The sensory run: tune into your body

sensory run
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Is your running routine getting stale?

If you’re anything like me, you plug in your headphones and start up the running watch before even starting your run. My favorite music to jam to while running tends to be either Hamilton or the Kendrick Lamar/Black Panther mix radio station on Pandora. While the music helps me keep pace, over time my routine feels more like a routine and I don’t always get that runner’s high feeling that I love so much. A “sensory run” can help combat that boring feeling. I’m talking no music, no phone, no technology. While this may seem barbaric, these runs can make you a better athlete.

Tuning in to your body

In order to reach a zen-like state, we have to tune into our senses according to Christina Heilman, Ph. D., certified strength and conditioning coach in Driggs, Idaho. A sensory run is one in which you let go of your mind and focus on what’s going on inside and around you through the five main senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Doing this allows you to be truly present and helps you tune into what your body needs in that moment. This sensory-focused approach can help you push your performance to the next level. Research shows that elite athletes use sensations such as hydration, muscle pain, and fatigue as well as their surroundings to optimize their runs.

The more you practice turning inward, the better you’ll know your body. With this, you’ll tolerate discomfort more effectively and your time will be more enjoyable. Since technology such as phones, watches and apps can cause us to tune out, you’ll find turning inward is easier without any gadgets. But don’t toss all your toys! The goal of a sensory run is to find time for tech-free miles about once a week. To improve your understanding of your own body while running, Jeffrey Brown suggests cycling through your five senses, focusing on a different one every five minutes.

Senses to focus on

  • Sight: Taking in your visual surroundings will help you focus on rewarding details of interest and increase your enjoyment. To use your sight to your advantage, try to spot landmarks ahead and then speed up to chase them down. Or choose external benchmarks like the next hill to focus on your form and complete sub-goals.
  • Smell: Smell is one of the senses most associated with emotional memories, which is why you may recall the salty notes of the ocean air during a run on Nantucket. For performance’s sake, concentrate on smells that may be present along the course you’re training for. For example, zero in on the smell of fresh-cut grass during your training if your race is taking place in a park. This allows you to quickly acclimate to the race setting so you can devote more concentration to actually running.
  • Taste: Tastes that are experienced while running can act as a gauge for a runner’s physiological status. Dehydration, for example, can cause saliva to thicken and become more concentrated with salt. If you find your mouth tastes salty, see it as a signal to take care of yourself. Stop at a water station mid-race, find a water fountain during a run, or simply turn back for home to get some water.
  • Hearing: No matter where you run, tuning into the sounds around you can enhance awareness. You’ll know when a truck is roaring up the road or if a competitor is about to pass you in a race. During training runs, seeking out sounds you’ve never heard before and trying to find out where they’re coming from forces you to be engaged in the moment and increases enjoyment and reward.
  • Touch: Summer runs often equal sweaty runs, but pay attention to how that sweat feels on your skin. If you feel gritty, that’s a sign that you lost electrolytes like sodium in your sweat. If you feel salt flakes or crystals when you touch your skin postrun, take in sodium an hour before your next run by eating something salty or adding electrolyte mix to your water. This will help your body retain water and prevent muscle cramps.

Do you take time for a sensory run?

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