This is an excerpt from Mental Training for Ultrarunning by Addie J. Bracy & Addie J. Bracy.
Research continues to demonstrate how impactful mindfulness can be for managing discomfort and for sport performance. We will discuss this approach in more detail in the following chapter, but in terms of dealing with pain and discomfort, a mindful approach means noticing bodily sensations without judgment. Whatever your body is experiencing isn’t good or bad; it just is. It’s when we attach a judgment or value to the experience that we enhance potential negative beliefs about what it means.
In The Mindfulness Solution to Pain, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote,
From the perspective of mindfulness, nothing needs fixing. Nothing needs to be forced to stop, or change, or go away. It is only awareness itself that can balance out all of our various inflammations of thought and the emotional agitations and distortions that accompany the frequent storms that blow through the mind. (2009, vii)
By separating the physical experience from the emotional one, you create distance between yourself and the unpleasant sensations your body is experiencing. To practice noticing your body and how it feels without attaching thoughts or emotions, start with body scans.
Managing the space between experiences and emotions is crucial for ensuring you’re only directing psychological resources to things that are productive and within your control. As stated in Mindful Sport Performance Enhancement,
When able simply to watch such experiences come and go, rather than latch on to and over identify with them, a person has more opportunity to take in the fullness of any given moment. This awareness and acceptance of “what is” ultimately allows for greater responsiveness to the self and environment, providing freedom from the reflexive or automatic reactions that so often guide actions. (Kaufman, Glass, and Pineau 2018, 4)
Getting too distracted by what you’re feeling means you’re no longer focused on the various task-related actions that you should be engaged with. Mental energy in an ultrarace is a scarce and precious resource. Focusing on the discomfort you’re feeling and wishing it would go away is like hoping to reach the summit without ever leaving the trailhead.