I had a few local Edinburgh friends who were running and occasionally I would join one of them for a run. I was a bit self conscious as i’m quite slow – I am probably more of a jogger than a runner, and I don’t tend to run big distances. But at that stage I did mostly run on my own.
I did my first 10k in March 2012, a night race called The Mighty Deerstalker near Innerleithen. Then I did a winter 10k race that was twice round Arthurs Seat, eight months later that I completed in 1hr 7mins which I was pleased with. I don’t have a runners body, and I’ll never be a champ, but it doesn’t prevent me from taking part.
I found that running right through the year gives me a connection with the seasons and the changing weather conditions and makes me more aware of the environment. I go out in most weather conditions bar thick ice and heavy snow, and have managed to keep up the regular running on the whole, with a few blips along the way. There’s something about battling the weather conditions that makes me feel really alive.
One day about three years ago I was having a chat with a psychologist whom I’d been seeing for a while about managing various aspects of my illness, and we got talking about my running experiences and she asked if I could try running mindfully. We had been discussing mindfulness as a practice which can help manage anxiety, and anxiety had been causing me some difficulties. So I had already begun experimenting with mindfulness techniques under her guidance, and having some benefits from trying it. Mindful running seemed like the next step. We just sort of invented it between us.
The way I think about mindful running is that it is like a version of mindfulness but outside and more physical than the usual practice. The first thing I do is just like the sedentary practice – I think about my breathing. Because I’m running or jogging my breathing should be regular if I’m on the flat but will increase if running on an incline. At any time should my attention wander I can bring it back to my breathing. Noticing my breathing is a really good way of grounding myself.
Once I’m into some sort of rhythm I make sure I’m in the moment, noticing how it feels to place each foot on the ground, noticing the rhythm of my breathing, my feet on the ground, my arms at my waist. I look around me and take in the view wherever I am. If I’m by the loch, or in the woods, or on the street I notice things about my surroundings. The way the sun filters through the leaves or the sound of my feet on the different surfaces. I am thinking about the air temperature, and whether it’s raining or windy or mild or frosty, and I notice the things all around me. Thoughts come and go, and I try to not judge the things that go through my head, but try to stay focussed on the activity and be present. If I need to I bring my attention back to my breathing.
Before I tried mindful running I was worried that I would end up focussing on the discomfort of the exercise, and that it would be too difficult to run like that, but it is not like that. I have never tried mindful running on a treadmill. I don’t think it would work for me. I hate running on a treadmill.