Picture this: You’re in the midst of a long run – or maybe you just started warming up for what will be your longest trek in several weeks or months. Most of the time spent running or training may be practiced alone as you focus on getting stronger. At some point during your run, you probably “zone out” into a mental space where you feel invincible and the “satisfying pain” of getting in shape feels amazing.
Every runner knows that we’re not just out there hitting the pavement to keep our legs and cardio strong – and our passion is about much more than staying fit and competing to run faster. What begins for many runners as a fitness decision, hobby or “love for speed and freedom” often transforms into a beautiful mental space where we can figure out what we want in life and how we can be the best versions of ourselves. Every runner has a story of how their journey began physically, emotionally and mentally.
What separates running from other sports is that while we’re engaged in its glory, we can “travel” to different places outside of our comfort zones that allow us to think outside of the box. Most of the time, we really don’t have to concentrate too much on the physical force and act of running other than controlling how fast our feet pound the pavement. The great thing about running – especially leisure runs – is that you can allow your mind to wander while you’re in the midst of training and not get anxious that you’re negatively impacting a team member while practicing the sport. Of course, paying attention to the road is common sense, but for those running along familiar territory that’s wide open, there are a melange of mental benefits that result from our training.
So, runners – what’s actually on your mind and what are you thinking about as you’re demolishing those miles? Work? Family? Your relationship? Friends? Your health? Are there problems you need to face that only a good long run can help you solve?
Of course, the run itself is also weighing on our minds when we have a competition coming up! However, running may have become your perfect “escape” from reality in that your legs and feet are helping you proverbially “climb through/over” a rough patch in life. Clinical studies have shown that running vastly improves mental health, confidence, symptoms of depression and provides a healthy outlet for some of our tumultuous personal battles. When we have running – or any other physical activity that gets us moving in life – we remove ourselves from a “stagnant place” and allow life’s toxic energy to clear.
Whatever goes through our minds as we’re running, there are plenty of deep and intensive processes we have about life as the miles add up.
“UGH – Why Am I Doing This?”
The first thing most runners’ questions is why are we pushing ourselves in the first place? Why are we forcing ourselves to sweat for hours on end? It’s usually at the beginning of our run that we often question ourselves because, even though we have a goal to meet, “starting our engines” is often the hardest part of the journey.
If you haven’t run in quite some time and you’re just getting back into the routine, you may ask yourself “What am I doing this for?” This self-evaluation is usually answered after you push yourself a few miles and your “why” becomes clear when the sensation of adrenaline takes over and your body starts to feel stronger. The end result of your run and pushing yourself is the answer! “I do it because I feel accomplished, focused and as if I can conquer anything I put my mind to.”
When you think about it, this question can be applied to anything you decide to do in life. You can question other factors – like why you’re choosing certain jobs, why you’re associating with certain people or why you’re making certain dietary choices.
Sometimes during a run, if you’re questioning your own actions, you may find answers simply by running a farther distance or challenging yourself along different terrain as you set your mental gears in motion. You’ll be surprised how covering different running paths help psychologically and mentally “sort out” your uncertainty about life decisions. Your choice to go running has made you a better person, so keep those thoughts churning!
Those Imaginary Conversations
Sure, when you have time alone, you play out conversations in your mind – whether they’re talks you’ve had with your coworkers, your partner, family or friends. Runners have the advantage of facilitating the open road as a place and space to review conversations they’ve had or want to have.
Why is this such an advantage for a runner? Runners tend to be strong-minded, strong-willed and more focused on their decisions – and their mental health becomes clearer with each run! After enduring, a couple of miles, or powering through a race, the conversations we churn through in our minds may change and transform – as the road often serves as a catalyst for evolving thoughts and what we said – or perhaps what we want to express and can’t quite find the right words.
Most of the time when we’re out on a run, we have ample time to think about our daily interactions because we’re by ourselves and we’re in an environment that helps us rejuvenate our thoughts. Runners typically aren’t distracted by others influencing our decisions along the route we trek. Long runs can provide enough time to think about how to ask our boss for a raise or how to talk to a loved one about an issue that’s important to us.
What’s amazing about running and the ability to think in an open space is that we may have role-played the conversation in our head one way at the start of a run. By the end of the run, however, we decide on a completely different way to verbalize how we feel. Another component of transforming our inner conversations during a run is learning how to cope with our anger. Running can oftentimes help “burn off” hostility, frustrations or negative feelings we’re harboring – changing the course and energy of an upcoming conversation.
