Here's a really interesting article on 'mindful running':
'Mindfulness' is kind of a buzzword at the moment, in vogue as a solution for a lot of problems facing people in the modern world. It can be easy to dismiss as a flash in the pan for this reason, except... it kind of is magic. I learned some mindfulness techinques recently to help me deal with stress related panic attacks I was having, and it did wonders. What worked for me is not so much the idea of achieving a zen-like state of nothingness, but the sense of control it restored to me. When your thoughts are running away from you, the practise of maintaining a conscious corner of your brain that remains calm and in charge is very powerful.
Applying this practise in exercise is interesting to read about. It reminded me of a time in my late teens - I used to run a lot around the age of 17-18. I had only just got into the idea of exercising, and didn't really know much about it, so I just started running for an hour or so most nights of the week. I didn't have much of a goal but I'd listen to an album and just pace it out, often making up routes as I went.
I preferred running at night - it was cooler and there were less people around. One night was incredibly foggy, with visibility only a few meters in front of me. I must have felt something different because I turned my music off and just ran in silence. It became this wonderful experience of just purely enjoying the feeling of running, rather than any other goal. I'm not even sure how exactly long I was running or for what distance, but I only turned homewards because I had work the next day and it was getting late.
I never quite managed to replicate that feeling - I got close a couple of times running in the rain, but I started to develop distance, time and speed goals, tracking my runs with apps. Then I got shin splints, and started moving into other fields of exercise. I tell myself these days that I don't enjoy long slow distance cardio, but maybe I just forgot how to enoy it.
What if I tried this approach again? Just head out in the dark without a goal, and try to just enjoy the feeling of running itself. I think I will. I'll let you know how it goes.