Chances are if you ever told a non-runner that you go for 2 and 3 hour runs, you’ve been asked the question: “What do you think about when you run?”
This is a fair question from a non-runner and it makes sense that it is asked, but you probably don't get asked this too often by runners themselves. At least I don’t. The question itself seems to suggest that running is some sort of insomnia-like, ruminating state. I have never had the worry; “oh no, what will I think about when I'm running.”
Thoughts come and go with breaths. Some stick with you, some don't. Cognitions shoot out in every direction. Spiritual epiphanies happen at times, other times I get flashes of ideas for a story. My imagination thinks of things outlandish that would only make sense in the throes of a run. Other times I remember bills I have to pay or dentist appointments I have to make. Rarely am I consciously making a list to pass the time of what I have to do or doing anything that requires concentration. It's more like a raging river of subjects rushing by, and you grab bits and pieces as you travel through if they seem to fit.
I am currently reading a philosophical book on running called “Running With the Pack” by Mark Rowlands, and this probably explains why I am trying to wax poetic and philosophic about this question. The book discusses this question, and so many others, in much more detail. Here is one of the many passages I highlighted on my kindle:
"If I am thinking at all when I run, this is a sign of a run gone wrong – or, at least, of a run that has not yet gone right. The run does not yet have me in its grip. I am not yet in the heart beat of the run; the rhythm of the run has not done its hypnotic work. On every long run that has gone right, there comes a point were thinking stops and thoughts begin… Running is the open space where thoughts come to play."
This really seemed to ring true for me. I had to check in with this, so on my last few runs I decided to consciously think about what I am thinking while I run. What I realized is, I don't necessarily think when I run, I feel. Thoughts are immediately turned to feelings. Even if it is a concrete, tangible thought such as described above about paying the bills, I'm feeling what it's like to pay the bills. Running turns thoughts to feelings the same way lyrics turns words to music.
More on this book soon.