Quick level setting: I’m a total amateur meditator. So please take everything I say here with a grain of salt – I’m just learning as I go along.
I first got interested in meditation after reading the Dan Harris book “10% Happier“. Dan’s very matter-of-fact outlook on mediation, his open way of describing a sometimes painful and sometimes eye-opening journey of overcoming a few personal issues, his healthy level of skepticism and dry sense of humor was the perfect how-to primer for me. Plus, Harris has a pretty convincing argument for why anyone should try it – backed up by both experience and a mountain of empirical data. I read the book and thought: I’d like to tame the voice in my head and reduce stress without losing my edge. Sign me up!
Sure, meditation is great for your overall health, but why do it as an ultra-runner? Let me give you a few good reasons why you might want to start weaving a little “head time” into your training plan.
First, meditation will help you get it done. As you probably already know, ultra distances require you to do some major digging deep, especially in difficult scenarios when you are mentally vulnerable, like scaling a muddy, 40-degree hillside in the middle of a nighttime rainstorm. During times like those it’s pretty tough to keep yourself in a positive state of mind. However, after building a solid foundation through consistent meditation work, you’ll likely find yourself being a lot more objective out on the trail and therefore less likely to have an unproductive, reactive response to any setbacks. Picture this: Instead of of that voice in your head saying “OMG my calf is cramping up! And I’m only at Mile 27! There’s no way I’m going to finish this run!”, wouldn’t it be nice to have that same voice say “Ok self, I feel something going on in my calf. That’s an interesting feeling. Let’s keep an eye on that”?
Second, mediation will help you get more out of your training runs. For me, one of the greatest tools from meditation is mindfulness: a gentle reminder to pay more attention to whatever I’m doing at that very moment. Drinking a coffee. Washing the dishes. Sitting in traffic on the Dallas North Tollway. Have you ever been out on a long run and been so distracted by what’s in your head (or headphones) that a couple of miles drift by without you having any idea of what happened? If your objective is merely to grind out the mileage maybe that’s a good thing. But for those of us who are trying to work on specific goals, being mindful is a great way to stay focused on the task at hand. Ask yourself: why are you on this run today? What are you trying to accomplish? If it’s part of your 80% slow runs, are you at a pace that allows you to look around and enjoy the world? Being mindful will likely help you from over-reaching and therefore keep you injury free longer.
Finally, meditation will help you enjoy the hours you spend running even more. The more you train your mind to be at peace and lest restless, the relaxation and awareness that comes with that will undoubtedly unlock some amazing internal thoughts. Hardly a run goes by that I don’t think about my overall life, challenges I may be facing, or even new, creative ideas to problems that may feel stuck. It’s sort of like those “a-ha” moments you have in the shower. The benefits of this are simple – you’ll have more fun and find more joy out on the trail.
What do I use now? My personal meditation program is Headspace and I can’t recommend it enough – I love it. The programs are simple to follow and super fun. Andy Puddicome is an outstanding guide; he has a great way of simplifying the concepts and giving you just the right amount of support when you’ll undoubtedly struggle with some of the concepts.
So that’s it. Give it a try – I guarantee that you’ll be happy you did. Like Dan Harris says – it may not be the answer to everything you need, but it might just make you 10% happier.