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Trail Running and Mindfulness

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Trail running and Mindfulness

‘Mindfulness’ is a hot topic right now. It seems every website I visit or newsletter I receive has some content on how to be more mindful in your day to day life. Here’s how I practice trail running and mindfulness together, and how it benefits me. I’m sure as fellow trail runners you’ll know exactly what I mean…

Trail running and mindfulness
Sometimes you just need to stop and soak up that environment. Running in beautiful NZ on the Routeburn Track.

What is Mindfulness?

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There are several definitions of Mindfulness out there, here’s the one that resonates with me the most:

“Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you.”

I know I’m there because all I am thinking about is what I am doing at that immediate point in time, and my immediate environment.

People ask me what I think about for all that time I’m out running (“isn’t it boring?” they ask). The goal for me is to not be thinking about anything other than the present moment. How I feel, what I’m doing, what I’m seeing and experiencing. Nothing more.

Trail running and mindfulness
Being surrounded by nature is never boring

How does trail running help me get to a mindful state?

Paying mindful attention to where and how you step

Focus on soft, light footsteps. Good posture, great form (or aiming for this, not always achieving it). Not stepping on the slippiest, loosest rocks, not falling and ending a run early with a twisted ankle or cut knee. I think that I’m slow going uphill, sometimes slower going downhill. That’s ok – I’m mindful and moving forward, pushing my own limits.

Trail running and mindfulness
Pausing to appreciate the beauty around me

Breathing, controlled and efficiently

To run for a long time, avoiding over-exertion so I have the endurance to continue. Running on feel, avoiding getting so out of breath I have to stop and recover. Unless that’s how I want to feel, of course, and then it’s pushing myself, increasing my breathing rate (and heart rate) to my maximum. Because sometimes, I want to be worn out and out of breath, run ragged.

Trail running and mindfulness
Schwartzsee climb during Matterhorn Ultraks. Ignoring the rain and cold, smiling and slowly making progress up the huge climb, breathing steadily, feeling the effect of the altitude.

Running away from the crowds and into nature

No drivers beeping at me, no random strangers making comments, well-meaning or otherwise. Just me and the trails, elements and nature. Perhaps I’ll be sharing it with one or more like-minded trail lovers. Or maybe I’ll be out there alone, except for the birds, trees and beasts.

Here’s the internal monologue: Don’t be scared, but be vigilant. The rustling behind you is your rain jacket, not a crazy person…. but keep your senses alive, listen out for strange sounds, experience the noises the wilderness makes. Look – there’s a huge crow – he looks big enough to eat you! Mind you don’t step on a worm or frog crossing your path. Listen for your own breathing and footsteps, both light and controlled. Don’t forget to eat and drink – what does your body want, crave, need?

Chamonix trail running
What better view than expansive mountains and enticing trails. No crowds here.

Running with the mind

Ignore those negative thoughts. Remember that what you’re doing is special and awesome.

Mind to me: You’re ok, you’ve got this! If you need to slow a bit, slow down, and remember to push harder when it feels good. How do you feel, and how do you want to feel – now and when you’re done? Are you climbing a hill, tackling a big challenge, or running a tried-and-tested (and slightly boring) training route in pursuit of a bigger goal? Get this long, slow run done, your body and mind will thank you. You’re focusing on achievement, not logging steady splits, that (for me) is never the primary goal.

Routeburn Track New Zealand Running
Keep pushing, ignore any negative thoughts, watch your footsteps and admire the views along the way.

This is how I live in the moment, get in the zone, tune out all the noise and stresses. It is a wonderful way to be and I only wish I could be out there in that place more often.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and identify with my experience and passion for trail running and mindfulness – together as one beautiful practice. I’d love to hear from you on how you practice mindfulness out on the trails, too. Post the details in the comments section below!

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