Running has changed a lot for me over the years. When I first started, I looked at running as a sport, with the goal of getting better. Running was hard those days and involved a lot of mental toughness. It wasn’t as much fun back then. Seventeen years later, I have grown to love running; from the physical health to the feelings of accomplishment it provides. More than anything, however, running provides me sanity; a time in every day when I can focus on whatever I damn well please and actually make some mental progress. It is a source of guilt-free freedom that gives me killer calves to boot. What is there not to love about this sport?
I’ve been asked by both non-running and running friends on what I think about while running. The question usually comes up in conversations about long runs. People want to know how I keep myself occupied when running for 2–3 hours at a time. Trust me, thinking is not hard – it’s the whole ‘shutting your mind off’ thing that takes practice.
It’s impractical to list the things I’ve thought about over the years, because it includes damn near everything. Most commonly, however, I think about three things.
First, I think about whatever I’m training for. That one’s obvious. I don’t just go for multiple hour runs for the hell of it. I envision the course, how it will be to run the terrain in all types of weather, what my pace will be, when I’ll start taking in calories, and how great my knees will feel (they generally explode in pain around mile 22–25, so I try the ‘positive thinking’ approach). It hasn’t worked yet.
Second, I think about whatever is troubling me at the moment. I’m basically the prototype for Type A personalities with a dash of obsessive compulsiveness, a pinch of hypochondria, and I’m a mom. In other words, I’m a cocktail of worry with a ponytail bouncing along the side of the road. There is always something troubling me, ranging from which new organic cleaning supplies recipe from Pinterest I want to try next, to wondering how the hell I’m going to potty train my daughter, to the fate of the environment. Seriously. My range is that big on a regular basis. Without running, I have no doubt that I would be on anti-anxiety medication, divorced, and living in my parent’s basement chewing my fingernails, afraid to leave and face the world.
Of course I’m being a bit facetious here – but only a bit. The mental clarity that running provides me is unparalleled. For some reason, when my body is bouncing over asphalt or trails and my skin is moist with sweat, I am able to think past my vast sea of worries and find resolutions, develop plans of attack, and reach a point of calm and acceptance that things will be okay. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever returned from a run in a worse mood than when I left. I can’t say that for anything else I’ve done regularly.
Finally, I think about my family. This is the newest one for me. Thinking about my husband and daughter while running makes me happy and able to run better than I ever have. I have a faster average pace, run far longer distances than I ever used to, and even feel better afterwards. Other than that, running keeps me healthy – physically and mentally – for those I love.
What do you think about while running?