Have you ever tried a “Zen Run”?

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Have you ever tried a “Zen Run”?

Posted on February 6, 2013

Most runners have a plan when it comes to their workouts and training.   For some, it’s figuring out each detail of every workout for months in advance.  Others keep it simple, deciding on a duration and pace just before they begin their run.  Planning such as this is an important part of running, helping you to maintain continual progress over time.  Unfortunately, always running in a planned manner has a negative side.

People who rely heavily on a plan can often get fixated on that plan.  They will start to judge their workouts exclusively on how it went as compared to what they had planned.  If they hit their goals, they are happy.  If they miss the goals, they feel like the workout was a failure.   This kind of thinking can have the effect of taking your focus away from one of the most important elements of a run, the pure joy of the experience.  This is one of the best parts of running, and one that is worth striving to remember.

If you are part of the “plan fixated” group, I have a little workout that might just bring some extra freedom and joy to your running.  It is a little something I like to call a “Zen Run”.

As with all workouts, I suggest you start with a warm up jog, followed by a gentle stretch.  Once you have done this, it’s time for the Zen portion of the run.   Doing it correctly is both very simple, and very challenging.

First off, I want you to do this without a watch.  Knowing, or thinking about the time will defeat the purpose of this effort.  I want you to focus on the experience, not how much time is left in the workout.  The second thing you will need to do is find a course that feels nice and safe.   Avoid routes that force you to deal with too much traffic or road hazards.  Ideally you should pick a course that you could comfortably run on without paying much attention.  Lastly, try to avoid routes that you are very familiar with.  Chances are that on such a route, you will know where the mileage markers are, and this can lead to unneeded comparisons to past runs.

Now all you have to do is start running.   Unlike a regular run, you are going to have no predetermined plan for this run.  That means that distance, duration, and pace are not a consideration.  All that matters on a Zen Run is your state of mind.

What you are trying to achieve is a clear mind when you run.  By this I mean that I don’t want you to be thinking of anything when you are doing this workout.  Allow yourself to be in the moment, experiencing the sensations of your run.  This may sound easy, but in reality, it can be quite hard to achieve.  The modern world keeps our minds going at a mile a minute, and letting this all go can be a real challenge.  I find that the best way to achieve this “mental quiet” is to pick something else to focus on.  I suggest that you use the sound of your breathing as your focal point.  Anytime a thought creeps into your mind, catch yourself, clear your head, and refocus on the sounds of your breathing.   It takes practice, but in time, you will be able to maintain a clear mind for longer and longer periods of time.   Eventually you will be able to do it for your entire Zen Run, without having to focus on making it happen.

As for how long you should run for, and how fast you should run, that simply does not matter.  To be honest, if you are worrying about it, you are defeating the purpose of this workout.  Just go out and run at a pace that feels comfortable.  Don’t worry if it is slower or faster than normal.  This run is about your mind, not the specifics of the workout.  The same holds true in regards to distance.  Just run until you feel like turning around, then head home.  Once you get home, do a stretch to finish your workout.

So now that you know what a Zen Run is, I expect you would like to know why I think you should give it a try?   In my opinion, runners often get tied up in the technical aspects of the sport.  They end up focusing on the planning of the workout, or the time left in an interval, or how far they have to go to finish their run.  Doing this makes it all too easy to lose sight of the inherent joy found in the actually experience of running.  This is a terrible shame, because the feelings and sensations of a good run are the very best part of the process.

Doing a Zen Run helps you reconnect with this.  It will force you to put aside your thoughts when you run.  It will help you to get in touch with the physical experience, and forget the technical side of it.  Getting in touch with this part of running will help to make you feel more relaxed, and more “in the moment”.  Eventually this will carry over from the Zen Running workout to your regular weekly runs, making all of your running experiences better.

Another benefit of doing a Zen Run is that it will help you to keep your running fresh.  There is nothing like getting out there and running with a clear head, and no planned workout.  It is amazing how much it can help you to keep your running fun and enjoyable.

Personally I try to do a Zen Run at least once every two weeks.   I don’t schedule them ahead of time, because this would defeat the purpose of one of these workouts.  Instead, I do them on a day when I don’t feeling like dealing with a planned workout, or when I feel like taking a mental break.

So, what do you have to lose?  Why not give a Zen Run a try?  I expect that if you do try one, you will end up loving it just as much as I do.