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Steps to Becoming a Zen Runner

June 16, 2011

I remember when I was 15 years old training for my first long road race. I decided I would really test myself by running in my hometown’s big 10 mile road race that upcoming summer. I had no clue what a training plan was. “Garmin” might as well have been the french word for lawn mower. And I’m pretty sure I hadn’t purchased new sneakers in over a year. But I enjoyed running just to run, so I signed up anyways.

My normal route was roughly 6 miles, and I really enjoyed heading out each week to complete such a big feat. I figured an hour was about 6 miles and if I added some time, eventually I could do about 8 before the big race. My training was so flexible and vague that nowadays I would barely consider it training, but nonetheless I completed the race in one piece and was so proud of myself.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. I practically had my marathon training plan memorized by week 2. My Garmin quickly became my most used piece of technology. And I researched for hours for the perfect pair of running shoes that were sure to keep me injury free and running my best. It really became my passion, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it for just the pure act of running like I did when I was 15.

Yesterday morning I finally decided to dust off my garmin and ipod and lace up my sneakers after several weeks of only short jogs here and there mixed with a few playground workouts and trips to the gym. I’ve really missed pounding the pavement though. The only problem…. my garmin would not fire up. The ‘Me’ 2 months ago would have freaked, but instead I took it as a sign and laced up my shoes anyways. It was time to let my mind (and body) run free.

Now, I didn’t plunge into the full-fledged meditative Zen running that others claim allows them to reach the ultimate runner’s high. I started small; eliminating music and any indication of distance or time. I just ran. I listened to my body. I heard my own thoughts, and I took in my surroundings.

Learning to Zen

Unless your running as a career or training for a serious race, learning to run unplugged can have huge benefits in learning to trust your body and to truly enjoy running again. Here are some easy ways to become more of a ‘Zen Runner’ and learn how to trust your body instead of your ego:

1. Unplug yourself from technology. Start your journey to zen running by eliminating the use of music players, gps systems, and watches. And yes that includes treadmills. The best decision I ever made was to give up treadmill running. If your anything like me, this will feel awkward at first. You’ll keep glancing at your bare wrist, or maybe even get annoyed by your own labored breath. Stick with it until you get used to the calmness you’ll finally feel. Remember that technology does not know the details of that day… how rested you feel, the weather, your mood, if you just ate a big lunch, or anything else that can affect a run. Only you can adjust for these circumstances.


2. Run unfamiliar routes. This will allow you to become engaged in your surroundings more because you aren’t running the same mundane route that you know like the back of your hand. Chances are you know the exact mileage of your normal routes down to the hundredth of the mile. So instead of signing on to mapmyrun, or checking the distance with your odometer (old school but I definitely used to do this), try a brand new route. It will also keep your mind off time and distance. Now, I’m not recommending you plop yourself down in the middle of an unknown forrest and give it a go. Stay in familiar neighborhoods, just simply switch up the exact path you are used to.


3. Test yourself for the first few runs. Head out the door and listen to what your body is asking for that day. Do you feel like running for about an hour? Start running and try and roughly remember the route you cover. When you get home, log onto a website like MapMyRun and check if the distance you covered was roughly how far you felt like you ran. After some practice you will be so in tune with your body that you will be able to gauge the distance you covered. This is useful if you are training for a certain distance, but if you are just running recreationally you might eventually find no need to even know your distance.


4. Do pickups based on markers along the road instead of time or exact distance. Pick a telephone pole or tree up ahead and pick up your pace until you reach it. Continue to alternate between hard and easy efforts for the duration of your run. It doesn’t matter your pace or how long it takes you to run a 400, what matters is that your building up lactic acid and training your muscles to clear it more efficiently.


5. Try trail running for a truly calming experience. Break away from the bustling cars, stop and go intersections, and other distractions that take you away from your own thoughts. I find it much easier to get lost in my own thoughts instead of worrying about distance and pace when I am deep in the woods. Trails can be much more difficult to navigate than roads because of uneven terrain, more challenging hills, and the sometimes confusing paths. Running with a friend and slowing down your pace are good ways to start trail running.


6. Trust your own body. Just because you are unplugged from pace and distance, doesn’t mean you will accidently run too hard or too many miles than your body can handle. When you begin to tune in to how your body feels that day, you will learn how to run according to what your body is asking for. This is the ultimate goal of becoming more of a ‘Zen Runner’ and may take a long time to achieve. Keep practicing the above tips until you can truly trust your own body.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin permalink
    June 16, 2011 7:45 pm

    Katie, you HAVE TO continue this blog, it is so rich, varied, interesting, useful, thought inducing…did you write this out of your head ? It’s worthy of anything I have ever read in Runners World or any other running mag or journal…it’s the runners equivalent of a delicious recipe…fantastic

    • Katie permalink*
      June 16, 2011 8:05 pm

      Thank you Dad, I love your comments. Yes I wrote it in my head while on my run. It’s amazing how much more thinking I got done without music or a watch.

      • eliza m permalink
        July 24, 2011 2:52 pm

        yes I agree with your dad.. I have been reading through your posts and your blog is one of a kind! Keep it up!

      • Katie permalink*
        July 24, 2011 7:15 pm

        Thank you for your kind comment! Glad you find my blog interesting 🙂

  2. Syd permalink
    June 16, 2011 11:26 pm


    sorry for the caps..anyway, I miss you and this blog is amazing and inspiring even for someone who doesn’t run. I love you katie! keep it up 🙂

    • Katie permalink*
      June 17, 2011 10:35 am

      Syd!! Glad you found this, miss you so much. We need to catch up very very soon. Have fun on your trip, lets chat when you get back.

  3. Paul permalink
    July 7, 2011 1:44 pm

    I have just started to dabble in zen running and have been looking for some helpful pointers. Of all the info I’ve found, yours is the most helpful. My last few runs have been with out my garmin (easier then I thought it would be). thank you.

    • July 7, 2011 3:50 pm

      Thank you and I’m glad you found it so helpful! I’ve continued running without any technology and I love it! It gets easier and better the more you do it.

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