How Mindfulness Can Make You a Better Runner

Paul L. Underwood
by Paul L. Underwood
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How Mindfulness Can Make You a Better Runner

In writing her new book, “Mindful Thoughts for Runners: Freedom on the Trail,” Tessa Wardley drew upon her vast experience with running. Mindfulness? Not so much. “I wasn’t aware of mindfulness until I spoke with the publishers,” she says with a laugh. “I did a lot of research and did a lot of practice, and found that actually it does chime with my approach to life.”

Nonetheless, many consider running a moving meditation. And the book (a sequel of sorts to her earlier book, “The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming,” and part of a series of books on mindful thoughts for, among others, cooks, surfers and fathers) succeeds in providing a calming perspective on common obstacles for runners.

For the injured, the book advises acknowledgement and acceptance. For someone struggling at work, the book advises running to release the flow. (Did you know that Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, was a world-class distance runner?) For the aging, the book quotes writer William Bruce Cameron, who says, “Not everything that counts can be counted.” (Wardley concurs with the suggestion that this quote could be the book’s theme.)

All of it is derived from Wardley’s definition of mindfulness itself. “It maybe has a perception of being like, you don’t push hard, you’re taking it easy,” she says. “But I don’t think that’s what mindful is. It’s just being aware of what’s going on around you, and being aware of yourself and surroundings.”

We spoke with Tessa to learn more about how the book came together, some of her favorite mindfulness tips for the running-inclined, and why her dog makes a perfect running partner.

ON WHY MINDFULNESS IS HELPFUL TO RUNNERS

“Over a long time of running, the inherent mindfulness of the sport comes through to you. The meditative nature of one foot after another, again and again can be quite calming. I think most people are looking for that flow, being in the zone. Being aware of yourself and your surroundings can help you get into that state more easily. It can be very easy to get caught up in the task, and get the pace wrong — to push too hard and [get hurt] and not finish the way you want to.”

ON HER FAVORITE MINDFULNESS TIP

“The great thing about running is it can be as simple as you want to make it. Just get out the door, put one foot after the other. Focus on your breathing. Relax. Let your thoughts come and go. And just enjoy the space and freedom that running gives you from everything else in your life.”

ON AVOIDING MENTAL TRAPS IN RUNNING

“There’s so much positive that you can take away from running, but I think there’s a danger that we can almost weaponize it. Like anything in life, it can be addictive. With all we can measure, it can potentially become a drain on our resources. If it’s not going well, it can be something we can beat ourselves up about. Recognize when something’s not a positive, and maybe step back in those moments, and see it for what it is, and pull the positives from it.”

ON STAYING MOTIVATED

“A lot of people see exercise as something they have to do to get their body weight down or improve their heart. But when my children were very young, and they were in a ballet class, I would put on my shoes and go for a run. People would say ‘You’re so good.’ And I would think it’s not that I’m good, it’s me treating myself. That’s my fun.”

ON THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF RUNNING

“Your brain irons things out. Things that seem like a big problem, by the time you’ve been for a run, I don’t know what it is — the neuroscience, the endorphins, the oxygen, the green space — but things tend to get back into perspective, don’t they?”

ON WHETHER NON-RUNNERS WOULD APPRECIATE THIS BOOK

“It’s been out awhile in the UK, and I’ve had several friends who were not runners, who were the kind of people who said to me ‘I don’t run. I’m not a runner.’ They read it, and they were inspired to take up running and give it another go. They said: oh, maybe they don’t have to run 100 miles an hour.”

ON WHY HER DOG IS SUCH A GOOD RUNNING PARTNER

“My dog is great for running. He’s very easy to run with, though other people don’t say so. [Laughing.] He runs at my heel or alongside me — if I run with other people, he tends to sit on their heels, so they might say he’s not so mindful. But I really enjoy running with him, and he seems to enjoy it, too. Whereas my daughter doesn’t. She’s very much in a competitive mindset. If he runs off to talk with another dog, she doesn’t want to stop. Whereas I am happy to take the break.”

About the Author

Paul L. Underwood
Paul L. Underwood

Paul is a writer based in Austin, Texas. He tweets here, he Instagrams there and he posts the occasional deep thought at plunderwood.com. He’s probably working on a run mix as you read this.

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