“Behind the calm eyes of every mindful ultrarunner lies the focus, clarity, and alertness to run astonishing distances.”
~Michael D’Aulerio, Author
Why do you want to run an ultra marathon? What do the miles mean to you? How will your next run work towards transforming your life for the better?
Mindful running is a subjective term and carries many different meanings for many different people. Here at LongRunLiving.com, in your new practice, it’s about constantly finding answers to the questions you just read.
That’s because those answers will in-turn empower every aspect of your being, which naturally improves how you run. Simply put, mindful running is running with thought behind it.
When you run mindfully, you gain a clear understanding that you’re in control of your internal environment. You become the observer of thought, instead of the thinker. Now you can eliminate self-limiting beliefs that prevent you from running longer distances.
Your thoughts can empower you or enslave you…the choice is yours. As an ultrarunner, you already understand this on some level. You know this because if you fell victim to your self-limiting beliefs, well… you’d likely never consider running an ultra marathon. Therefore, you wouldn’t be reading these words.
Here’s another way to explain it: Mindful running teaches you how to eliminate limitations on the inside so you can run longer distances on the outside.
And although the idea of mindful running sounds beneficial, you may be asking yourself questions like…
How do I use mindful running practically? Is there a method? Or any strategy?
Here’s the answer: YES.
In fact, I will soon reveal how mindful running can guide you to run extraordinarily long distances. But first, it’s crucial to examine the type of questions you are asking yourself on a daily basis. Quality questions will build a solid foundation for your mindful running practice.
Change Your Questions
The better the questions, the better the answers. If you ask a high-level question, you receive a high-level answer. As you may know, many new runners get caught up in their heads. They ask themselves questions like, “How could someone like me finish a marathon?” or “How come I can never run a mile without stopping?”
These types of self-limiting questions are common for runners. How do I know? Because I’ve asked similar self-sabotaging questions myself. Therefore, I know they only create an intense focus on limitations rather than finding productive ways to achieve your running goals.
Limited questions continue to stack up, and if you’re not careful, the load can become too heavy to handle. Here’s where some give up on their training. This holds especially true for ultramarathon running.
Think about it, it’s a long way through training, to race day, and across the finish line of an ultramarathon. Yes, you spend a lot of time on your feet, but at the same time, you also spend a lot of time in your mind. That’s why it’s critical to monitor what’s happening in your head.
Be the observer, and use your mind as a tool, not an identity. Remember…the physical strength and stamina of your body is an expression of the mental strength and stamina of your mind.
For that reason, it’s essential to consider the questions you’ve been asking yourself and whether they encourage progress…or leave you idle.
Just like a goldfish only grows as big as its tank, you will only run as far as you believe. As I like to say, first believe that it’s possible, and then find the right running shoes for the job.
With that said, let’s compare two sample questions below. These examples demonstrate how quality questions can transform your running. Even more so, high-level questions begin to construct the foundation of your new mindful running practice.
Question 1: How can I ever train for a 100-mile ultra marathon as a full-time parent of three?”
Question 2: What training program would someone need to be absolutely certain they will have time to train for a 100-mile ultramarathon no matter their schedule?
Do you see the difference? Did you notice how the first question assumes failure while the second expects success? Question number one creates excuses, while question number two encourages solutions.
In this example, question number two guides you to find a less time-consuming training program. And who knows, by doing so, you may have stumbled upon my book “A Runner’s Secret.” In this book, I provide a system to run any distance–including 100 miles– by running only one day per week.
As you can see, the right answers are available; it just requires asking the right questions.
The fact is that questions trigger a mental reflex. When you ask yourself a question, there’s a massive takeover in your brain. When the brain is thinking of a question, it can hardly contemplate anything else until it finds an answer.
The point: use better questions to guide you to better results. Soon, your mind becomes the most powerful tool you have for running longer distances.
So now that you’ve begun to build your mindful running foundation, let’s take your practice one step further. Let’s discuss the primary objective of mindful running and how to apply it practically.
Find Your Path
Everyone’s mindful running journey will be different. You pave your own path. Some will follow what they read here piece by piece to enhance performance, while others will apply it to discover a mental and spiritual connection through the miles.
Nevertheless, regardless of how mindful running works for you, there’s one constant. That is, sooner or later, as you reach longer ultramarathon distances, your mind and body merge as one. When this formation occurs, it unlocks the door to your infinite potential. That is, the door to the natural flow of life. That’s the door to your spirit…the stillness from within.
