How To Do An Empathy Run

A lovely scene from Virgin Sport Oxford 2017.

We sat down with William Pullen, author of the new book Running With Mindfulness, to discuss the theory and process behind his ‘Empathy Runs’ — part of a form of therapy he has developed called Dynamic Running Therapy.

The benefits of running can extend beyond the physical and improve mental health. With the concept of empathy runs, you can deepen your running practice by connecting with others.

Where did the idea for Empathy Runs come from?

I created Empathy Runs as part of a running therapy I developed called Dynamic Running Therapy. Though originally developed as a method for encouraging empathy in school children, I witnessed how surprised adults were at how powerful and rewarding they found the runs when they tried it themselves. Ask any runner why they run and you may hear they enjoy getting outdoors, are motivated by achieving goals, and value the accompanying improved mental and physical health. But ask those who run with others and they will often talk about a powerful sense of togetherness and trust they enjoy. Empathy Runs draw on that.

How do you do an Empathy Run?

It’s a simple process: taking it in turns with your running partner, you spend 10-15 mins each talking about a subject that is relevant to you at the moment. The goal for the listener is to resist interrupting and to instead really concentrate on what is being said and noting non-verbal communication such as pauses, sighs, changes in facial expression and pace.

Most importantly, it means sticking with what is heard and not jumping ahead, preparing a reply. This practise, called active listening, dramatically improves your ability to really comprehend what you’re hearing, but critically it gives the person sharing an opportunity to express themselves uninterrupted — a rare thing in this busy world.

Definitely—we need more uninterrupted time! How does the running play a role in this type of active listening?

As anyone who’s been on a road trip will tell you, when you travel together story telling goes hand in hand with the journey…. tongues are loosened, memories reawakened, and confidences shared.

Empathy Runs create this same sense of trust and camaraderie. Notably, there is none of the sometimes intimidating “face-off” of normal conversation. Because you are side by side, there is less worry around how you both react, and the changing landscape in front you provides a welcome distraction to some of the anxiety you might feel facing each other.

There’s definitely something great in going somewhere together. How do you wrap up the end of an Empathy Run?

At the end of each run, each of you paraphrase back to your partner what you have heard. What follows is a powerful and comforting sense of really being heard and understood.

Most likely talking while running/walking is written deep into our DNA, explaining why this simple exercise can feel so profound and rejuvenating.

Empathy Runs can help all kinds of relationships, but most of all they’re a great way to really connect with others in a world where we feel increasingly disconnected.

If you are in London and interested in learning more about mindfulness and running, please check out Chevy Rough of ChasingLights Collective. They have a wonderful new night on Tuesdays at G-Shock called ‘Regulate’ which is a must-visit.

To join us at a future Virgin Sport event, click here.