What do you think about when you run?
A friend asked me that question recently, in sincere curiosity, and at the time I struggled with my answer.
What do I think about when I run?
Some days, I think about things in my life: work, family, relationships, etc. Other times, I run to stop thinking about them, to just let those thoughts, worries, lists and problems fade away for a time. I’ve heard people refer to this as “clearing the mind.” I tend to not feel clear after a run. I tend to feel hungry and tired. But maybe that’s the point. I’ve stopped the mess in my head, hit some sort of reset button, and can then return to the issues of the day from a different perspective.
On yesterday’s easy 5-mile run, I didn’t so much think as look. I took in the scenery of the country road run, noticing, for instance, that one house not only has roosters roaming around the driveway but a post with a skull on top of it. I may have picked up my pace just a tad as I went by that dwelling. But I didn’t look at my watch. Didn’t look at time or pace once — just distance so I could gauge my turnaround point. I ran based on feel and enjoyed the opportunity to be in the moment, to enjoy the activity and the surroundings, for 50 minutes or so.
This morning’s track workout brought a different kind of opportunity to be in the moment. On speed workouts, it’s about staying in the moment, staying focused on what’s in front of you. What’s going on at that exact moment? Do I need to slow down? Speed up? I think about my legs feeling heavy. I think about that feeling of throwing up that comes in the final 100 meters. I think to myself if I don’t make the target time, that’s OK. I think to myself: Strong. Stronger. Strong. You are stronger than you think you are.
And suddenly, I’ve finished the 500 meters and I’ve hit my target pace.
If thoughts become things and if what we think about is what we draw to ourselves, then what I’m thinking about when I run is actually just as important as the run itself. So lately, I’ve started to pay attention to what I think about when I run. I’ve let go of the self-criticism. I’ve even let go of the notion of “fighting” or “struggling” when it comes to a workout.
Instead, I try to think that everything comes easily to me. I try to think about being strong.
Somehow, without even trying, I finish the workout feeling strong, feeling accomplished, and feeling like it came naturally to me.
It has nothing to do with the actually running and everything to do with my thoughts, with my state of mind. Through staying present and positive on my runs — whether they’re long runs, tempo jaunts or speed work — I’ve changed what I believe to be true about myself.
And suddenly, there is one more thing I’m able to do, one more challenge I’m ready to try, because my thoughts have turned to strength and adventure, making all the difference in the way I approach my day.