Think While Running?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.

My Prob­lems
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.

co1Of 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?