George Carlin once said you’ll never see a smiling runner. Those who have done an inflatable obstacle course 5k may beg to differ but I would have to agree with George in most cases. Most of us usually fall into intense focus, pushing through the hard work and discomfort that comes with taking ourselves to the breaking point, lighting our lungs on fire as we strive to just go a tad faster. As the miles and the duration add up, we tend to have plenty of time to think. Running in a group is a bit different, because you have inherent conversation that occurs just as you might at dinner or in the car on a trip. I want to focus more on the “alone time” runs. I’ve been asked, primarily by those that haven’t experienced the long alone run, “what do you think about?” I’ll let you in on what I might think on a run. Welcome to the inside. Remember: tread lightly, duck and move, and understand there can be a bit of arbitrary mixed in henceforth.
I, like most, spent a good portion of time focused on pace, effort, and distance: the important performance stuff. These thoughts can range from a countdown of miles, percentage of run complete, commentary such as: “This pace is too much for the next miles with hills” or “if I run a tad faster, I can be done quicker.” I also tend to do calculations of guessing minutes remaining as either a slap in the face or a rightly timed motivation of having not much left – “I can do anything for 15 mins right?”
Another common focal point is similar to something you might do while in car. Let’s call it “environmental experience.” Ranging from the happier “that’s a pretty dog” and “look at that new car” to an “expressive” “what is the idiot in that car doing, they almost ran me off the road”, we spend a lot of time with thoughts based off what we see around us. One of the most amusing thoughts I had recently was when I was running a few hundred yards behind two friends on a greenway. They spaced themselves out – one on the far left, and one on the far right – about 10-15 feet apart. Kenny and I appreciated the amusement at mile 14 of 20.
By far, I feel those two topics are going to be the most common and constantly part of each run. Let’s dive a bit deeper, shall we.
“Some seek the comfort of their therapist’s office, other head to the corner pub and dive into a pint, but I chose running as my therapy.”
― Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
It seems like I spend some portion of my long runs alone performing mental therapy on myself. Playing out conversations, scenarios, self-reflection – all a part of the “joy” of spending a few hours alone. Sometimes the ideas and plans I come up with are golden. Sometimes things I plan, whether for that day or the next year, once I come back to it after the run, it’s really that good. I once “wrote” an entire paper on a run before: set up the thesis, paragraph organization, summary. Grocery store list – done. Running event plans for the next year – check. Those usually change upon completion of said run. I think those that have run have most likely spent periods of those runs so deep in thought that 2 miles disappear and you are left with figuring out how you got there without falling into a ditch. I usually get blasted from these trances by the inconsiderate yell/honk from a stranger that almost causes a face plant to the pavement. These times can be extremely helpful, as most of us have times where getting some reflective time alone is difficult.
On a run alone not long ago, I decided to make some mental notes of random thoughts separate from above that entered my brain during the course of a run in my neighborhood. I choose this type of run because it was solo, in environment that I spent a lot of time, and “relatively” external distraction free (no sirens, stop lights, etc) I present to you a sample of the potpourri of me in no particular order (just like the run):
Did I lock the door? My phone battery is going to run out before the end and then I won’t have music. Spiderweb stuck on me. Should have brought gloves, my hands are cold. Would I rather fight one horse size duck, or 100 duck sized horses? Why do sidewalks end on one side of the street and then start on the other? Why not keep in on the same, or even both so people don’t have to cross? Wonder if I could get Camden and I a Legend racecar when he gets bigger. Thomas the Tank Engine Character Favorability Rating (1.Thomas, 2. Percy, 3. James). Better giveway – tshirt or hat? Still think that spiderweb is on me. They need to cut their grass. Shouldn’t have come this way, it has a big hill. If a snake fell out of a tree on to me, what could I do to get away? Should I eat one pizza or two tonight? Are my keys still in my pocket? Why is it also so hot/humid? I wonder if I look in pain when I run, I should smile more. ICE CREAM!!!!!
As of 10/10/17, I have put in 372 miles since July for Savannah Marathon training (I did 165 miles from Jan to July of just “normal running”). Except for a sinus trouble here and there and a few really hot and humid runs, the training has been very good. I place the goodness of the training primarily on two things: running with my group for the long runs, and Mr. RunnerDude (Thad). (Check out his blog here: http://ncrunnerdude.blogspot.com/) Completely different experience this go round in training vs. doing it solo. My group’s training crescendos at 20 miles, which we did 2 weeks ago and will do again this week. I will be doing my 20 miles this week as 7 miles then 13.1 in the Cannonball Half Marathon in Greensboro, running for Greensboro Physical Therapy. It is a unique scenario- running 7 miles before an event – but the day is not about setting records, it’s about mileage and getting out in the running community. I enjoy the local half that takes place on our city’s Greenways and Country Park. It’s a great setting and a fun race close by home. Not great for spectators due to the course layout but I will be excited to see my wife and 9 month old (yes, 9 months!) at this finish line. Perhaps I can earn a big 5 tooth grin from the fella – and then beg for water.