What Does it Mean to Run Mindfully?

How to utilize your time on your feet in a meditative way

Mindfulness, a type of meditation, has been a hot topic lately. It’s no wonder. 

We all are trying to survive a seemingly never-ending pandemic, deal with an uncertain future beyond our control, and manage everyday anxieties. With all the extra worry on our plates, it makes sense to find healthy ways to relieve this stress.

But can we actually incorporate the practice of mindfulness into running? 

If you’re like me, you don’t have a tremendous amount of extra time to devote to meditating alone. For runners, sometimes we even struggle to fit in our intended runs during the week. I already utilize running as a means of stress relief just by the mere physical effort, but I’m discovering ways to make this time on my feet serve double duty.

Is it possible, then, to do both? Absolutely.

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.”

Psychology Today

The Oxford dictionary defines mindfulness this way:

“A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

Oxford Dictionary

Based on these definitions, we can begin to see how one can make their running workout a time for mindfulness and active meditation. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:

  • Try running without music. If you are completely addicted to having a musical soundtrack during your runs, try to go at least a mile without it. You may be surprised by what you hear from your surroundings, or even by what your brain decides it wants you to hear. 
  • Allow yourself the space to process your stress during a run. When you are running alone, you can say whatever you want or need to, whether it’s out loud or in your mind. And it’s also OK to cry! No judgment. Just feelings. 
  • It’s ok to have a little group therapy with friends. Sometimes mindfulness also means listening to each other. 
  • Pay attention to your breathing and form during a run. This can be a way, even with music playing, to focus on the present. I naturally tend to time my breaths with my steps, breathing in for two steps, out for two steps. Are you staying upright? Is your foot strike landing where you would like? Is your arm swing strong? Taking inventory of these things during a run can help calm you.
  • Try thinking about the effort of your run. Most runs should be at a conversational pace unless you are doing a specific speed workout or hill repeats, for example. This is about a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1-10 of the modified BORG scale to gauge your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). I prefer this method to grade my workouts, not to try to hit a specific pace. This allows us to meet our bodies where they are on any given day based on all of the variables that can affect our performance, both internal and external. If this means you are slower than normal one day, so be it. 
  • Use a mantra. Repeating a mantra to yourself during a run is really helpful to keep you motivated, but also to block out intrusive thoughts that may be getting in the way of completing your workout. I find this strategy to be especially effective when racing or in the final miles of big long runs. Some favorites of mine include “run the mile you’re in,” and “one foot in front of the other.” Find one that works for you!

I’ve found that by using some of these strategies during a run, my mind sorts through many thoughts, including my stress and anxiety. I’ve come up with some of my best writing ideas during a run, and will sometimes pause and dictate my thoughts and ideas to my notes app on my phone. 

By making my time on my feet and running a safe space for me to think and feel, I’m reaping more benefits than simply treating this time as a workout. Running has become my time for reflection and healing. I hope it is for you, too!


Do you find running to be as therapeutic and helpful for your mental health as me? Have you ever used some of these methods during a run to enhance the benefits? I’d love to hear about it! 

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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