As a result, when you align with something so infinite, so divine, so majestic…time stops. It is here in the present moment where running any distance becomes possible. Even the distance you once thought was impossible.
“I never knew I couldn’t run a 200-mile ultramarathon, and that’s precisely why I was able to run a 200-mile ultramarathon.”
~Michael D’Aulerio, author
To clarify, what you really want from mindful running is to learn how to run in the NOW. That’s because, here…right now…in this moment…common forms of measurement like time and distance become an abstract illusion.
Think about it, when you run in the present moment, how could any such concepts exist?
Can you imagine the advantage this provides in a sport like ultra marathon running? Are you considering the possibilities?
When I took my focus off external achievement and placed it on internal well-being, my entire running experience changed for the better.
…and so did my life.
Next, keep reading because when you enter the stillness of the present moment, you will move more than you ever thought possible.
Running in The Present Moment
To be clear, if there is any kind of goal in mindful running, it’s to run in the present moment. A place where every mile is the same mile and you can run extraordinarily long distances. It’s how I’ve run 200 miles straight and 72 hours in one race. It’s a big reason how I run 50k races with no food or water and how I ran 100 miles in below-freezing temperatures.
In the present moment, running is no longer a build-up and release process. But instead, a journey of love and growth. Moreover, it’s my purpose to help you align with your inner self to produce outer results like finishing a 100-mile race.
You will learn that running isn’t as stressful as you may think. And guess what?
Neither is life.
I say this because you don’t have to face your reality; instead, you create it. Remember this: it’s your choice what to focus on. So, choose to finish, only to finish, and the finish line of any ultra-distance will come.
When you run in the present moment and continue to move your feet forward, eventually the finish line comes. This is a method that has never failed once.
By running mindfully, sooner or later, that voice telling you to quit loses its dominance. That voice is the ego.
To clarify, when I say “ego,” I’m not referring to the stereotypical description of an individual who holds an inflated sense of self. The ego I’m referring to is any image or story you identify with. Identification usually derives from stories you or others create and you accept as truth.
The ego is not bad as it can provide inner resistance for greater growth. It only becomes problematic when you attach to it.
The key is to observe the ego and use it as a tool. Don’t identify with it as “self.” This detachment takes focus, but don’t worry, running races like 100 miles in length will surely give you plenty of practice.
Overcoming The Ego
Remember, we expand by demand. Just like pushing heavier weights makes you stronger, you must continue to overcome the ego to tone it down. If not, you will notice that excuses, hesitation, and self-limiting stories come more frequent– the food of the ego.
Think about it, negative actions like complaining, hating, and gossiping creates separateness…a falsehood that swerves you away from oneness — the stillness of the present moment.
The ego, if left unchecked, can persuade you to give up on your running goals because if you never try, then you never have a chance of coming up short. And guess what? If you never come up short, then you will never bruise the ego.
Yet, by running ultra marathons, it’s very possible to face such an enormous amount of suffering that your consciousness has no other choice but to separate from the false self.
Adversity is a gift…ultrarunners know this instinctively.
The Mindful Running Contradiction
The thought of combining mindfulness and running can be confusing. From the outside, mindfulness looks like total relaxation. While running, on its own, appears stressful and tense.
Well, mindfulness allows you to relax while running, and at the same time, become more alert and focused — the result: lighter on your feet and faster in your legs. You move with grace and flow through your run. Instead of bouncing back from an empty-to-full tank, your energy dispenses evenly, and you run much longer because of it.
By following a mindful running approach, you learn to overcome negative self-talk. You step back and look at your thoughts, feelings, and emotions subjectively. Instead of working against you, they now work for you in your journey to improving your stamina both physically and mentally.
Look, I know, runs come to an end. But you know what? Your journey doesn’t. Yes, there are arrivals; however, the journey is infinite. And in that sense, so is the potential that lies deep within you.
The path is through the present moment where you separate from useless thoughts and distractions.
Soon you remove yourself from busy and hectic external noises–and internal noises–and train just for the love of running and finding oneself.
Of course, you’ll continuously progress. Growth is in our nature. Progress creates happiness. But instead of fighting the current, you will flow downstream. It’s the power of grace; death and rebirth; the natural flow of life.
