A friend of mine (a non-runner) recently said she imagined running to be boring, and asked me what I thought about when I was running.
It took me a moment, but then I realised … I don’t actually think about anything, she said didn’t that get lonely? – again, I answered no.
It’s got me thinking a bit, I love running, I love finding out what my body is capable of, but has she just ultimately made me realise – I love running because my mind suddenly just stops.
There has been a lot of talk the past year about mental health/mindfulness and the positive effects exercise and talking can play in being mentally healthy which has often been overlooked when we decide to get fit.
I put the question to other runners –
‘What do you think about when running?’ overwhelmingly most people said on a long run… nothing. Its ‘me’ time, time to forget about daily life stresses, some describe it as a meditative state, others a spiritual feeling of calm and others focus on their surroundings, breathing and nature.
However on shorter distances people use these runs as a ‘brain dump’ a way to think through problems, make a to do list – they don’t seem to have the same effect as the longer distance runs on the brain! – I wonder why this is?
I’ve done a bit of a google search to see if there was any ‘science’ stuff to explain why we might categorise runs into different mental states or why perhaps at longer distances our brain just empties;
A study published last year in Experimental Brain Research by Petra Wollseiffen and her colleagues used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the surface electrical activity of the brains of 11 ultramarathoners several times during a six hour run. Running was associated with reductions in activity in the frontal cortex of the brain, and for the first hour, runners also reported feeling more relaxed and an increased sense of “flow”. However, the levels of decreased brain activity and subjective feelings of flow didn’t correlate so it would be an oversimplification to say that this research shows that running helps you to relax by switching off your brain. – The British Psychological Society
Whatever your reason for running, whether it’s to process the day’s events, or to shut off from everything then if its working for you, you don’t need a scientific reasoning for it – but it is interesting to see research is happening about the subject!
Whilst you are reading this - next time you are out, after your run (short or long), take a moment - what did you think about? Did you make a mental list of things to deal with? or did you just simply let your mind wonder and just shut off.
For quite a few years I have suffered with varying degrees of anxiety depending on what is going on in my life at that time, I have struggled with being body conscious and striving to be a certain shape/size and ultimately those things are tiring for not only you, but also the people you share your life. I don’t think until you stand and look back on yourself that you realise how those things affected you.
For a big part of my adult life, I was convinced that I was fat, that my bum was huge, that people thought my face looked like the moon. I was convinced that I was a good couple of sizes bigger than I was, and it lead me to over eat, under eat – binge and generally not think very highly of myself.
Even when things were going well in my life I would still struggle. Even with my husband saying, no Lou you aren’t fat, no Lou your bum doesn’t look massive… it didn’t really help. I just thought he was saying it because he felt he should!
I’ve always been pretty active, I walk most places, occasionally went to the gym etc… but it wasn’t really until I properly discovered running (and I mean running for a purpose, training for something) that I discovered I had found something that I could channel my inner head chimp into…! I can’t remember who it was, but someone on Instagram once said ‘The bastard chimp of anxiety’ and it’s kind of stuck! I like the analogy!
Maybe I’ve just changed one obsession to another? The difference now, is that I eat properly to fuel my body, to make me stronger and actually… I can now say – I am happy in my own skin!
Don’t get me wrong, my anxiety/body hang ups are probably nothing more than everyone else’s but to me they were and to an extent still are a part of my life… but now I can deal with them. Running helps.
I didn’t start up running because I thought it would help my mental wellbeing and to be honest it never even occurred to me would be a side effect of embarking on marathon training. I started running because I signed up to run a marathon…simple as that.
I’ve grown stronger, mentally and physically – I’ve seen the word mindful used a lot recently, with lots of charities now actively engaging in making people talk more to each other about mental health, but if I’m honest I never really knew the meaning of the word… this is where a good ole dictionary came in useful;
Cambridge Dictionary definition of Mindfulness is: the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm: Mindfulness can be used to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
Amazing really isn’t it, how you have been doing something completely unaware for so long… that feeling of calm from a great run makes the rest of the day so much easier to cope with.
Turns out, I am a mindful runner.
In my experience, running is not going to cure you, it won’t make everything better, but it does give you so many ways to help cope and keep that chatty chimp at bay (even if for a short while)
Balance, openness, talking and running help me. It may not be the way for you – but even if I’ve made you want to go for a brisk walk, I’m pretty sure you will agree anything to help clear your head for a minute or 4 hours is definitely worth trying out!
What do I do if everything gets too much? I go for a run.(Then probably eat some chocolate after).
Follow me on: Instagram @louloubelou_marathon
Comments will be approved before showing up.