I often get asked: what do you think about when you run?
It’s an interesting question, but not one that I always have an answer for.
It’s a difficult task remembering thought, so all that I’m certain about is that it can’t be the same thing every time.
I’m no Eliud Kipchoge, I can’t completely disregard and push away the physical pain that fast or long running sometimes generates, so for a starters that. In an ideal world I’d say that I specifically do not think about how much something hurts, and I do give it a good old go, but there’s no denying that sometimes the pain of my run rings loud in my head and it is all I can think about.
But not always. I suppose the answer is that I let whatever happens, happen. Whatever random thoughts stroll into my skull as I pad around for an hour or so are all pretty welcome, and sometimes I can be struck by ideas or surprisingly clear or fluent lines of thinking that I would not be able to reach without running. It’s an oft repeated tale about great inventors, poets, philosophers etc. reaching their grand conclusions whilst out for a stroll, sleeping, or just generally not sitting and thinking about something. I think running falls into that category where ideas can be come across completely accidentally, with the mind being distracted by all the pain and whatnot.
What I’m mostly thinking about when I’m running though, is running. I’m thinking about maintaining pace, speeding up, slowing down. I’m thinking about mileage. I’m thinking about when I’m going to be running into the wind, and when I’m going to have my back to it. Although it is nice to clear the head and allow those random thoughts in, I’m yet to be struck by anything which is worth much weight in gold, so it’s actually these moments, the moments when I am entirely absorbed in the run itself that I enjoy myself most.
In these moments I’m also fond of playing little games.
Take my latest run for instance, I was feeling sluggish, but I wanted to double up. My morning session had been lacklustre but as I went out the door I figured I’d plod around 5-miles at 7:30 mile pace – better than nothing, better than most, right? Right. After a mile and a half I was feeling much better, and so I set myself a challenge: pick up the speed and get my average time down from that 7:30 pace that I was bouncing around at to sub-7. Once I was there I planned on jogging around to the 5-mile mark. I didn’t know how long it would take me to get the average speed down, but I figured that was really up to me. I could go balls-to-the-wall for a shorter stint, or gradually increase the pace over a slightly longer one. In the end it took me just under 2-miles to get it there, but it was the sporadic nature of the workout that left me smiling. I went out with low expectations and came back feeling way, way better and was ultimately very pleased with my days training.
Focus Up, or Drift Away?
I found this topic intriguing enough to do a little extra research and see if there is something that we should be thinking about when we’re running, and if there is anything that people tend to gravitate towards.
Noel Brick, a lecturer for Sports and Exercise Studies at Ulster University was interviewed by Runners World last year in a post written by Scott Douglas, and Brick noted some interesting differences between experienced runners, and beginners.
He suggests that beginners are sometimes overwhelmed by the sensory overload that running can provide, particularly focusing on how to difficult it can be to breathe, which can make running an unpleasant experience.
Although I’d struggle to call myself an “experienced runner” it has been a long time since I’ve really struggled with my breathing, not because I never get out of breath (I clearly wouldn’t be trying hard enough if that was the case) but because I’m so used to the sensation of breathing heavily and deeply that I don’t even think twice about it. To get around this unpleasant sensation Brick suggests distraction – music, conversation, or just trying to think about what they’re doing with the rest of the day.
But this is tough for a beginner, because running is damn. hard.
The more experienced runner has more options, according to Brick. Although he doesn’t suggest there is one “correct” way to think through a run, he does suggest a range of techniques.
Self-talk is perhaps the most interesting one. All it means is thinking motivational thoughts, repeating mantras, and just generally keeping your mind positive. A runner might not want to be focusing on this the whole way around a run so if they can disassociate for longer, steadier portions they can come back to focus during harder, faster segments (think uphill battles, sprint finishes etc.) where they can, as I suggested I enjoyed doing above, focus completely on the actual sensation of running thinking about how there is foot striking, what pace they’re at, how far there is left to, but then also being quite literal in praising yourself, motivating yourself:
You’re doing great!
Keep it up!
Not far now!
You get the deal.
But what do you think about? Are you a self-talker? Do you, as an excellent Reddit thread I found suggested, think about all the makes you anxious or worried? Sweating it out as you take your demons to task? Or are you still in the trying-not-to-die phase?
The Tolkien Run
In any case, you might be interested in this fun little run from Saxon Shore, who put on so many races that I could probably feature them every week.
This particular run in Samphire Hoe, Kent, is perfect for my blog because it has a literary theme. Specifically, Lord of the Rings.
Why? You may ask.
Why not? I say.
You have six hours to complete as many laps of the long nature reserve course as possible (7 laps for a marathon, if you fancy it) and a custom-made medal at the end, themed of course to the LotR designs of the event.
It’s a pricey entrance fee, but check out the previous year’s medals…it might just soften the blow.
As always comments are appreciated, follows are advocated, and running is absolutely advised.