The struggle is (not really) real
As some of you may know, I've been struggling a bit lately. In particular with the end of my long runs. I've found myself bored, exhausted, distracted and that's when the negativity demons strike. This is pretty new for me. Although I've not always enjoyed long runs, the overwhelming 'you're sh*t' voices are a new, unwelcome guest.
There appear to be a few different reasons for this state of physical and emotional exhaustion. For this post I'll be focusing on one: my mind.
After posting on Instagram about this issue after a long run a few weekends ago (and after having a good cry on my partner's bathroom floor) I received many words of kindness and wisdom. A client suggested focusing on the basics - left foot, right foot, breathe in, breathe out. A fellow GoodGym runner suggested music. Personal Trainer and Coach Pennie Varvarides posed the opposite - no noise in order to focus on technique. An ex-colleague posited that if I didn't run so far I wouldn't have any issues. All wise. All true. Particularly that last one.
I had a good hard think about these things and talked it over a million times with different people. It wasn't until my sister asked 'Perhaps mindfulness would help?' that I realised a few things. Namely that a) since recovering from my injury and getting into marathon training proper, I had forgotten to practice what I preach in terms of mindful movement and b) I'd actually stopped meditating altogether. The struggle wasn't really real, I was creating it all by myself and this realisation really frustrated me.
I scratched my chin. I had got so carried away in sorting out various logistics of living and surviving in a way that makes me happy (that's a whole other post... or three) that I'd let go of one of the key proponents of that happiness - mindfulness.
I spent a day in bed last week with the flu and this was the perfect opportunity to settle myself down and re-enter the world of mindfulness. It was the Thursday morning guided meditation (shoutout to the Headspace app!) that gave me an idea for my next run. I decided to try 'noting'. Noting is a mindfulness technique that encourages you to notice when your mind ambles off piste and acknowledge whether what your mind has wandered to is a thought or a feeling. No judgement of the thought or feeling, just a little internal nod to say 'ah, I see you thought/feeling, there you are.' What does this look like in reality? Let me tell you about my 11km run that Saturday.
I set off at marathon pace (5:00 minute kilometres) planning to cruise around Brockwell Park for 9km and head home. At the start of my run my mind was clear and sharp. As I ran I caught myself drifting. 'What am I going to write about this run on Strava? Is this enough running? How much will I have run by the end of this week? 16km plus 11km plus 21km plus...' halfway through the mental arithmetic (which I would have certainly miscalculated) I noticed the thought bubble floating above my right shoulder. I gingerly approached it. I could see its skin glistening, could recognise just how fragile the bubble was. I tentatively stuck out a finger to touch it. 'Thought' I said to myself. Pop! And the thought was gone.
I continued to run, present and alert.
... and then very suddenly '... that thing you said recently that wasn't very nice? You probably hurt that person's feelings. How can you make it up to them? It might be too late? Do they hate you? And there's that thing that you haven't responded to people about. Why haven't you don that yet? It's probably too late now. They probably all think I'm awful and they'd be right because I am and what am I even doing right now am I trying to persuade myself I'm worth something with this ridiculous running stuff it's just putting one foot infront of the other for god's sake it means nothing everything means nothing I am nothing.' My throat begins to constrict. Breathing in becomes more difficult. I no longer have any connection with my body apart from this ache in my throat. This is where the trouble usually begins. I try to take a shuddering breath in and notice that the bubble is completely enveloping me this time. As I observe it, the bubble moves imperceptibly until it's just about separate, sitting on my right shoulder. Long breath out, shuddering breath in. Some space appears between my shoulder and the bubble. I turn my mind's eye towards it and 'Thought' I say to myself. The lump remains. 'Thought' I try again. 'Thought' this time out loud, under my breath. The constriction eases. 'Thought that has turned into feeling' again, out loud and Pop! The bubble bursts, the thought is gone and with it the physical and emotional sensations dissipate.
Imperceptibly, my head raises, my chest opens and I continue to run with strength and ease.
Practising 'noting' on the run is a lather, rinse, repeat exercise: Constantly catching yourself wandering off and gently guiding yourself back. Progress means getting just that little bit faster at noticing that it has diverged from the path. I took this technique with me to the Big Half and the Lydd 20 Miler, using it for *all* thoughts and feelings - positive, negative and anything in between. Between bubble bursting, the experiences I had at those races was one of focus, inhabitance of my body and ultimately joy. And I nailed my pacing goals (more on that later).
There's a reason people call mindfulness a 'practice'. It's because you need to practise. Do it again, and again, and again, and again and thankfully you can practise all day long because our minds are always functioning (hooray!).
No drama, no judgement, just mindfulness.
What techniques do you use on your long runs to keep you going? Have you tried mindfulness on the run?