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Mindful Running: Is All the Hoopla Justified?

Gary Dudney has a huge resume behind him as both an accomplished runner as well as a renowned author and writer. He has published articles in all the major running magazines including Runner’s World, Running Times, Trailrunner, Marathon & Beyond and not to mention he is considered the “voice of the sport” as a regular columnist of Ultrarunning. We at the Brisbane Trail Ultra Festival are so fortunate to be able to share some words of wisdom from Gary Dudney. Thank you Gary for your Guest blog from Team BTUF.

By Gary Dudney
Brisbane Trail Ultra Festival Guest Blog

Running magazines and commentary on the web are full of references these days to the close connection between running and mindfulness. The benefits from practicing mindfulness include reduction in stress and anxiety as well as an increase in your sense of well-being and self-esteem. Doesn’t that sound familiar to you as a runner? Those are exactly the outcomes that many runners report when their training is firing on all cylinders.

Is it a coincidence that the benefits from practicing mindfulness and running overlap so much?

The word “mindfulness” has a new-agey, pop psychology, touchy-feely vibe to it. Actually, mindfulness can be seen as fairly down to earth and straightforward. It relies primarily on a common sense understanding of how your mind works. From that understanding, a few mental techniques flow, which are easy to learn and turn out to be very relatable to runners and running.

Simply put, mindfulness can be defined as “focused attention on the present with acceptance.” Proponents of mindfulness describe ordinary thinking as careening from one thought to another, typically thoughts that involve problems from the past or worries about what might go wrong in the future. As your mind flits from thought to thought, you attach negative emotions like fear and regret to them, get swept up into pursuing those negative thoughts, and in the end generate lots of stress for yourself.

Mindfulness advocates claim you can break this negative cycle by focusing attention on just what you are experiencing in the present moment.

When thoughts of past or future problems bubble up in your mind, you are supposed to acknowledge the thought but not dwell on it or let yourself attach emotions to it. You accept it—this is the “acceptance” part of mindfulness—and then move back to focusing on the present.

That all seems pretty simple but it has two very useful outcomes. For one, by focusing on what you’re doing at the moment, you tend to really “live through” or deeply experience whatever it is you’re involved in. The classic example is eating an apple. Normally you hardly even notice an apple as you eat it because you’re too busy working at the computer or thinking about a myriad of other things. But what if you really paid attention to the apple? How does it look and smell? How does it feel in your hand? How does it feel to bite into it, to taste it, to have the juices explode from it? How about the chewing, the swallowing, the way the apple is gone little by little, even the feel of the water on your hands as you clean up? Eat an apple mindfully with your full attention and you’ll find yourself thinking, “Wow, it’s like I’ve never really eaten an apple before!”

Acknowledge the stray thought, but don’t attach yourself to it

Now imagine running with your full attention focused on all the sights, sounds and smells out on a trail. Pay attention to the wind on your skin, the contact of your feet on the ground, the rhythm of your stride, the swing of your arms, your breathing, and the changes that come from ascending and descending. While you’re concentrating on all those things, monitor your thinking for thoughts that stray away from the here and now. Concerns about some past incident or some future obligation will pop up in your mind. Acknowledge the stray thought, but don’t attach yourself to it or allow it to evoke any emotional response. Then let it slip away. Get back to experiencing your run and being fully aware of the richness of the experience as it unfolds around you.

The second useful outcome of running mindfully is that as long as you’re focused on the present, you’re getting a break from all the usual stress and anxiety you normally generate for yourself in dwelling uselessly on past and future problems.

The time when you’re out running becomes a stress free zone because you are not engaged in all the worry and speculation that normally dominates your thinking. Also in order to run, you literally have to remove yourself from your work place, or wherever you are. You are physically leaving behind all the stress inducing stimuli you experience at your desk, and so you pave the way to leave behind all those things mentally as well.

Mindfulness is also a great way to deal with the pain and fatigue that you experience in hard workouts or races when you’re really pushing yourself way out of your comfort zone. How many times have you heard the advice to “stay in the moment,” to take it one mile or one aid station at a time, and not think about the full complement of what is left to be done? This is exactly the strategy you adopt when you’re being mindful. Keep your focus on just the present. Acknowledge worries about what happened before or how you might feel later in the race, but don’t let them lead you into fear and self-doubt. Just let them fade as you return to your focus on the here and now.

The pain is not signaling a problem, it is just a sign that you are achieving whatever goal you are out to achieve.

When you really get into the pain and fatigue, acknowledge those sensations as well. In fact, allow yourself to sink down into the pain and really experience it as objectively as you can. Just facing up to it will take some of the sting out of it. Then work at accepting it as just one of the many sensations that you’re feeling in the race. After all, the way you feel is quite normal when you’re pushing hard and running at your limit. The pain is not signaling a problem, it is just a sign that you are achieving whatever goal you are out to achieve.

