The Easy Way To Run Off Stress

Tun­ing in to your body can re­vive a stale run­ning rou­tine, says Cassie Short­sleeve

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

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.


TECH A BREAK Leave the gad­gets be­hind and fo­cus on your sur­round­ings

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