Onward: 4 Ways Running Helps Clear Your Mind

In addition to the strength training that I go on about most of the time, I run. I am a runner. I run because running helps clear your mind. Surprisingly well. As someone whose mind requires a great deal of clearing a lot of the time, I'm grateful to have found an activity that does such a good job of swabbing the deck, so to speak. 

I've not always been a runner nor have I been consistent since becoming one. I started in 2009 with 5Ks, did a couple of 10Ks here and there, and decided to run a marathon in 2013. It was hard and I didn't die (success!), but my knees subsequently decided that we needed to break up with long distances. It was after that break-up that running became even more of a spirit guide than it already was. It isn't the only method I use for self-clarification, but it's one of the most effective. Here's why. Also, Ryan Gosling.

Ryan Gosling running meme

#1 - CATHARSIS

If you've been reading my blog you know I'm big on "the feelings" that ensue via wellness, and catharsis created by running is no exception. There's just something about the repetition of the rhythm of your feet hitting the ground that creates space for relief. Yes, when you run you should be maintaining proper form and not slapping your feet on the ground like a duck. But stress comes out in those strides.

I can't tell you how many times I started a run with a bursting brain and tension akin to Luke finding out that Darth Vader is his Dad. But by the end, even if only 30 minutes later, my mind was clear. It's hard to explain what happens exactly, but running does this thing where it stops you from fuming. You just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Again and again. Over and over. Plus watching for cars and bikes and stuff. And pretty soon you find yourself running out the angry. 

Music helps facilitate this experience. I cannot run without it, and there are many runners who use it as a training tool in order to maintain a particular cadence. Music and running are my wellness PB&J; they just go together. The right playlist will help the run do its job by pushing you forward, keeping you moving, and nudging you to literally work it out. And the fix isn't temporary either; when I go out frustrated, sad or annoyed those feelings stay on the road and I come back cleansed (except for the copious sweat ewwwww).

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#2 - REJUVENATION

Turning to something that requires energy in order to gain energy seems a bit counterintuitive when you're already tired or worn down by life, but it works. Running helps me restore my energy equilibrium. If I feel like I can't do anything else, going for a run convinces me otherwise. Even 20 minutes will do it - energy begets energy. You move, you wake up a bit, you keep moving, you wake up a bit more. Pretty soon you are wide awake. This 'waking' helps create clarity by focusing your effort. There's less to think about than strength training (except for traffic). Just one foot and then the other. Repeat. After awhile you stop thinking about the effort and notice things around you. Look, trees! A snail! CAR. Another snail. BIKE. Cute dog. Sunrise. Farm animals. You get the idea. It's the little things that keep us moving.

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#3 - CHALLENGE

When I hone in on a goal, that's all I'm thinking about. The rest of life becomes noise outside the goal. It doesn't matter. This can be a fine line to walk with bigger, more complicated goals, because it's very hard to shut the rest of your life off even if you're focused. So you're often still pulled in different directions, and it's hard to stay clear on the goal. But with running it's easy to challenge myself with small goals. In doing so, the rest of everything falls away.

Run as hard as I can between this lamppost and that one. Run 1 mile at race pace. Do 5km without stopping. Run up this hill  and walk down 10 times. It's actually difficult to focus on much else outside these little milestones because breathing. Also hamstrings. Calves maybe. And again, clarity is created via concentration. What am I doing right now? How am I doing it? That's all I need to worry about in that moment. Running challenges remind me that the present is pretty much the only thing I can control - which of course is true for life generally, but I forget. Oddly, the restrictions of the challenge are actually very freeing. Having nothing else to think about but this one thing feels pretty great. 

Han Solo gif

PS - of course this line popped into my head as I was writing. Han Solo has the answer for everything. 

#4 - HEART

Lastly, running helps clear one's mind because it's good for the heart. "Whaaat?" you ask. Yep. When I run, I'm helping my heart, and this knowledge makes me feel better. See, I'm engaged in an activity that is good for me. "But what about your crappy knees?" you shout. Admittedly, too much running on too hard a surface is not good for my knees or most other people's knees either. But I'm not doing THAT much running you guys. I'm average. I'm a regular person who listens to their body, doesn't push it through injury like an idiot, and takes care before and after to work out the kinks (literally). I run because it feels good. If it doesn't feel good I stop. It's very simple. 

So - given my average-ness and the pace at which I typically run (give or take), my heart rate while running could be on the high end for fat burning but more likely, I'm in the low-mid range for aerobic fitness.*** Aerobic fitness is another term for cardiovascular fitness - literally, working out for your heart. By working out my heart, I help it increase its ability to get oxygen and energy to the rest of me. This is handy because it helps my body work better overall and decreases my risk for heart-related disease. Kind of winning reasons to run, if you ask me.

BONUS - ZOMBIES

Like the rest of my fitness endeavours running is something I do not only for the current me, but also for the future me. So that I can be active for a long time, keep my stress levels manageable and stay healthy in mind as well as body. Be around for my son as he gets older. Remain a healthy, capable partner for years to come. No big deal. Just LIVING. 

How could that not ease my mind? And hey, you may loathe running, but what are you going to do when the zombies come? Start training now my friends. You'll thank me later when no one has eaten you.

Running funny meme

***To figure out what your target heart rate should be depending on your age/goals, is check out this article.