Try and let the pain recede. Then refocus your attention back on the other sensations and sights and sounds of the race. Of course dealing with the pain in this mindful way takes practice. Next time you’re in a hard workout and feel like quitting or easing up, practice the steps outlined above.

You never get the pain to go away completely, but you get better and better at accepting it as not that big a deal and certainly not a showstopper.

So is all the excitement about applying mindfulness to running justified? I certainly think so as someone who’s spent countless hours practicing it while trail running and using it to get to the end of almost seventy 100 mile races. It definitely deepens your running experience, reduces stress in your life, and gives you a powerful tool for dealing with the painful parts of running.

Have a look at my newly released book, The Mindful Runner: Finding Your Inner Focus, published by Meyer & Meyer Sports, Europe’s largest sports publisher, for a lot more about the mental side of running. I build on ideas I introduced in The Tao of Running: our Journey to Mindful and Passionate Running (2016). Both books are fun to read, full of great stories, and available as paperbacks, eBooks, or Audibles.

Gary Dudney

Amazon Author Page

My Website for Runners

Exclusive Brisbane Airtrain Transport Offer

The Brisbane Trail Ultra Festival and Airtrain would like to welcome all participants flying into Brisbane with a special transport offer.

Brisbane Trail Ultra Festival participants, their families, friends and supporter will all receive a discounted return fare of $30.

This will take you from the airport to Brisbane City Stations between Fortitude Valley, Central, Roma Street and South Brisbane Stations.

Brisbane Airtrain have kindly given us an extended time-frame for arrival to our event so you can enjoy all things Brisbane during your BTUF weekend.
What does this mean?? Special offer tickets will be available for purchase from the 1/7/19 to the 7/7/19 inclusive and there is no limit on your return trek home!

And lastly, how do I take advantage of this offer?? If you are booking online, please enter the promotional code BTUF2019
Or if you haven’t decided on how you are traveling to us, then download the document attached to purchase your special offer ticket at the airport.

Happy Travels and Happy Trails

Your BTUF Team

Behind the scenes with Sam Burridge

It is amazing what Sam has achieved in such a short space of time. Having only started running in late 2012, Sam represented Australia last year in the World Mountain Running Championships. And leading up to this, he had the time for a 1st place finish at UTA 50km (2018), 4th Australian Mountain Running Championships (2018), 2nd Wagga Trail Marathon (2017) and 1st Hume & Hovell 50km (2016) amongst other achievements. The BTU team caught up with Sam Burridge between his work, training and running after his 16 month old son for a quick Q & A.

Sam, what has been your favourite race and course? “I don’t think I could pick one favourite race. Each race is generally awesome in its own way and each has really cool aspects that you take away from them.”

Being relatively new to running it general, we wanted to find out what attracted Sam to trail running. “The fact that every trail is different, each has its own beauty and challenges. I love exploring new trails and not knowing what is around the corner. I love traveling to new races to experience different parts of the world that I may not see otherwise. The trail running community is also a big part of why trail running is so awesome.”

Sam has raced a lot in the last few years. What has been your most memorable races? “I have two, the first is last year’s UTA. Winning that race far surpassed all my expectations. It was one of those days where everything just flowed perfectly and I was so stoked to come away with the win. The second would have to be running for Australia last year at the World Mountain Running Championships. It was such an honour to run for my country and was just amazing overall experience. Running against the best mountain runners in the world was just such an awesome and humbling experience for me.”

Sam at UTA50

Getting the training in is one thing but what do our elite athletes do differently? With the different demand trail running has on the body, we ask Sam if there are any specific training methods he does to prepare himself for trail races. “I try to tailor my training to whatever race I have coming up, whether its focusing more on mountains, endurance, speed etc. Other than that I have a stretching and foam rolling routine that I perform every night as part of my recovery routine. I also book in a massage every few weeks to keep my body feeling as fresh as possible.”

The race diet is always so individual. What race nutrition plan works for you Sam? “I generally only think about race nutrition for races over an hour and a half. For the longer stuff I’ll mainly stick with gels every 40min to 1 hour. I also use some electrolyte tablets throughout the race. I’ve found this works for me for up to 7 hours worth of running but I think if I were to race longer than that I’d have to mix in some real food in there too. I never try anything new on race day so everything is trialed in my training runs in the weeks leading into the event.”

And how about your general daily nutrition Sam? “Not really. I try to generally eat fairly healthy most the time but I’m not super strict. A couple of things I do do each day are I start every day with my porridge and I always try to have some simple carbs and protein straight after a run to replenish the muscles.”

What kit do you run in? “I don’t have any sponsors so I can run in whatever I like. I generally look for whatever I can find on special to tell the truth, I do have a few different shoes for varying terrain that I like and generally try to stick with, Altra Superior’s for the longer trails, Inov-8 210’s for the shorter, more technical trails, then Nike for the speed work and just normal training runs.”

