The Case For Mindful Running

Molly Hurford
by Molly Hurford
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The Case For Mindful Running

Headphones are banned in most races, but when you’re out for a run, whether it’s on a track, a road or a gorgeous trail, more often than not, you’re rocking out to a playlist or tuning into a podcast, ignoring the sounds of nature and your own breathing.

In light of this, runners and coaches are beginning to take some time away from the techie lifestyle and get out on the road without distraction — re-learning to love the run and enjoy nature instead.

Here is some advice to slow down and reconnect:


Plan one quiet run and really think about how you’re feeling. “I encourage runners to at least schedule some runs without music or podcasts so they can practice engaging their senses, listening to their body and taking in the scenery,” says Mackenzie Havey, author of “Mindful Running.” “I think it’s fine to listen to music or podcasts on some runs, but in most cases it will make it difficult to be very mindful while doing so. With music, our brains are constantly searching for patterns and processing lyrics and with podcasts, we are processing information. Both serve as distractions from the here and now, making it hard to fully take in the panorama of the running experience.”


The best reason to leave your headphones behind when you head out for a run is simple: To remember why you love running in the first place. Try heading out sans headphones for about 20 minutes or whatever a short run looks like for you — choosing a familiar loop so you don’t freak out about time — and think of it as a moving meditation. As you run on this route that you’ve run dozens or hundreds of times before, start to look for things you never noticed, like a great grouping of wildflowers or a comedic squirrel. Think about how you feel: The corny-but-powerful feeling of the wind in your hair or on your face, the feeling of your breath as it whooshes in and out, how your legs feel as they start to unwind and you get fully warmed up.


“In the same way we train the body through running, we can also use that time to train the mind,” says Havey. “To gain the benefits that come along with being more mindful, we must practice being in the moment. When you focus your attention on the present, over time, new neural connections are made. Mindfulness can help us in many areas — in both running and life — it can reduce our perception of pain, help us cope with stress, train better body awareness and help us enjoy activities in the moment, among other things.”

To get into the mindful habit, Havey loves the full-body scan. It’s not just good for organizing your thoughts, it will actually make you a better runner. “Try starting with a head-to-toe body scan as you begin a run, really paying attention to how each part of the body is feeling in that moment,” she says. “Imagine it like a scanner — scanning slowly from the top of your head down to your feet. This should only take a couple of minutes. If your mind wanders mid-scan, just take note of what pulled your attention away and gently redirect it to wherever you left off. Mindfulness is all about noticing your mind has gotten distracted and bringing it back to the present — again and again — so don’t get discouraged if it happens a lot.”


We know meditation is important and can make us healthier, calmer and more productive, but how many of us actually make time for it every day? (Not many of us, I’m guessing.) But if you’re already going for a run to train your body, why not kill two birds with one stone and train your mind, too? “Not only does the research suggest that you’ll have a more productive and enjoyable run because you’re fully engaged with the experience, but you’ll also be training that mental muscle for activities beyond the run,” says Havey.


If you know you’re going to end up scrolling Instagram when you pause for a quick water break mid-run, break the cycle by running without your phone — but still record all of your metrics. You can run unplugged while still keeping track of your mileage with gear like Under Armour’s Connected HOVR shoes, which make it possible to head out for a run without any device and come back with all the data you need. If you’re a heart rate person, use an app like MapMyRun to track your miles, and just put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode (and preferably stash it in a pocket) while you run.


While it might take a while to get used to running without your favorite music, it’s worth trying — and, over time, you’ll likely end up preferring it. “I found that mindfulness simply allowed me to enjoy everyday runs more,” says Havey. “I knew that my mindful running practice was really making an impact though when I began to notice my responses to things in other parts of life were more measured and I started to get greater enjoyment out of simple things that I used to rush through.”

Whether you’re in it for fun, fitness or a PR, MapMyRun inspires you to set goals and keep improving. See what these tools can do for you: Go to the app and log a workout.

About the Author

Molly Hurford
Molly Hurford

Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing and podcasting about being outside, training and health. You can follow along with her adventures on Instagram at @mollyjhurford.


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