And soon, you’ll learn how to align with this flow, and take it for the ride of your life. Oh, and to the finish line of many ultra marathons to come.
No judging yourself on distance, speed, and finish lines. No getting hung up on work, emails, and phone calls. No worrying about the hecklers outside of your mind…and the hecklers inside your mind. Just you and your new vibrant life within the boundaries of the trails.
And you know what?
When you run with thought behind it, a funny thing happens. As you try less, you achieve more. What a paradox mindful running can be.
What do I mean, exactly?
Well, without knowing it, you eliminate resistance. No, not resistance in the form of steeper hills and longer mileage. What I’m referring to is internal resistance. That is, all the stress, negativity, and anxiety that creates dis-ease in your life.
By running mindfully, you replace judgment and expectations with love and appreciation. Consequently, from the prolonged mileage of ultrarunning, you’ll become a master of this trade-off.
The change in your running will also extend to your everyday life. It will bring you much more peace, joy, and happiness. Mindful running may be the blessing you’ve been waiting for all along.
Next, it’s time to practice running in the present moment, and it starts before your run, with a quick, yet powerful meditation.
Mindful Running Meditation
Running can be a form of meditation, and in meditation, one learns to stay in the present moment. If you have experience meditating, you may have encountered losing yourself in the moment. It’s very possible to fall into a deep trance for hours, and it only feels like minutes.
That’s the power of finding the NOW.
Can you imagine how beneficial this shift in your perception of time can be as an ultrarunner? I’ve run one small circle for 24, 48, and 72 hours straight, and focusing on the here and now was a big part of that.
That’s why it’s essential to make a pre-run meditation a habit. It only takes 10-15 minutes and brings a substantial amount of alertness, focus, and energy into your body. To be specific, a mindful running mediation will…
1. Increase positive energy for longer runs.
2. Eliminate internal resistance that blocks useable energy.
3. Enter the NOW before your run, so it comes easier during your run.
Remember, it’s not that traveling into the past and future is a bad thing, but it’s about using them as a tool…not a destination. Get in and Get out of the past and don’t pitch a tent in the future. Neither is your home.
When you use the past as a tool, you become humble, when you live there, you become depressed. When you use the future as a tool, you become motivated, when you live there, you become anxious. Get the point?
To get started, go to YOUTUBE and search “short meditations”. Be open and have fun. Most recommend the use of headphones. Try different 10-15 minute meditations focused on gratitude before each new run. Notice how you feel.
The more you practice meditation, the easier running in the present moment becomes. I say this because, during meditation, you focus on your breath to detach from your thoughts. And as we learned earlier, clinging onto thoughts during a run will take you into the past and future. As a result, running creates suffering instead of joy.
While running, you experience different sensations, senses, and urges. These experiences create thoughts, and it’s these thoughts that take you out timelessness; out of oneness.
Think about it, if you continuously focus on the finish line, running feels like an eternity. I can tell you from experience. Whether it’s 200, 20, or 2 miles from the finish line, if you get lost in the future, you suffer.
On the other hand, have you ever done something you love? Something you are incredibly passionate about? What happens? Hours feel like minutes, do they not?
Albert Einstein explains it like this…
“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute.”
The point is this: in the present moment, time is non-existent.
Just the other weekend I ran a 12-hour race with 3 miles of trails per lap. On that day, the last lap felt like the first lap. That’s the power of running in the NOW.
So, on race day, would you rather run in a dimension where time and distance are unobservable? Or obsess over the finish line where every step is a grueling step to the end?
Of course, you can visit the thought of finishing every so often for motivation. The feeling of crossing the finish line of a new distance is unexplainable. I thought to cross the finish line of a 50 miler was spectacular, that was until I completed a 100 miler. I then thought to cross the finish line of a 100 miler was the ultimate joy, that was until I completed a 200 miler.
Here’s the take-home: use the mind and the finish line as a tool to create positive emotions like enthusiasm. Also, avoid obsessing over the finish to prevent suffering, which can lead to a DNF.
Remember–happiness and joy aren’t in the future at some proverbial checkpoint we call the finish line. They exist right here, right now, within every stride.
When running an ultra marathon, if you find appreciation for the first 99 miles, the 100th mile comes in no time at all.
