this is a page for

Daily Archives: November 8, 2022

How Meditation takes the Pain out of hard running

This blog post took me a long time to write, more than two months actually. From the start I knew exactly what I wanted to say- how important meditation is for running- but I couldn’t find the words. Like most Americans, meditative practice does not come easy for me. I wasn’t raised to routinely get out of bed, brush my teeth and meditate. It takes practice. And I think that’s why this post was so hard for me to write. As much practice and repetition as running has taken me to get a personal record, and as much practice meditation takes to quiet my mind; Writing for a blog takes a lot of practice too. So here’s my attempt. 🙂

I think we’ve all hit that running pain threshold before. You’re out on a long run, with a set distance in mind. Half way through your run, you start to endure pain. For me in particular, it’s a sheering pain on the lateral (outside) aspect of my right knee. Ouch! This knee pain happens every run over 8 miles for me, and I’ve come to expect the pain, even after ten years of running! I know it’s not an injury because the pain passes shortly after finishing my run. But meditation has taught me to shift my focus and lessen the pain. Let’s start with how to practice meditation.

group yoga and meditation in Bali

Learning how to meditate

I set myself up for meditation like a newborn novice always imagined this practice would go. By sitting in a still-water hot tub, with my thumb touching pointer finger, Legs crossed in a pretzel and gently close my eyes. I start the meditative practice with a humble “Oooooommmm” – long on the exhale- and chuckle. “I must look like a real hippy,” I think, “hopefully I don’t get caught. That would be embarrassing.”

Although slightly embarassed, I continue meditating because I strongly desire the benefits meditation has promised for running improvements.

I then start on breath work. Slow inhale, counting in my head to One. Slow exhale, sighing with my mouth slightly open. count to Two. Again, One…. two. It’s now that I finally notice how uncomfortable I am. My shoulders are slouched. This puts a twinge of pain between my shoulder blades. There’s a bead of sweat on my forehead from the heat. “Maybe this serene hot tub was not as ideal as I had imagined“, I think.

Our newborn goats are bleating in the background and I wish they would be quieter. ‘Can’t they see I’m trying to meditate here?’ I peek one eye open, making the movement sly, as if I’m cheating in Jr. high science by glancing around the propped up folder. There’s nobody around to catch me, I’m only cheating my own practice. With a side glance, one eye open, I look at the clock. It’s been two minutes. A measly two minutes and my mind has already wandered. I feel like I’m failing at mediation entirely, and that I’ll never get it right.

meditating in Bali

Meditation snaps us out of autopilot and into awareness.

I need more meditative practice, I think. Let’s try again. I close my eyes once more and start a slow, steady breath in. It’s very intimate to feel all of your senses. The goats continue to wail in the background, but I’m able to dim them. I hear the echoing of the black-capped chickadee bird whistling three syllables, which has an uncanny consistency sounding like “cheese-bur-ger”. The wind has a very soft rustle through the fir trees close to me that carries a breeze to caress my cheek and cool me down. This gently pushes that bead of sweat from my brow to my raised cheekbone.

During meditative practice, this uncomfortable perspiration is no longer irritating, rather comforting.

sweat is my body’s automatic protective measure to keep me cool. I am grateful for that salt-filled bead of sweat and resist the urge to wipe it away. I’ve always been dependent on sight as my primary sense. But during this meditation, my other senses flourish. The smell of fresh cut grass fills my brain, and although I know the grass was recently mowed, with this sense of smell I can now “see it”. The fragrance is clean, almost moist and reminds me summer is ending and Fall is drawing nearer. “Don’t forget to plant your winter squash”, my mind reminds me.

The chatter from my mind has wandered back into my meditative practice. I smile, acknowledge the thought and push it right back to the background. This is normal, and my todo list can wait.

I focus on breath work through the body. What is the purpose of breath work and it’s profound presence in the meditative practice? Slow, long inhale in, through slightly flared nostrils. The air is slightly chilled as the morning fog is clearing. I am deeply grateful for the hot tub water that warms me now. Inhale, One. My abdomen billows with air and my diaphragm expands my rib cage and my shoulders, that are no longer slouched. There is still a twinge of pain between my shoulder blades. The pain is neither good nor bad- simply present- like the rest of my body.

meditation for running
Meditation takes the pain out of running

Recognizing the pain in endurance running

During endurance running we anticipate pain. Whether you are pushing your pace for a faster personal record, or pushing for a further distance, pain ensures. Meditation allows us to snap out of running in autopilot and zoom out our perception of that pain. This gives us a ‘birds eye’ awareness into what you are actually experiencing. You are able to objectively tell yourself, ‘There is pain here right now’. This is the raw data that also assures you, ‘this pain will not last forever’.

During both meditative practice and endurance running, a strategy to lessen your pain will be to use the acronym,

R.A.I.N.

Recognize the emotion.

Running is hard, recognize that you are doing hard things! Pain is part of the living process. And It’s a normal process, to warn our bodies something may be causing harm. Recognizing you have pain allows you to tell yourself, “yes, you have knee pain, and this too shall pass”.

Allow life to be, just as it is.

After acknowledging that your pain is present during the run, accept this emotion is how you feel right now. Even if that feeling is unwelcome. Allowing your emotion towards pain gives you the space to create power over, and freedom from the pain.

Investigate with self compassion.

What does that running pain feel like? Narrow your focus. For me, my right knee generally begins to hurt after mile 8. This pain is on the outside portion of my right knee and has a dull ache. It will slowly radiate to my right hip and I am keenly aware how I could spend more time focusing on stretching my hips and foam rolling my IT band after my run. Thankfully this knee pain is not a prolonged injury.

Non-identification.

This is where your meditative practice is able to take the pain out of running. Pain is part of the living process, suffering does not have to be. When you’re able to view the pain in running as a passing event and temporary, it softly dissipates. My knee aches while running a half marathon, but all the other participants of the same race are also enduring pain as well. Perhaps in different locations in their body, but this pain is not fixed within you, and this pain shall pass.

(*Knee disclaimer* I feel it’s very important to emphasize running does not cause ‘bad knees’ with age. This is a very common misconception. I have knee pain because I neglect other aspects of running that are so important, mainly stretching my hips. In fact, running actually strengthens the knees and prevents osteoarthritis. By regularly running, the weight bearing exercise brings more fluid to the joints to keep them lubricated. This benefits your joints and overall health. This post is a reminder to myself to incorporate yoga into my running practice.)

Using RAIN during endurance runs has helped my mindset tremendously. My thought process has shifted from, “this hurts, I can’t finish” to an appreciation of how strong my body has become through training for half marathons. I hope you’re able to use this tool to improve your running performance.

we run the states

Well, after two months I’ve posted! Let me know any way I can improve the way I presented meditation, running endurance or my writing!

Verified by MonsterInsights