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Developing the Ultrarunner’s Mind Through Meditation

Ultrarunners will often say, ” finishing ultra events becomes as much or more a challenge of the mind as the body.” If that is the case, shouldn’t we spend time strengthening the mind as much as we strengthen the body?

Meditation is one method that may strengthen the ultra-mind and provide significant physical benefits as well.


What is meditation?

Andrew Weil, M.D. defines meditation in an easy to follow way:

“Meditation is directed concentration, and involves learning to focus your awareness and direct it onto an object: your breath, a phrase or word repeated silently, a memorized inspirational passage, or an image in the mind’s eye. …Even walking or sitting quietly in a natural setting “a simple form of meditation” is an antidote to being too focused on thoughts and emotions.”

Sometimes it can be misunderstood, but meditation does NOT belong to any specific culture or religion and is not defined by any belief set. With that being said, some religions do use it as part of their rituals.

I like this quote from Adam Burke (Ph.D., M.P.H., L.Ac.), a research psychologist & an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, that has been studying meditation.

“Meditation is the study of attention. Attention is cognitive phenomenon. Meditation is the capacity of the brain to attend to something over a period of time.”

This makes me think of 50 mile, 100 mile, or longer ultra events. If we can increase our ability of focused attention, this skill may have great value in our ultra journey.

Possible Ultra-Mind Benefits

Here is a list of reported benefits associated with meditation that may interest the Ultra-Mind.

  • Builds self-confidence
  • Resolve phobias & fears
  • Helps control own thoughts
  • Helps with focus & concentration
  • Increase creativity
  • Increased emotional stability
  • Develops intuition
  • Able to see the larger picture in a given situation
  • Helps ignore petty issues
  • Increased ability to solve complex problems
  • Develop will power
  • react more quickly and more effectively to a stressful event
  • Require less time to fall asleep, helps cure insomnia
  • Helps make more accurate judgements
  • Gives composure to act in considered & constructive ways
  • Grows a stable, more balanced personality

Do you see possible times in your ultrarunning journey where some of these benefits may prove useful?

Possible Ultra-Body Benefits

The mind isn’t the only area that may benefit from meditation. Here is a list of reported benefits that may interest your Ultra-Body.

  • It decreases respiratory rate.
  • It increases blood flow and slows the heart rate.
  • Increases exercise tolerance.
  • Decreases muscle tension
  • Enhances the immune system.
  • Reduces activity of viruses and emotional distress
  • Enhances energy, strength and vigour.
  • Reduction of free radicals, less tissue damage
  • Improved flow of air to the lungs resulting in easier breathing.
  • Less energy wasted
  • improved performance in athletic events
  • harmonizes our endocrine system
  • relaxes our nervous system

Useful for ultrarunners? Potentially so.

Scientific Research

For those that like to look at scientific studies on meditation, you can visit Google Scholar and Pub Med for all kinds of studies on meditation.

My Experience

Over the last 5-7 years, I have been a daily, periodic, or hasn’t-happened-in-ahhhhh meditator. I am confident in saying, when practicing meditation, I have experienced reduced heart rate, deep relaxation (stress release), improved sleep, and a deep sense of inner peace (feel good). Some of the other possible benefits are hard for me to objectively observe or quantify.

There are many ways to meditate but I have simply sat in a comfortable position while in a quiet room, eyes closed, and focused on my breath for 10-20 minutes. Sometimes the mind runs wild and sometimes it is quiet. I try and let the mental noise go and focus on my breath. When meditation in practiced regularly, I experience the quiet place more frequently.

Currently I am in the periodic and hasn’t-happened-in-two-weeks phase and but now I feel inspired to get back on the wagon.

Holistic Training

There is no line-in-the-sand separation between the body and mind so it would seem beneficial to spend at least some part of your ultra training on your mind skills. Meditation may be one method to do just that.

Here is a basic meditation how-to from

  • Chose a time when you are not likely to be disturbed.
  • Settle down in a place which has fresh air.
  • Begin by learning to focus on something non-threatening. This will relax you, break your stress response.
  • Concentrate on a subject that appeals to you- it could be a flower, a word, or the flame of a candle.
  • Notice how your thoughts wander. Don’t attempt to control them. Observe them with detachment.
  • Within a few weeks, you will notice a marked difference in your capacity to focus. This is the stepping stone to awareness.

For those that have practiced meditation regularly or periodically, what are your thoughts?

Be active – Feel the buzz!

David –

(Photo: Courtesy of swanksalot)

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Developing the Ultrarunner’s Mind Through Meditation”

  1. on 08 Apr 2010 at 10:10 am Rick Sanford

    Great post! Thanks for the reminders about why I started meditating and what it brings to my life.

  2. on 08 Apr 2010 at 12:14 pm David Hanenburg

    Thanks for the kind words Rick! Enjoy the journey.