At the end of last year, coming into the start of this year, I read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running; and I’ve left the book sitting by my computer since then, both for inspiration and also because there are a number of things I’d like to talk about from the book.
Within the first chapter, Murakami mentions that he’s often asked what he thinks about when he runs, being a long distance (i.e. marathon) runner. Since I’m not famous, and no one really asks me anything about my running except to ask where and/or for how long I run, I don’t think I’ve been asked this before. I have, however, pondered the question in my own time, and it seems that my answer is more or less the same as Murakami’s:
On cold days I guess I think a little about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. … But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.
He then goes on to talk about running in a void, or running to create a void, and that, I think, is one of the truly marvellous things about running.
This afternoon*, however, I went for a run, and I tried to make mental notes about what I thought about, just for interest’s sake. It’s still nothing really “worth mentioning”, but this is my blog, and it’s already filled with plenty of pointless ramblings, so one more surely wouldn’t hurt…
I think mostly about the route, where I’m going, and the checkpoints I’ll use. I like running long distances (which for me equates to approximately 6-10km) but I can’t run the entire distance without stopping to walk for a bit, at intervals. As such, I try to give myself reasonably spaced checkpoints throughout, so that I don’t stop and start too frequently. These thoughts usually go something like this: Just make it over the bridge, and then I’ll walk to that lamppost, and maybe resume running before I get to that tree…
(I know there are apps for interval training that could be used for this, but my exhaustion vs adrenaline varies throughout the run, and I try to space my intervals according to this, rather than relying on set times. I have to account for gradients/inclines too.)
I pay a great deal of attention to my technique and form: I think about my posture; about relaxing my shoulders and stabilising my hips; about my stride length and what I’m doing with my arms. (Side note: I can’t remember where I got this tip from, but if you gently press your first two fingers to your thumbs while running, it’s supposed to relax your shoulders and help your form.)
Surprisingly, I don’t think a great deal about which part of my foot I’m landing on and stepping off with, which is supposedly an important part of efficient running. That only occurred to me toward the end of my run, and I hope it’s because, by now, I do it naturally.
However, I do pay a lot of attention to my feet in other respects: I think about where I’m stepping (in case of uneven footpaths, sticks, rocks and other hazards), I think about whether my laces are too tight/loose and need adjusting, and I pay a lot of attention to how loud/soft my steps are (as an indicator of fatigue).
I also think about my breathing, and whether the rhythm of it matches my pace; and I spare a thought for my heart rate, and wonder if it’s going ok. I think about which muscles are tiring, and I wonder if, this time, my lungs will be burning before my legs protest, or vice versa. In thinking about this, I think also of how exhausted I’m going to be afterwards, and how exuberantly sore I’ll be the next day (these thoughts tend to spur me on). I also pay close attention to which joints or ligaments complain, and try to correct my technique accordingly.
But I also pay a great deal of attention to external things. I love running outdoors (can’t remember the last time I used a treadmill – not in the last ten years, at least) because it enriches the experience.
I listen for the approaching footsteps of other runners, or the bells of passing cyclists. I watch my fellow fitness enthusiasts, and remember to offer kind smiles and nods as we pass each other. I might wonder if I’ve seen them before, or ponder briefly about their motivations for running or cycling or walking, as it may be.
I spend a lot of time looking at the ground, but I also spend a lot of time looking at the sky. This afternoon, when I started my run, it was overcast but, as I ran, the sky cleared, and there were uplifting patches of blue among the grey. Often, I run at dusk, or just before, so there’s usually a beautiful sunset to be enjoyed as I run. And I will think, this is why orange is my most favourite colour.
I think about why it’s so windy, and why the wind is so loud, and always seems to be blowing against me, instead of pushing me on. I think about the heat of the sun, and spare a thought for how much I’m perspiring (or not perspiring, if it’s winter and cold enough).
I don’t listen to music while I run, but there’s usually a song playing in my head, and I think at least a little bit about the lyrics.
There are a lot of things that I don’t think about while running, and I feel like it’s not a conscious decision, but just something that happens. I actually don’t think much of what has happened that day, or what will happen later; and I don’t contemplate the great questions of life and existence.
Today, as I was making these mental notes, I felt like I was thinking too much. I reckon that all of these thoughts that I’ve noted generally occur on some blissfully subconscious level (except maybe the technique part). Running might help me destress and thus enable me to think more clearly afterwards, but running is not a time for thinking, for me – even if it’s just thinking about what I think about when I run.
*this post written after my run on Saturday 16/01/16; published on 18/01/16