It is a tough job balancing work, training, family and life in general. How does Sam balance all of this and smash his races? “It’s definitely tough as I work full time and I also have a 16 month old son Elijah who’s full of beans. I try to not let my running impact my family time too much so weekend runs are generally early starts, I’m quite lucky with my work that I have the opportunity to run in my lunch breaks which helps a lot, also the running commute to/from work is a great way to fit another run in. With working full time and having a young family I just have to be prepared to switch up my scheduled run sometimes depending on everything else. I am lucky that I’ve got a supportive wife so I can get out for those long runs on the weekends.”

And last but not least, what is on the run horizon for you in 2019 Sam? “So far I’ve only really worked out the first half of the year up until BTU. I’ll be running Six Foot Track in a month, the UTA50 again in May then the big one BTU 60km come July. With those three races relatively close together I’ll be having a few easy weeks post BTU. After that I haven’t really locked anything in yet, I’ve got a few thoughts like maybe a road marathon or potentially Kepler if I can get in. I’ve also been toying at the idea of running my first 100km later this year maybe at the Great Ocean Walk. If I run well this year I’d also love to try for the Australian Mountain Running Team again and compete in the long distance race which is in Argentina in November. I think I’ll wait a few more months to see what excites and inspires me the most.”

Thanks very much Sam for taking time out to talk to us all things trail and we look forward to cheering you on with all your 2019 goals.

A catch up with Kellie Emmerson

When we think trail running, there are a few names that slip straight off the end of your tongue, and Kellie Emmerson is one of them. Her race credentials are long and her achievements on and off the trails are awe-inspiring to say the least. Kellie juggles working as a neurological occupational therapist, run coaching and pump instructor with her training schedule and racing. We had the opportunity to pin down our ultra star Kellie Emmerson for some trail chat.

With all your experience in trail racing, what has been your favourite race and course? “My favourite race has to be UTMB. It is not only spectacular scenery but being the biggest trail running event in the world, it is an all-round amazing experience.” Kellie ran UTMB 167km in 2017 and finished in 28 hours 13min in her first 100 mile race!

With a more than impressive ultra resume including a 5th place UTMB 167km (2017), 1st UTA 50km (2017), 1st UTA 100km (2018), 3rd Nine Dragons Ultra 50/50, 3 time Australian Long Course 100 km and Trail running Champion to name just a few, Kellie is one of Australia’s most consistent runners. What is your secret to being able to race as well as you do? “I think the main key is listening to your body and choosing races accordingly. I had a hammy injury and osteitis pubis after UTMB- I changed tact and chose all the steepest races I could find to avoid the need to speed training and lesson the impact on my body. This allowed me to keep racing and try a few different things that I may not have otherwise considered.”

photograph credit: Tom Le Lievre

We just found out first hand from Kellie the potential for injury unfortunately tends to rise when racing ultra distances. On top of changing race tact, is there anything else you incorporate into your training to help prevent injury? “It’s about seeing the right professionals to get you back on track, and following through with their recommendations- Going to the gym, keeping strong, and making an effort to engage in self management techniques.”

With the different demand trail running has on the body, are there any specific training methods you do to prepare yourself? “I am a strong believer in specificity. So I will consider the terrain and elevation of any particular race and train accordingly. This may include a lot of hiking for a steeper race.”

It is always interesting to find out what fuels an elite endurance runner. So Kellie, what is your race nutrition plan? “I mostly use VFuel drink and gels. And always look forward to some coke in the back half!” Now we know what fuels Kellie during a race, does she follow a specific daily nutrition plan? “No- I just like to eat a wide variety of foods and a lot of it!”

Time to shout out to the sponsors. What kit do you run in Kellie? “I wear Hoka One One shoes, Le Bent socks, 2XU clothing and underwear fitted by She Science.”

As we all know, it is a juggle to fit everything you want to do in 24 hours. How does Kellie balance her training, her work as a running coach and an occupational therapist as well as fit in a personal life? “It is difficult! It’s mostly about prioritising to fit everything in. But it also comes down to having really supportive friends and family, and a partner that just gets it.”

What tip would you give to someone looking to run their first trail race? “Try not to put any pressure on yourself. Just get out there and enjoy the scenery, enjoy the camaraderie and enjoy being in nature.”

And last question we promise Kellie (for now..), what is on your 2019 run calendar? “My current 2019 year includes Lake Sonoma (50mile) in California in April, the Brisbane Trail Ultra, then back to UTMB!”

The BTU team thank you Kellie Emmerson for taking time out to chat to us and to give us an insight into your world. We are very much looking forward to seeing you add to your continuous list of racing achievements and we can’t wait to see you race the BTU 110km in July.