Recently, I was talking to someone who said he was thinking of taking up running. He made the point that you “turn into a robot when you run.” I disagreed at the time, but lacked the energy to actually argue my conviction. I’ve been thinking about it since though, and I’d like to see what others think.
I guess there is the possibility that I misinterpreted his use of the term “robot.” I took it to mean an unthinking, auto-pilot mode.
But I find that I think a lot while I’m running.
If I’m having a bad run, as I did on Tuesday, I have to think very hard about what I am doing. I think about breathing through the cramp. I think about why the fuck I ate that damn Wendy’s, the source of my cramp, for lunch. I think about stopping. Then I think about how I am not going to stop. I do some fancy-ass negotiation with myself. I am going, goddamnit, GOING. I think, okay, fine. You can stop, but first you must run 2 more minutes. (Then 2 more, and 2 more and 2 more as each 2 minutes passes). Breathe, breathe, breathe. Oh my GOD WHAT IS THAT SEARING PAIN IN MY LEG??? Dude, just run through it (90% of the time the decision to run through some weird pain results in injury but there’s always that 10% when it actually is nothing that keeps me making it). On these very bad runs sometimes I will do a visualization. I can make myself keep going by visualizing every drop of sweat as fat melting off my body. Anyway, the point is, on bad runs I feel like my brain is actually overactive trying to help me get through the hellish torture.
I loathe street running but I concede it is good for me, so sometimes I will do it. On these occasions there is even more to think about. Is that light going to turn red? Those assholes chatting in the middle of the sidewalk with their dogs. That puddle. The uneven pavement. How am I going to run past those roofers without having to speak to them when they greet me? (Answer, there is no way to do this). And so on.
Even when I am having a great run, I still have quite a lot to think about. The first thing I like to think about is from my yoga practice. I scan through my body and make sure I’m not holding unnecessary tension anywhere. Usually, I find I am holding my neck too taut so I spend some time sorting that out before I get too far into the run. After that I am free to think about whatever I want. I have sorted out a lot of shit while running. Most notably, I worked through most of my divorce related grief on the treadmill … a lot of very angry thoughts. I feel like I have a lot of my best ideas when I’m running – like, different ways to do things at work, or how to deal with a personal problem or sometimes I mentally draft things I’m writing while running. I mean, my attention is pretty undivided while I’m running. If the only distraction available to me is myself, I might as well make it useful distraction, right?
Sometimes … sometimes, there is a bit of a “stillness”. But it’s a cultivated, conscious mental stillness – focussing on the breathing and the stride, feeling the feet pounding and arms swinging. I could never call it robotic.
But maybe that’s all just me. Maybe others do turn into robots – Do you?