult I found it towards the end. ‘That’s so, so normal,’ says Will. ‘Don’t get frustrated or judge yourself for it.’ I decide to hold on to the middle minutes, when I felt like I was getting it.

The first week

My next meditation, on a comfy chair at home, passes unremarkably, although I have to check my watch a few times (Will advises against setting a timer or alarm which can rouse you too suddenly from your meditative state). But the next day I’m on fire! I feel as if I’ve reached a halfway house between sleep and wakefulness. Time flies and I feel great afterwards. I miss day three, but on day four it happens again. I’m delighted I can get to a happy place and am starting to realise it’s worth enduring the 10 minutes or so of patience and acceptance it takes to get there. Every now and again, I panic that I’ve forgotten my mantra, but it always slips back into place when the time comes. Its purpose is to give the mind a focus, allowing it to quiet and settle.

On day five I have to do a long run on my own and sail through it – my ‘chimp’ keeps remarkably quiet and I feel ‘in the moment’.

Week two

I’m getting quite adept at meditating on the train to work. I put my earphones in (with nothing playing), leave my season ticket on display and shut my eyes. When I get to the office – or arrive home – I feel both calmer and more energised (Will claims meditation is more deeply restorative than sleep). I do feel like I’m weathering stress better, and I also seem to have fended off the first throes of a cold that would normally have taken me out for a few days and put a spanner in the works of my training. Bonus! On the downside, I’ve had to choose between meditation and the gym on a couple of lunch hours and have chosen mantra over muscles both times, which may eventually have a negative effect on my running.

READ: How to use mindfulness to overcome running struggles

On the course, Will pointed out that while routine is good for creating habit, it’s important not to restrict yourself to a specific place or time, as you’ll simply lower your chances of fitting in two sessions a day. I admit that twice a day is the exception for me rather than the rule, but I have managed one session a day without fail, once meditating when my husband was in the same room (slightly weird), once in the kit cupboard at work and once in a hospital waiting room. It’s quite fun to plan out where you’re going to fit your next one in. It isn’t possible to do Vedic meditation on the move, so I’ll never be able to reach nirvana on the run. But I’m experimenting with using it to get in the zone beforehand (I raced a five-miler at the weekend), and to aid recovery afterwards.

Week three

My experience still varies wildly. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent 20 minutes (or 18, as my body clock seems to have settled on) merely sitting still, fruitlessly trying to stop thoughts ricocheting around my head. Other times, it’s almost as if I’ve left my body sitting there while I’ve popped off somewhere else entirely. I try to remind myself that each meditation is as valuable – and as valid – as the others. Will uses the analogy of cleaning your teeth, saying that we don’t rate how ‘good’ or ‘’rewarding’ the experience was after we rinse and spit – we simply know we’ve done something that is good, essential even, for our health.

Week four

A trip to Majorca was lots of fun – but I was horrified to realise halfway through day two that I hadn’t meditated once. I put it down to the complete departure from my usual routine and get back to it immediately. I’m still enough of a newbie for this to feel like starting again, but within a day or two I’m back on track and I even manage to do my first outdoor meditation on my hotel balcony. Another solo long run, this time on the streets of Palma, could have been a stressful experience as I wasn’t sure where I was going and wasn’t accustomed to the heat but I was pleased to maintain a very Zen demeanor!

And now?

The four weeks are over, but I’m positive that this is something I will continue for the long haul. Why?  It’s hard to explain. I’ve had none of the epiphanies, bursts of creativity or heightened sensory experiences that Will mentioned we may encounter. I haven’t even had any PBs or breakthrough runs. But a glance at my training journal shows that I’ve run more consistently this month than I have for ages, I’ve slept well, too, and feel calmer, more focused and somehow more positive, with a greater sense of equanimity about things. But the biggest reason I’ll be carrying on (or should that be carrying ommm?) is that each day, I look forward to it.

READ: Benefits of meditation for runners