Since I started my counselling training last September I have also taken up running. This began as a self-motivated jog and walk in the park, but now I am a keen attendee at my local ParkRun, and view walking, running and being outside as an important part of ‘me time’ and self-care, and I walk or run almost daily.
I also have a whizzy brain that I try to tame. My brain always seems to be thinking, reflecting and ruminating about something, as if I can virtually feel the nerve impulses flowing and hear synapses connecting, and when I try to switch off from one thing I seem to replace thinking with thinking. Most days my brain whizzes with thoughts about what I have to do, where I have to go, what I need to remember – not only for the day ahead but there is usually a mental year planner visualised in a there somewhere, under the tab ‘plan ahead and organise’.
Thinking allows us to make sense of the world; to plan, process and give meaning to experiences and intentions, and even though our brains are not wired to completely switch off we can calm and distract our thoughts, with music, meditation and repetitive movements for example.
As my running technique is developing and my distances are slowly increasing, I find that my mind is clearer for the day ahead and I have created that all important head-space. My body has a gentle ache but is energised and I am listening to my body with regards to sensations such as for hunger or thirst, and when to rest and move. When I am running outdoors I focus on getting past the undulations on route; embracing the need to push through an early ‘wall’ as the park inclines and then feeling and being as high as the clouds (almost literally in parts of Sheffield!) and relishing in downhill reprieves. I can feel the strain and relaxtion in my legs at different points in the course and notice how my breathing eventually settles in a rhythm that I then stop to notice.
So I felt prepared to apply some of the techniques from Dynamic Running Therapy ‘Run for your Life - Mindful Running for a Happy Life’, William Pullen 2017, and take these with me as I run. DRT is not an exercise programme but a way of using mindfulness techniques and grounding exercises to prepare for running (or walking) during which you can deal with issues that may come to mind, or which you may plan to address as you run. The book gives suggestions and space to journal any thoughts afterwards, and I am keen to learn more about how my emerging interest in running can come together with my passion for counselling and psychotherapy.
According to Pullen “DRT is really about the journey and not the destination, so be patient and keeping moving” and Pullen uses ‘the journey’ to set out the incentives and introduce the grounding techniques. Readers of my blog will know I’m not an advocate of this phrase and I prefer to embrace my experience with DRT as series of events that may be of different times, speeds, distances and purposes.
This week I embraced my Saturday Parkrun with the aim of applying DRT and mindful running and see what issues may come to attention. Before the run I was filled with a heady mix of emotions; excitement for the challenge, pleasure for some ‘me time’, but also anxiety as I constantly refreshed the weather app, hoping that the forecasted heavy rain will stay away and will not lead to disappointment.
8am. Drizzle. That’s ok. As I made my way to the starting point I began with the grounding techniques and consciously taking note of my emotions and sensations. Pullen seperates these into four stages; the body, environment and emotions scan, followed by priming, or reflecting on what you want from the session. I became aware of the temperature in the air and the wind on my face, feeling cool but not cold, and a slight discomfort in my leg as I stretched out my muscles. Yet, now I knew I was going to run my emotions were at ease, a mix of enthusiasm and contentment, with some anticipation about whether I would get a personal best (PB). After all Parkrun “is not a race but a timed run”. I tried to empty my whizzy brain of any thoughts.
As I ran, at my slow and steady pace, I began a conversation with a fellow runner. I wasn’t intending to converse or have company, but a polite, ‘you go first, I don’t want to slow you down’ at a tight corner, changed my plans for the run (close brain tab ‘plan ahead’). My fellow runner, who was running again for the first time after a long break due to injury, then stayed with me during the course; guiding and mentoring, encouraging little steps when I wanted to walk up the hills, and making conversation whilst accepting when I couldn’t talk due to regulating my breathing. I was focused on my pace, my breath and the conversation (or silences), and for the first time, I no longer noticed where other runners were in the course. I entered into my mind for my run and switched off from everything else that tends to whizz.
It was a steady and energised run (no PB this week), and after the endorphin rush, I felt a sense of achievement for maintaining focus and rhythm, and also felt reflective about the kindness and support I’d, unexpectedly, received along the way. I have learnt that mindful running can be about conversation or silence, as long as focus remains on the pace and rhythm, and for me running helps my whizzy brain be present; the ruminations and words disappear and later the head-space enables them to come back to make sense. Sometimes I find I am rehearsing a conversation that I may need to have, (or want to have) or a report I need to write, as I am connecting with the ground, the air, the weather and the body. But this feels purposeful and I can also let it go, and for a while I stop thinking and my brain stops whizzing; making space for other muscles to have a turn. If I view my whizzy brain as another muscle, then for me DRT enables me to quieten this muscle and to allow others to be active. Afterwards, when other muscles are resting post-run, my brain can spark and whizz again and I can resume my work and studies; evaluating, questioning, analysing and reflecting. I may even buy another book.
Pick up your copy of Run For Your Life here
Lynn Findlay is a social worker and trainer for The Foster Care Co-operative and a trainee counsellor Academy S.P.A.C.E in Sheffield. Her interests are trauma-informed practice, mental health and online safety; as well as writing and running the much loved online fostering book club. You can hear more from Lynn on her personal blog here or follow her on Twitter for updates