I’m not sure if I’d classify myself as someone who runs “a lot”. It depends on my audience. To non-runners, yes, I probably do run a lot. To people training for marathons, I don’t log that many hours or miles. I run about 5-6 times a week, probably averaging an hour for most of my runs. But it’s enough time to become aware of the often asked question :”What do you think about when you’re running?” I’ve been asked this question a number of times and I usually answer with something vague like “nothing” or “anything”. The truth is I don’t really know. Once you start thinking about what you’re thinking about, you become too self-conscious and the “what” of what you’re thinking about becomes what you’re thinking about.
But I was disturbed by a recent study that came out published by The Atlantic on What runners are thinking. It examined the thoughts of 10 runners who were training for marathons or half marathons. The study found that 40% of the time the runners were thinking about pace and distance. 32% of the time they were thinking about pain and discomfort. And the remaining 28% of their thoughts were focused on their environment.
As I said, I don’t know what I usually think about, but I just looked at those statistics and thought “that’s not me”.
I can recall one run where I didn’t have a watch but vaguely had an idea of what route I wanted to do. I changed course partway through and a while later I found myself back home. I tried to remember where I had just run but had no clue. I’d gone on automatic pilot on one of my routes, but with no watch I had no reference point. My mind had slipped into neutral and remained there for the course of my run. Pretty sure that one wasn’t an hour, but who knows?
After reading the above mentioned study I became aware of what I was thinking. But sometimes only after the fact. The other day I did run for a full hour (I timed that one), and about 10 minutes before finishing I realized that for the entire run I had been replaying a funny YouTube clip of Will Ferrell in my head. It was an 8 minute clip. I had been chuckling about it to myself for 50 minutes!
I’m not sure what all this says about my intellectual depth, but I do know that my mind likes going to these “happy places”. I also know that if 72% of my time spent running required thought power and mental energy vs. an opportunity to mentally check-out, I would definitely be doing a lot less of it!