This is entry #2 in the "Questions People ask Runners" series. Yeah, entry 2 took a while. Sorry.
What do you think about while you run?
I get this question a lot from people who cannot imagine spending hours on end running. There are many who are not against running for the physical benefits or maybe even the peace of mind but the sheer boredom of the time spent doing nothing but "running" in a straight line with no ball or goal or anything! It's not "how do you do it?" Most of the time the question is "what could you possibly be thinking about that whole time?" After all, running is just about going out there and moving one foot in front of the other right? Yes and no.
The answer to the question about my thoughts while running is answered very simply: It depends. I think about a lot of different things while I run, but to be honest, it is always connected to the nature of the run.
All the Time
While my thoughts change depending on the run there are certain things that I think about nearly every time I'm out there whether on a short recovery run, a long day, or even prepping for intervals.
-Purpose- On every run I make sure to be very conscious about what I'm doing. On recovery days I have to continually think: easy, easy, easy nothing to prove. On long days I reflect on the distance, fueling, and what the outcome of this run will be. If it's a long run with a fast finish I have to think often about conserving energy. If it's a "time on my feet" run, I just think about controlling it. This goes for every run I do. If I don't constantly stay in tune with the purpose of the run, I'll end up doing something stupid by running too fast mostly and wasting myself for the next day.
-Races-I nearly always think about at least one race while running. Either it's the marathon that is behind me or ahead of me, maybe that 10k coming this Sunday or the 5k when I could have run faster. Sometimes a race from my past pops into my head and I think about the exhilaration of winning. I have to be careful how far I walk down this road in my mind because my adrenaline has the tendency of getting the best of me if I stay here too long.
-Friends-I typically think about my runner friends while I'm out there. Sometimes it's people in my club, the coach, or maybe some Daily Mile friends. I glean a lot of encouragement from realizing that there is a structure out there waiting for me and that I can update them with my run or learn what they've done. Sometimes while I'm on a long run and I'm getting tired I think about friends who have recently run 50 mile races or my friend Brendan who ran an all-night 33 miler the other day. CRAZY.
-Sermons-A lot of the time, but not all, I contemplate ideas or mediate on passages of Scripture while I run. I find that I can come up with all kinds of illustrations or points in my mind while I run. Even though the ideas might come and go and I can't write them all down, I love the sermon mapping that goes on while I run.
-Strangers-It depends on the time of day but other runners give a lot of food for thought. "Look at those shoes, what the heck was that guy thinking?" Or, wow, that guy looks tough, I wonder if I surge past him if he'll go with me." "Huh, that guy is breathing way too hard, he need to relax. Doesn't he know that he won't improve fitness like that?" I realize that these are mostly judgmental stupid things, but sometimes it's hard not to want to "help" others while you're running.
-Daily Mile-Since I've been on DM in the last year towards the end of my run I sometimes start thinking about what I'll write in my post and if there are any friends to mention or whatever. I don't think about this every time but if I know I'll be pressed with things to do I might start to prepare the post in order to knock it out quickly.
The special days
-Those were the days-I already mentioned races but there are certain days when I'm running and a smell or a certain stride or part in the woods will transport me to a place that I've been before. There are certain races that I love to relive time after time on a run and while it's dangerous in terms of adrenaline, it's hard to resist. 1999 on the track at the State Championships is one that comes time and time again. I remember the feeling of utter burn and pain in my hamstrings and my coach yelling "you're right there, you're faster than this pack, hang on and fly." I remember hearing the gun go off and taking off hard with 1 lap to go in order to pass 6 guys on the last trip around to finish 4th and stand on the podium. I remember the blur of the crowd, the surprised look on one guy's face when I passed hard. There are a few races that I go back to for inspiration or for the knowledge that somewhere in "there" I still have the ability to do what I think is impossible. There are other race stories for other days.
So, what do I think about while I run? Well, running I guess. I think about form, strength, progress, races, fueling. And to be honest, there is a lot to think about. But some days, running isn't that interesting. Some days I just need to chill. And it's on those days when I can turn of the constant parade of thoughts and listen to the city, listen to my breathing, and listen to God speak to me when it's just me, all alone putting one foot in front of the other.