Find the NOW in Three Steps
When you run, and thoughts arise that create suffering, instead of clinging to them, or identifying with the mind, step back and view your thoughts subjectively. Try not to see yourself as the thinker, but instead, the observer of thought.
Older philosophy tells us “think therefore I am” but it’s in the NOW where we understand “I am, therefore I think.”
As you run, and thoughts arise, follow this three-step mindful running process to stay in the present moment…
- Acknowledge the THOUGHT
- Don’t Judge the THOUGHT
- Let Go of the THOUGHT
This mindful practice will help you run in the present moment. And the better you get, the longer you run. You become the creator of your running experience. Meaning, you will significantly improve at managing the highs and lows on race day to avoid a DNF.
For example, you let go of negative thoughts that create negative emotions and enhance positive thoughts that create positive emotions. You will dissolve self-doubt and fear while amplifying joy and enthusiasm. Soon you realize that letting thoughts go is like a muscle. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes.
So, what triggers these luring thoughts anyway? While running, they typically stem from sensations, senses, and urges. Keep reading to understand each and learn how to let them pass to avoid suffering and stay in the present moment. This has the potential to make a training run of a few hours feel like a few minutes.
Sensations On The Run
A sensation, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, is “a physical feeling or perception resulting from something that happens to or comes into contact with the body.”
As you run, you experience many different sensations. Whether it’s a small pain in your foot, the grumbling of your stomach, or the depletion of energy. Each slight sensation can cause thoughts of worry and concern.
For example, you may want to stop training because you feel pain in your knee. You obsess over the future therefore convincing yourself that this pain will lead to a DNF on race day.
Unfortunately, you’ve just trapped yourself in the future where quitting your training program becomes a real possibility. That, or you give yourself a big enough excuse to give up when things get tough.
However, there’s another option. If you observe the sensation in your knee without judgment, you might learn something new. Maybe your stride is too long, and because of heel striking, the farther you ran, the greater the pain.
So instead of giving up, you shorten your stride. As a result, not only did your knee pain disappear, but you increased the likelihood of longevity in your running.
Remember this: ultrarunners don’t just know how to run with pain, they expect it, and use the adversity to better themselves.
By clinging to every sensation, you’ll get nowhere fast. As an ultrarunner, extreme distances deliver extreme stress. The excessive mileage creates everything from pain in your feet to weird feelings in your stomach. However, most of these sensations go away when you direct your attention elsewhere.
When sensations occur that create disempowering thoughts, follow the same mindful running process to stay in the present moment…
- Acknowledge the SENSATION.
- Don’t Judge the SENSATION.
- Let Go of the SENSATION.
I try not to go down the rabbit holes of running. Instead, I acknowledge each sensation without making assumptions. Whether it’s an itch on my leg, stabbing pain in my side, or a tingling feeling in my hands, I let it go, slow down, and continue moving forward.
Yes, the sensation could be a real problem, but yes, it could not be at all.
Senses On The Run
Next, while running ultra-distances, you’ll experience the world through your five senses: touch, sight, sound, smell,andtaste.
Whether it’s the sound of your feet, the sight of a tree, the smell of morning air, the feeling of wind, or the taste of a drink–practice noticing them, by doing so, you will anchor into the present moment.
Your body and it’s five senses are how you experience your run. Here’s the key: see them for what they are but not more than what they are. Meaning, name them “touch,” “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” and “taste.” Notice each and if disempowering thoughts begin to arise, follow the same process for staying in the present moment…
- Acknowledge the SENSE.
- Don’t judge the SENSE.
- Let GO of the SENSE.
Think about it, the organs associated with each sense delivers information to the brain, and every piece of information can be interpreted or perceived differently. Use the process when needed, and continue running forward.
Urges On The Run
This is a big one for ultrarunners. You will face many urges that prevent you from finishing your run. As urges develop, you have to cope with the cravings and let them pass.
You will have an urge to stop, quit, and throw in the towel. Urges to speed up when you should slow down and to slow down when you should speed up.
You may have addictive behaviors in the kitchen, like eating yourself into a sugar coma. Or finding comfort at an aid-station instead of dealing with the uncomfortable while running.
It’s likely you’ll face the urge to hit the snooze button and quit your training schedule. Or any poor lifestyle habits preventing you from progressing.
Again, when these urges occur, in any form, follow the same process to stay in the present moment…
- Acknowledge the URGE.
