The Easy Way To Run Off Stress
Tuning in to your body can revive a stale running routine, says Cassie Shortsleeve
Tune out gadgets and tune in to your run
WHEN I THINK of the summer I spent on Nantucket island, off Cape Cod, US, I think about my six-mile runs to the ocean. What I remember most about those runs is taking in the sights of still ponds, the buzz of open-air jeeps and the feel of cobblestones beneath my shoes as I cut through the town centre. No music. No phone. Just me and a few uncomplicated, tech-free miles in a picturesque setting. Taking it all in left me feeling calm and centred.
To reach this zen-like state – one in which we exert considerable physical effort with relative ease – we have to tune in to our senses, explains Christina Heilman, a strength and conditioning coach and the author of Elevate Your
Excellence (Momentum Press). A ‘sensory run’ is one in which you let go of your mind and focus on what’s going on inside and around you through the five basic senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Heilman says doing this
allows you to be truly in the moment and helps you tune in to what your body needs.
It may seem rudimentary, but embracing those sensations can help make you a better runner. ‘If you’re interested in training, competing and improving, you have to pay attention to what’s going on inside your body as well as how that relates to what’s going on outside,’ says Jack Raglin, a sports psychologist and kinesiology professor at Indiana University Bloomington, US. And this sensoryfocused approach can help you push your performance to the next level, too. Research finds that elite athletes (more so than non-elite athletes) use sensations such as hydration, muscle pain and fatigue as well as their surroundings to optimise their runs.
The more you practise turning inward, the better you’ll know your body, the more effectively you’ll tolerate discomfort and the more you’ll enjoy your time on the road and trails. ‘You are less apt to be anxious if you are able to stay present,’ says Jeffery Brown, author of The Runner’s Brain (Rodale Books). And because technology such as phones, watches and apps can cause us to tune out during a run, you’ll find turning inward is easier without gadgets.
But you don’t need to get rid of your gadgets (sighs of relief all round, I imagine). The goal of a sensory run is to find time for tech-free miles about once a week. To improve your understanding of your own body while running, Brown suggests working through your five senses, focusing on a different one every five minutes. Here’s how doing so can improve your experience.
Taking in your visual surroundings will help you focus on rewarding details of interest and increase your enjoyment, says Raglin. ‘It might seem like you’re just looking around, but your brain is trying to create this integrative picture of how you feel moving through space,’ he explains. Raglin suggests spotting landmarks ahead and then speeding up to reach them, or choosing external benchmarks such as the next hill to focus on your running form and complete mini-goals.
Smell is one of the senses most associated with emotional memories. For performance’s sake, concentrate on smells that may be present along the course you’re training for, suggests Dr Ahmad Sedaghat, an ear, nose and throat expert. For example, focus on the smell of fresh-cut grass during your training if your race is taking place in a park. This allows you to quickly acclimatise to the race setting so you can concentrate on running, he says.
‘ Tastes experienced during running can act as a gauge for a runner’s physiological status,’ says Sedaghat. Dehydration, for one, can cause saliva to thicken and because there’s less water in the body, fluids such as sweat and saliva can become more concentrated with salt. If your mouth tastes salty, instead of worrying, see it as a signal to take care of yourself, says Heilman. Stop at a water station midrace, find a water fountain during a run or simply turn back for home if your taste buds are sending signals that you’ll need to replenish soon.
Tuning in to the sounds around you can enhance awareness. ‘You’re getting a strong sense of what’s happening behind you or what you can’t see without needing to avert your eyes,’ says Raglin. You’ll be safer knowing a lorry is roaring up the road, or you’ll know if a competitor is about to pass you in a race. During training runs, seeking out sounds you’ve never heard before and trying to find where they’re coming from forces you to be engaged in the moment, he adds. To ensure the little voice in your head saying ‘I’m tired’ doesn’t take over, Brown suggests concentrating on what you hear. Instead of simply noting a bird call, imagine what type of bird it is, where it is located and how the call sounds.
Summer runs often equal sweaty runs, but pay attention to how that sweat feels on your skin during exercise and after you finish. ‘Salty sweat has a similar feeling to caked-on seawater after a swim,’ says Amanda Nurse, an elite runner and coach. You may notice it feels gritty to touch, a sign you lost electrolytes such as sodium. If you feel salt flakes when you touch your skin postrun, take in sodium an hour before your next run by adding electrolyte mix to your water, suggests Nurse. This will help you retain water and prevent muscle cramp.
‘ IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN TRAINING, COMPETING AND IMPROVING, YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT’S GOING ON INSIDE YOUR BODY AS WELL AS HOW THAT RELATES TO WHAT’S GOING ON OUTSIDE’
TECH A BREAK Leave the gadgets behind and focus on your surroundings