Elinor Fish is a life-long runner who was deeply involved with Canada’s trail running boom of the late 1990’s before moving to Colorado in 2006 to serve as the managing editor for Trail Runner magazine. Now an expert in mindful running, Elinor writes about running and health for many running and active lifestyle magazines and leads mindful running retreats and workshop around the world.
To kick off a busy summer of travel spreading the word about the Healthy Running Revolution, Elinor is leading the trail runs at the upcoming Golden Ultra Trail Running and Yoga Retreat and sharing her unique approach to running for health through mindful running.
We recently asked Elinor to tell us more about her coaching philosophy.
Q: You coach people in how to use mindful running to run better. What is mindful running and why do people need it?
Running is one of the healthiest things we can do for our body and mind. However, for many reasons, the majority of runners face running injuries, struggle with burnout, boredom or they lose motivation. These obstacles can be discouraging and even make some people believe that they’re just not cut out for running.
I’ve found mindfulness to be the most effective way of removing those obstacles and making running fun and easy again. By making running a mindful practice, you’re shifting your focus away from attaining external goals or expectations and onto the present-moment sensations that running brings. This level of attention is extremely calming to the mind and helps the body relax.
It’s important to run with a truly relaxed body because carrying any tension in your arms, back and legs makes running feel way harder than it should. Tension creates resistance, and it’s in those areas of resistance where chronic running injuries typically develop.
Q. How could this technique help runners preparing for a race like the Golden Ultra?
The key to preparing for a race like this while staying healthy and free from injury is to do only the minimum amount of training necessary. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t run as much, rather, I’m saying don’t “train” any more than you need to.
Most runners—even those who don’t consider themselves competitive—tend to train too much and/or recover too little. So the solution is to make health the first priority and fitness the second priority. You’re better off arriving at the start line on race day being 90% fit but totally healthy rather than 110% fit but feeling sore or tired.
Once your minimum training requirement to reach your goals is met, make the rest of your running purely for fun.
Q: So, what are the steps involved in adding mindful running to one’s training?
A: We’ll practice the six key steps involved with implementing mindful running at the Golden Ultra Trail Running and Yoga retreat. They are:
Step 1. Before stepping out the door, set an intention for your run.
Different from a goal, an intention is about achieving a desired feeling or state of being today. Intentions keep your attention on how you feel right now. This way, instead of running how your training, running partner or ego is telling you to run, you run in whatever way (speed, distance, route, etc) allows you to achieve your desired feeling. With this approach, success is guaranteed when you experience that state of being, regardless of how many minutes you run or intervals you complete.
Step 2. Leave your watch, headphone, GPS, heart-rate monitor and any wearable technology at home. Since the purpose is to focus on the sensations of running, tools that distract you from that purpose are unnecessary. If you’re accustomed to running with one or more of these things, you may feel “naked” without them at first, but it will soon pass. If you’re concerned about getting bored, don’t be, since you’ll have plenty to think about as you practice mindful running. And for what to record in your training log, most of the time, round estimates are just as good and precisely measured numbers.
Step 3. Find a rhythm that syncs your breath with your feet.
This should occur naturally, without any conscious effort. As long as you are running in a relaxed way, this rhythm comes to you. Pace is less relevant than effort level. Go as slow as you need to find a pace that is comfortable and feels sustainable. If you enjoy trail running, then run on trails, even if they’re challenging. As long as you’re able to focus on rhythm and breath (even when you’re hiking uphill), then you’re going at the right pace for you.
Step 4. Become aware of your running gait.
Can you maintain good form? If you’re straining to run a certain speed or your form is falling apart, then slow down! You’re probably working too hard. As students of the Revive Your Running program learn, healthy running isn’t about working harder to get faster; rather speed arises from a body that moves efficiently, is balanced and free from tension.
Step 5. Tune in to bodily sensations.
Pleasant or unpleasant, these sensations are all part of the natural biofeedback system, which is designed to protect you over-extending yourself. When those sensations are ignored, you create the circumstances for injury to occur. Make a mental note of the sensations that come up when you run. How many are positive (joy, flow, powerful, motivated)? How many are negative (pain, sluggishness, fatigue, tension)? Whatever is going on, don’t push it out or be tempted to mask it with music, ibuprofen or mental chatter. For the purposes of this run, take it all in as useful biofeedback.
Step 6. Use that biofeedback as a self-coaching tool to run better.
Have you noticed the way kids run? It’s effortless, spontaneous and playful. What if you could apply that approach to your running, even if you’re gunning for a marathon PR? The good news is that you can. Any training plan you’re using right now is meant to be a guideline rather than a prescription. Overlay that training plan with the wisdom you gain through mindfulness to modify the plan on the fly. By noting daily shifts in your energy, motivation, training quality and other subjective measures along with your workout’s distance and pace, you’re able to able to avoid the common pitfalls that befall so many runners.
Q. Besides the June retreat, how else can people work with you to put mindful running into practice?
People can join me for a free group coaching session (via phone) on Wednesday, June 10th at 2 p.m. MT (4 p.m. ET) during which I’ll answer their questions about running, training and staying healthy. You just need to sign up in advance at: elinorfish.com/revive-your-running-webinar/
I also have a six-week online coaching program starting June 17th that includes all the tools and support runners might need to begin practicing mindful running and implementing the steps we talked about. The program gives you all the key lessons we’ll cover at the Golden Ultra retreat without having to travel anywhere. More information about that can be found at: elinorfish.com/revive-your-running-course/
The Golden Ultra is a three-day stage running race (or relay) in Golden, BC, Canada. Runners may participate in all three stages as a solo or part of a relay, or may register for any single or combination of two stages separately.