- Don’t Judge the URGE.
- Let Go of the URGE.
Notice how your body feels when facing an urge — for example, wanting to stop at the 100k during a 100-mile race — or desiring to sit in your warm car during a below-freezing winter 24-hour race.
When you’re freezing, exhausted, and sleep-deprived, you’ll want to give up and go home where it’s warm and stress-free. But remember, the pain from a DNF is much greater than any stress you face on race day.
So, instead of wishing that the urge goes away, develop absolute certainty it will pass. Because guess what? It will. It always does. Cope with the craving and set it free.
Remember, when something is more powerful than our will to deny it, we are addicted. By following the three-step mindful running process, you can become an addiction-free runner.
Measure Through Emotions
If we know anything as ultrarunners, it’s the highs and lows of life. During an ultra marathon, one minute you feel incredible like you’re a superhuman defying the laws of the universe…
…and the next, down in the dumps wondering why on earth you would ever put yourself through such a grueling event.
On race day, you can feel joy, frustration, enthusiasm, and anger; excitement, hopelessness, happiness, and fear.
But regardless, know these emotions are a physical reflection of your thoughts. So, use them as a guide to what you’re thinking.
If you feel hopelessness while racing, you are identifying with some seriously negative thoughts. But at the same time, even with emotions, you must accept them without judgment, and let them pass to stay in the present moment.
When you face negative emotions, follow the same process to stay in the present moment…
- Acknowledge the EMOTION
- Don’t Judge the EMOTION.
- Let Go of the EMOTION.
Remember, emotions are energy in motion. They are the physical reflection of the thoughts in your mind. When you begin to gain experience with letting go of emotions, you gain control of them, thus gaining control of your energy.
Eventually, you learn how to use thoughts and emotions to your advantage while running ultra-distances. You ride the positive emotions like a wave and flip the negative ones to positive.
It’s like taking a natural performance supplement, but the energy doesn’t come in powder form. It comes from your heart.
The majority of your run is in the NOW. But eventually, you learn to turn your emotions on and off like a light switch. Instead of being a product of your circumstance…you create it. You become the producer of your running experience; you craft your destiny; you create the narrative of your life.
Like the best fiction books of all time…your story takes place in two worlds, and as an ultrarunner, those worlds are the “be” and the “could be.” Please… don’t ever let it be the “could not.”
Let Go and Watch It Flow
Overall, you will discover what emotions, thoughts, and feelings create joy (running in the present moment; creating higher levels of energy), and which ones create suffering (living in the past and future; identifying with the mind).
You now have the process. But try not to force it. Yes, pay attention and work through the three steps. However, understand that it requires the act of surrender to master the art of letting go. It’s more graceful than forceful. You ALLOW, not ACCOMPLISH.
Try not to see it as something you do, but instead, something you align with. Become one with your being. Remember, you are a humanBEING, not a humanDOING.
Will you become a master overnight? Of course not. You will need to overcome many internal barriers. But remember, limitations are not a wall to crumble with the body, but instead, a gate to let down in the mind. Don’t smash through a barrier to run longer, but instead, let go of your grip.
Emotions come and go, and so do the thoughts that create them. But eventually, instead of identifying yourself with your mind—thoughts, emotions, and unconscious, compulsive cycles— you observe the mind from the stillness, and it’s in this oneness where you find the present moment.
Remember…the longer you can stay in the NOW , the easier it becomes. So, keep at it. If you take a step back for a few runs or miss a few meditations, just pick up where you left off. It’s a journey to travel so make your way back to the path. Sometimes your mind needs a break like how your legs need to recover. It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Run far and enjoy the journey along the way!
“One day I let go and forward I ran”
-Michael D’Aulerio, Author
And if you are ready to pick up a training program and start running longer distances, be sure to grab a book or audio below. It’s here, now, in this moment. Don’t force it, just let it flow…
The Ultramarathon Guide: A Simple Approach To Running Your First Ultramarathon. It provides a straight path with a simple to follow training program to get you across the finish line of your first ultra marathon. It’s what got me across my first one.
And if you are looking to save time, check out my other book, A Runner’s Secret: One Run Will Get It Done. I teach you how to run ANY distance by running ONE day per week. It’s what I used to reach the 100-mile ultra marathon. I provide training programs for the 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, 50k, 50-mile, 100k, and 100-mile distances.
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