Running with Intention

“Every meaningful action, interaction and personal achievement starts with an intention.”

Creating intentions in our lives leads to outcomes that align with our dreams and goals. Running works in just the same way, except we often forget the micro goals and baby steps that we can take on the way to our bigger goals! We set out with the intention of hitting that BQ time in our next marathon, and miss the opportunities to stay connected with our intention on the way, focusing on the end goal instead of those steps that take us to our objective.

Photo credit: Shoot My Hike, Estes Park, CO

Elite athletes working in training groups or with a coach can rely on their support structure to keep them engaged and focused. For us mere mortals, running is often squeezed in around work, family, loved ones, pets, and anything else we add to our busy lives! We can learn from the techniques that elite athletes use, and apply them to our own training and reap the rewards!

I have used a technique that is really simple to do, takes very little time, and has benefits that go way beyond the initial investment. I take 5 minutes before every run or training session to create an intention for that run or session. I place myself in a quiet location where I won’t be disturbed and can relax and allow myself to focus. I close my eyes, and focus initially by breathing deeply and slowly from my diaphragm, and count ten breaths – if I need to I will count in groups of ten breaths until I am relaxed. Then I focus on the intention for the run or session. To give you an example, my session yesterday was 1 mile warmup, then 8 x 200 meter repeats (with 200 walk / jog recoveries) on our local HS track, and a 1 mile warm down. The key component I wanted to focus on were the 200 meter repeats. The intention I chose to create was to be at least consistent, not to go out too fast in the early stages, and ideally to increase pace slightly through the set. I am returning from healing a broken femur, so this was my second track based speed workout this year;  I also chose to focus on my form, keeping relaxed, a high cadence, and also noticing my power output during each repeat. The beauty of visualizing the session beforehand, is that I can not only picture myself going through the session in every detail I decide to include, I can also choose what my mental state is during the session, and rehearse that so I am ready to switch into that state on the run. The bigger picture for me is to return to the strength and speed I had pre-fracture – sessions like this one are important small steps along the way to my bigger goal, and so I believe it’s important to treat each step with respect and an opportunity to learn and rehearse.

The session went exactly to plan. I used to run 200’s back in school, (although they were 220 yards in those days!), and would always run the bend as hard as I could, and then hang on; every time I return to a track, the temptation is to follow that same pattern. Now my intention is different, so I have focused on running the bend “easy” and maintaining pace and form to the end of each repeat. The repeats went exactly as I had visualized beforehand, running slightly faster than goal pace, and being consistent except for the last two repeats – for these I chose to focus more deeply on form and cadence, and picked up 2-3 seconds on each one. I came away from the session extremely pleased with the result, boosted my confidence, and left me eager and expectant for the next session.

Photo credit: Shoot My Hike, Estes Park, CO

Creating an intention for each run and session doesn’t mean that it all has to be hard work; indeed focus is something that is most productive when it is applied without force or hard effort – a gentle approach allows energy to flow.  I often include a run where I will choose to just have fun, no set pace, distance, limits, just choose to enjoy the experience and soak up all that it has to offer wherever I am. When we do create intentions for our experiences, it allows our energy systems to operate in a natural way, and we can often get the absolute best we can from each step we take, and to be able to live and enjoy in that moment.

Here is a review of how to create an intention for your next session or run:

  • place yourself somewhere you won’t be disturbed, and can relax and focus
  • close your eyes and focus initially on breathing deeply from your diaphragm
  • count ten deep breaths – use more if you need a little longer to become relaxed
  • create and focus on your intention for the run or session in every detail – the outcome you seek, your form, pace, mental state, everything that contributes to your experience and aligns with your created intention
  • once you’re happy with the visualization you have created, focus back on your breathing, and then slowly open your eyes
  • then go and enjoy and relive the experience you created

Using visualization or imagery to create intentions will benefit you in the following ways:

  • you stay more engaged in the process toward your bigger picture by acknowledging the importance and relevance of the small steps that take you toward your goal
  • you set up a process that you can use for any training session, and for for any experience in life in general
  • you develop a sense of control over your experiences that increases self confidence
  • you can be completely connected with every experience you choose, learn to focus more deeply and effectively, and become immersed in the experience
  • experiences flow and become opportunities for joy, and to inspire others to also choose a positive path


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