What I think about when I’m running

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!

Where I go when I'm running

Where I go when I’m running

Negative splitting my way through life

I did a hill workout this morning which resembled many of my workouts in its pattern. I had eight hills to do, so I rolled into the first one without a lot of enthusiasm – just getting the work done, one foot in front of the other. But once I was about halfway through the workout I started to get excited about pushing harder, and I started running the hills faster. By the time I was down to my last two I was pushing as hard as I could and running my fastest hills of the day.

I’ve been training to run my workouts this way (saving the fastest for last) for over 25 years. Nobody “wins” the workout on the first interval. I was always told it was the last one that counted. I run all of my harder training runs this way – whether they’re tempos, long runs or interval workouts. However I’m not sure if my pacing tactics are due to years of training that way, or whether they are the result of my innate personality.

I know many people like to go out hard, figuring it’s “time in the bank” and they think if they are going to get one super fast segment out of themselves it might as well be the first one. They like to front-end-load their work. I understand this mentality, and I don’t judge it. But no matter how much you tell these people to save the fastest, hardest effort for last, some seem just incapable of doing it. I think that this too is an innate personality trait.

In my non-running life, I am someone who works to a deadline. If I know where the finish line is, I pace myself accordingly. In university I could have three weeks to write an essay and all the work would happen in the last day. I ramp up in pace and intensity as I get closer to my goal. I just cannot seem to go hard out of the gates. I wish I could though! I really wish I could get all of my work done days in advance and then have free time at the end. But I think I am fundamentally incapable of that type of pacing. I can’t do my best or most efficient work with lots of time to spare. I sprint to the finish every single time.

Have all my years of training with negative splits in order to get my best running results rubbed off in other areas of my life? Or is this just a strategy which suits my personality for any task I undertake? I’m not sure. But if you want to see my best work in anything, you’ll have to wait until the end.