Ladies who ran track or cross country in high school and have participated in my programs have mentioned that my approach to running is completely different that what they learned from their high school coaches. For me, running is about wonder, gratitude, and self-acceptance.
While I participate in many official races (or at least I did pre-COVID, and I’m hoping to get back to it soon!), for me participating in a race not at all about competing against the other runners. It is not about going “fast”. I see racing as participating in a really fun, outdoor party. Races are social environments full of people enjoying themselves, making friends, and reaching for their own personal bests. For me, racing has nothing to do with winning the overall race or even winning my age group.
For me, running, walking and hiking are also about mindfulness, self-care, and creating a sense of calm in my very hectic life. According to Kriste Peoples, who is both an outdoor guide and women’s running coach as well as a meditation teacher, “Mindfulness invites us back to the experience in our bodies.” Peoples believes that mindfulness can help any runner get in tune with his or her body and stay immersed in the moment.
I recently read an article by Jenny McCoy in the online edition of Runners’ World magazine about Peoples’s approach to mindful running. The article really resonated with me, and I want to share with you some of the concepts she discusses:
Mindfulness Is… Curiosity
The first tenet of mindful running, walking, and hiking for Peoples is encouraging yourself to be inquisitive about what is happening when you run, walk and hike both around you and within you. This, in turn, can cultivate a broader sense of awareness, wonder, and appreciation for the world. Sometimes it can seem that the whole world is falling apart. Every day we are exposed to disruptive politics, violence, and natural disasters. But mindful running, walking and hiking can help us put all that aside—even just temporarily—and focus on what is going on inside of us and around us.
Mindfulness Is… Presence
Another core tenet of mindful running, walking and hiking is simply accepting what is.
Peoples gives the example of running in cold weather, where a natural reaction might be to clench up, resist the inherent discomfort, and think, “This is terrible.” A mindful approach, by contrast, involves acknowledging that it is cold—and then relaxing into the experience. This small change in mindset can make a huge difference in your experience of running, walking and hiking. Instead of spending the whole time wishing it were 75 degrees and sunny, the mindful runner, walker and hiker notices how beautiful the trees look when they’re dusted in snow, or how strong his or her quads feel tackling a big hill. Learning to accept what is can also help you develop more self-confidence in your ability to roll with life’s “punches”.
Mindfulness Is… Freedom
Beyond helping you simply enjoy running, walking and hiking more, mindfulness can “help free us from self-imposed rigors that we don’t really need to be abiding by,” says Peoples. Despite what you might think when you scroll social media or observe other people in your community, there is no “right way” to run, walk or hike just as there are no rules on what an athlete “should be”. For example, consider 250-pound ultramarathoner Mirna Valerio. Valerio is a very successful trail runner and all-around athlete that defies every traditional stereotype. In her own words, “[she is] good with [her] big body.”
Mindful running, walking and hiking can be an excellent form of self-care. Engaging in these activities can help you focus better, cultivate a sense of calm and well-being, and increase your self-confidence as well as your strength, stamina, and joy. I encourage you to give it a try!