I tried a week of gratitude runs to boost my well-being — here's 3 ways it changed my training

 A woman smiling while running.
A woman smiling while running.

Running is a form of exercise loved by many. Whether that be athletes chasing their next PB in a pair of the best running shoes, casual runners who love the physical challenge or people who benefit from the escapism that running brings, there is something addictive about the exercise.

Always on the hunt to find an excuse to go out for a run, I heard about something called  ‘Run Grateful’ and the idea of running a grateful mile and wanted to learn more.

So I set up a call with the founder of Run Grateful, Mark White, and he talked me through what a grateful mile is and how to introduce it to my running. White shared that Run Grateful serves as a mindful movement community, intertwining the practices of running and gratitude to encourage positive transformations, enhance mental well-being, and cultivate stronger human bonds.

The conversation with White made me reflect on my own relationship with running and the impact it has on my mental well-being. While running has always been a free form of therapy for me, I can sometimes get fixated on performance when I’m training for a particular event that I become less present and lose sight of the simple joy of going for a run. This led me to practice a grateful mile every day for a week.

What is a grateful mile?

A grateful mile is all about dedicating a small part of your day to thinking about the good in your life. Words like ‘gratitude’ and ‘mindfulness’ are used a lot in today’s wellness scene and for some might sound a bit airy fairy or even cringe. But a grateful mile doesn’t ask you to shout about all the wonderful things you have in your life or to sit and journal about what you are grateful for, it just asks you to take a moment before you head out for a run or a walk and focus on something you are thankful for, be it a person, a memory, or an experience.

“Once you practice it and build positive habits around it, you can take it to new heights and play around with the gratitude experience. Be more specific, be more mindful” White noted. “That’s the journey.”

I ran a grateful mile everyday for a week — here’s what happened

I decided to approach my usual exercise routine a little differently. I unplugged from caring about my running stats and focused on being more present during exercise by completing a grateful mile every day for a week. Keep reading to find out what happened.

It reminded me why I fell in love with running

I first got into running as a kid and started representing my local athletics club in competitions. Unfortunately at this age, I found the pressure of competing took its toll on me and I stopped enjoying the sport. So I left my club and running lost its sparkle for a bit. However, I picked it back up during uni when I needed an escape from looming deadlines and general anxieties. I haven’t stopped ever since, running has remained a constant in my life and I’m now someone who runs marathons for fun.

That being said, I am guilty of getting wrapped up in training plans and pouring all my focus into what my best running watch says about my running performance or what my peers are clocking on their Strava profiles. So retuning my mind and intention before a run seemed like a good practice for me.

During the grateful mile, I would think about anything from a family member I miss and can’t wait to call and catch up with after the run, or a nice encounter with a stranger I’d experienced that day, or I’d look around me and appreciate my surroundings. Stripping things back and being more present on my runs with a grateful mile brought me back to why I love running as a hobby. It gets me outdoors, my mind feels so much clearer with each stride and in general my energy shifts to one that is more positive.

a woman smiling while running
a woman smiling while running

You don’t have to run

If you’re reading this and don’t like running or you perhaps don’t feel fit enough to run a mile right now, you can still complete a grateful mile. Not once in my conversation with White did he just talk about running a grateful mile, it was always ‘run or walk’.

“Just build the habit and invest time in yourself,” said Mark, “And that walking a mile might turn into running a mile, a mile more, a few more miles and then all of a sudden we’ve had experiences of people start and they’ve done a 5K, 10k and some even completing marathons.”

In my current marathon training schedule, the weekly mileage can be a lot and I need non-running days to let my muscles recover. So, if I had a day where I didn’t head out for a run I made sure to think about what I was grateful for that day on a walk. Even if I didn’t have time to schedule in a specific walk for the grateful mile, I made sure to think of something I was grateful for while walking to meet my friends for coffee.

Doing it on the way to meet friends showed how practicing gratitude can have a positive ripple effect on those around you. Thinking of the good in my life, lifted my mood, it made me want to be extra nice to the lady who poured my coffee and made me show some extra love to my friends that I feel grateful for.

It has nothing to do with performance

It’s not surprising that some people find running an intimidating hobby or sport to get into especially when you bring social media into the mix. Like with most things shared on social media, we tend to only show the best bits. So you might see online a friend complete a rapid 10K and forget that this doesn't show the times they stopped and took a breather or show the countless training sessions they put in to reach this time.

The great thing about including a grateful mile in your daily runs, cycles or walks is that it has nothing to do with how fast or far you are going. It’s just about creating a healthy exercise for your mind while you move. Just don’t be surprised if staying consistent with this practice leads you to reach a new record in your walks or runs.

If you try running or walking a grateful mile and find you don’t really settle into it, try removing your fitness tracker from your wrist or putting your phone on a do not disturb mode to feel more present.

More from Tom's Guide