Before I moved to Baltimore I used to meditate fairly regularly. My uncle is an alumnus of Naropa University - a college in Boulder, CO that was started by the founder of Shambhala International, Chogyam Trungpa. One of his profs was Allen Ginsburg. Anyways my uncle led a weekly meditation group in Ann Arbor - and so I got into it. It was such a part of my life that my uncle officiated our wedding.
It seems most people think that meditation is about letting your mind go blank. It's actually about focusing your mind on your immediate surroundings and your body - instead of the incessant flow of thoughts through your brain about the past or the future. It's about quieting the mind - not shutting it down. The concentration should be on the breath and one's posture. This concentration on the simple task of breathing and sitting is supposed to allow you to become more open to what is actually occurring around you - to stop applying your own schemas on everything around you and just observe them for what they are - without judgement.
So, what does this have to do with running? Well, the last few days have been pretty intense for me from a work perspective. And yesterday was just plain tiring - it was about 15 hours from the time I left my hotel room for a run yesterday morning until I got home to Baltimore. And there was no real mental break - unless driving counts.
I started my run tonight completely distracted. I was on my own and supposed to run 8X1 mi with only 30-40 seconds rest. My first mile wasn't too bad - but, my second mile was about 15 seconds slow. My mind was somewhere else. So, instead of panicking, I focused on relaxing my breathing, relaxing the muscles of my face, relaxing my shoulders, driving my knees, shortening my stride, keeping my arm carriage relaxed and controlled etc . . . I've found if I keep cycling through all these in my head - it's actually enough to occupy my mind and presto my splits drop. My last two were my fastest - almost 30 seconds faster than my second repeat.
When I'm in a race my thoughts expand to the runners around me - I pay attention to see if anyone is about to surge - who's struggling - who is strong - or if I'm alone, who can I work on catching ahead of me. It's not exactly mystical - it's just about focusing on the task at hand - which at times can be more important than anything in my performance. My time meditating has helped me to improve my running and get more out of it.