Fit in my 40s: why am I silently arguing with the mindful running coach?
Mindfulness is the last thing I want to practise while running. When I’m really up against a wall (which is to say, after four minutes), the only thing that keeps me going is listening to Maniac and imagining I’m that gorilla in a paddling pool. So I approached this with a closed mind, and discarded a lot of podcasts because they were too woo-hoo, or because you had to listen to them before you run (“no headphones” is a typical mindful runner’s instruction), or because the person had an annoying voice. Finally, I settled on The Milestone Pursuit podcast, by a likable blokey Londoner, Steve Hobbs. He didn’t sound at all spiritual; he sounded like a person who would help you with your bike if your chain came off.
He has one mindful episode that I’ve listened to seven or eight times. Total convert. But full disclosure: I’ve never got to the end. It lasts 36 minutes, and I still don’t run for that long. So it’s partly suspense that keeps me going back.
The first principle is, as you would expect, exist in this lap: don’t think about the ones you’ve done, or the ones you’re going to do. Hobbs is running while he records, so you can hear the labour in his voice, the wind picking up and dropping off. It’s strangely calming once you know you can’t get away from it. Concentrate on bits of your body, one at a time. Your feet. We don’t really talk about our feet, unless they hurt, Hobbs observes. This is a fine approach to the body, in my view; don’t talk about it unless it hurts. But we talk about our glutes all the time, he continues. True. My answer to this is to talk less about our glutes. Why am I silently arguing with the mindful running coach? I don’t know, it’s just who I am. We do a few more body parts, and 10 minutes have gone by. They went by much faster than they usually do, but this could just be a trick of the new. We move on to eyeline; if you can look 50 metres ahead, your brain will assess obstacles without really troubling your conscious mind, and you’ll find you can clear curbs and manholes, and suchlike, without having to think about it. That’s all well and good, I think, but now I’m no longer living in the moment. I’m living 50 metres ahead. I’m arguing with the voice again. I never used to argue with Maniac.
Around the 19-minute mark, I was really huffing and puffing, nearing the end of my stamina, but this was when I noticed something odd; it wasn’t that I felt fitter or any less out of breath than normal, but I felt detached: like my body was going through some arduous event, but I was floating above it, completely in control; I could ask it to continue, or I could allow it to stop, and either of those outcomes would simply happen, at my command. I don’t want to sound woo-hoo myself, but it was really quite different to my usual experience, which is of total enslavement to my physical limits. Anyway, not wishing to push the point, so far I’ve just stopped when I’m tired. But with a light heart.
What I learned
All the breathing ideas you’re taught – in for four paces, out for four paces, in through your nose, out through your mouth – are wrong. Breathe how you like. This was a revelation.