It’s well documented there are many health benefits running brings, and among those there’s the all important mental health positives. There’s the space to clear your thoughts, think objectively about problems; there’s the buzz you get at the end of completing a run, and the sense of achievement you get when you drive a bit harder, breaking last week’s best. Even seeing other people running past and sharing a knowing nod or half wave is rewarded with a boost to your stride.
Overall, running is like no other activity I do. It’s certainly the most time I get to spend completely alone and in my own thoughts.
If mental benefits are included in running, then why do I find a mental barrier to getting going, going a bit further, or running a bit harder?
If I am struggling during a run, for me it generally comes down to a split of:
- 50% overcoming the challenge mentally
- 20% oxygen (or lack thereof)
- 20% correct fuelling
- 10% the actual muscles doing the running
(This is completely unscientific, an oversimplification and guess based on my recent runs.) And yet it’s the muscles I focus on in my training and preparation.
Fuelling is generally ok, I’m fully onboard with carb loading before a race. It’s the Saturday night beer and pizza the night before a long run that usually does me in!
So now I’m focussed on my breathing. My Garmin watch reckons my V02 Max gives me a fitness age of someone twenty years younger than I am. But it’s getting a good lungful in that I struggle with.
Left unchecked, my breathing through exercise is shallow, lung-driven gulps of air. I’m trying to change this by focussing on diaphragmatic breathing, and filling my lungs completely with every breath. However, with the space to clear my head and think objectively about my problems, I always unconsciously default to my former breathing style.
So now I need to break the habit. I’m doing more breathing exercises outside of running, which in itself is relaxing too. But I can’t seem to transfer this consistently to my runs. It may seem drastic, but I’m now considering tattooing my hands and arms with the word “Breathe” over and over again to help remind me when I’m out!