Running and Mindfulness Practice: Staying Calm and Alert

AJW explores finding a balance of calm and alertness and where that balance has taken him while running.

By on January 25, 2013 | Comments

AJWs TaproomLast Friday, my school faculty participated in a four-hour mindfulness retreat at a local farm here in Central Virginia. During the course of the retreat we spent time both indoors and out practicing a variety of mindfulness methods and techniques and learning more about the importance of contemplative practices in this increasingly complex world. In particular, we were inspired to make meaningful connections between our work with students and our own experiences with personal reflection and physical restoration.

One theme that our facilitator returned to several times over the course of the afternoon was the role that mindfulness practice plays in our ability to remain calm and alert. In fact, he led us through a variety of activities that were specifically designed to help us find that place of equilibrium between alertness and calmness. When you think of it that’s not always an easy thing to do.

If we err on the side of calm, we can become lethargic, lazy and disinterested. Yet, erring on the side of alertness we become hyper, over-engaged, and unfocused. Taken to their extremes being too calm or too alert can be a bad thing. So, in our retreat, we were urged to find ways in our lives to seek those places where calm and alert are in balance. Where the external forces working against us give way to the internal forces that can sweep us away.

And that, of course, made me think of running. Certainly, there are times when calm gets the best of me and I am a bit of a slacker with my running and, conversely, there are times when I am a bit, shall we say, overly alert. But the sweet spot is when everything lines up and the fine line of calm alertness reveals itself. Perhaps the most meaningful experience I had of those two forces converging was in the 2005 Western States 100 Miler.

After crossing the River in second place and seeing several of my friends hiking down from Green Gate while I was running up I slowly settled into a nice rhythm on the beautiful section of trail between Green Gate and Brown’s Bar. One would think that a 10-mile stretch between mile 80 and 90 of a 100-mile race would not be a place where a runner would feel either calm or alert. Yet, as I made my way through the forest on that June afternoon, I felt completely immersed in the experience and completely absorbed in the moment. I felt both alone and complete. I was mindful of every footfall, conscious of every rustle in the bushes, and keenly aware of the beating of my heart. In addition, I was settled. My shoulders were relaxed, my jaw went slack, and my eyes were intensely focused. I was, at once, the most alert and calm as I had ever been. It was euphoric!

Not surprisingly, I snapped out of it after mile 90 and gutted out the last 10 miles just like everyone else did, but that 10-mile stretch of trail has had a special place in my heart ever since. In fact, every time I’ve been there in subsequent years, even though I have never enjoyed a repeat of my 2005 success, I have been transported back to that place of calm alertness that has made me a little bit more mindful, perhaps a touch more thoughtful, and undoubtedly a lot more whole.

Bottoms up!

AJW ‘s Beer of the Week
Lagunitas Brewing CompanyThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Lagunitas out in Northern California. Their Lagunitas Fusion 11 American Strong Ale is an excellent winter beer packs a punch. Some strong ales can be over the top but something about this seems just right. Kind of like that place right between calm and alert. :)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • When have you found a balance of calm and alter during running?
  • Do you try to foster that balance when running? In life? If so, how do you go about it?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.