“How Can The Physical Challenges Of Running Change My Life?”
We all want to make changes in our lives – no matter what area of our life it may be. Relationships? Careers? Social life? Health? Many of these life factors are overloading our proverbial plate and some of it can be overwhelming.
Running has an amazing effect on those who are constantly chasing their life goals, whether it’s covering a certain distance in a shorter time, challenging ourselves to defeat a road that has inclines – or it could be hills we just can’t seem to master in one run. While it takes a lot to change our lives in reality, running gives us a chance to set an example for ourselves!
If you’ve come across rough terrain that seems to challenge your endurance as a runner, facing and conquering that road often helps reassess other “rough terrains” in life.
Runners are always faced with conditions under which we have to change or alter our strategies, and in real life, this tool comes in extremely handy. A runner may be thinking about a long-term goal we need to accomplish – maybe making a big move to another city or deciding to go back to school for a degree. How can we face these challenges? It may take a few uphill runs and a several of treks in the pouring rain to get the courage and strength to plow through our reservations about not making a big move in life.
We also use physical pain and discomfort we experience as runners as learning tools to advance and get stronger in other parts of our lives. There are so many painful emotional and psychological experiences in life that we never want to endure. In contrast, the pain we put ourselves through when we’re running – whether it’s forcing our muscles to keep going or pacing and pushing our cardio – translates into a stronger mentality and overall sense of self-confidence.
A lot of our thoughts during a run may be: “If I can run (this far, this fast) why can’t I work harder at _______?” Sometimes we think about new endeavors we want to conquer in life and going on a run provides a challenging space to solve a problem we’ve been facing.
We also try to mentally “fix” situations in our lives as we run. During the course of the day, we’re working, interacting and traveling – which isn’t an ideal time to resolve our issues. In retrospect, when we’re on an open running path – some may be inclined to use a treadmill as well – and have “alone time” it allows us to get outside of our head and gain perspective on a problem.
Running can also supply a confidence boost when we’re afraid to face a sensitive situation. Everyone has a different running/pacing “techniques” that can carry over into how we manipulate different mental coping techniques and strategies in the real world. An ideal run is where you can review your day and give yourself a pep-talk about what you’ll do different tomorrow.
Getting nostalgic during a run is another thing that changes us, as we tend to reflect on our former selves or situations we’ve survived. Gaining this type of perspective provides strength for our continual growth as runners and individuals.
Here’s Food For Thought
Food thoughts? Yes, please!
Thinking of that delicious meal – or cheat meal – you have planned for when you return from your run can be one of the saviors – and motivators- that get you through all of those miles. Even though experts advise against indulging in too many “unhealthy” foods that can weigh you down before and after a workout, one or two rewarding cheat meals won’t hurt.
With that large pepperoni pizza on your mind – or your thoughts wandering to that juicy hamburger and French fries you’re going to pick up – motivation to complete your run can be that much more fun.
The percentage of us thinking about food while we’re running may not be that high, but it could help our psyche when we know that a sweet – or salty – reward is at the end of our journey
Managing That To-Do List
If you spend a lot of time on your phone creating reminders and lists of tasks you need to accomplish on your calendar, you’re probably overwhelmed with responsibilities that are cluttering your focus.
Running gives us the perfect reason – and excuse – to clear our cluttered schedule for an hour or two and assess what responsibilities are most important. Getting away from the laundry list of chores – including laundry! – helps us delegate, prioritize and mentally whittle down what our duties are. Running can be like a “gear-cranking” mechanism that refreshes our brains and reminds us which meetings and chores to do first.
Depending on how long your run is, you may find yourself making new mental notes of things you need to do for the days ahead.
When You Need A Push, You’re Your Best Cheerleader!
Thinking about the run itself is obviously the most important aspect of the experience and improving your performance. We’ve all had those kinds of runs where we’re wondering angrily, “Why can’t my legs go any faster?” and “Why does it feel like I’ve ran more than just a couple of miles?”
During serious training runs, we may think about strategies that will get us through our next competition – or how to keep our momentum going when we’re about to hit the wall. Some of us even pretend we’re in the midst of the actual competition to get our minds in gear. A popular method of becoming a better runner is talking to yourself when the chips are down. Getting tired? Need to push yourself more? Don’t be afraid – cheer yourself on!
You may be the best – and only – cheerleader around! That’s right – talking to yourself and giving yourself words of encouragement as you run can do wonders when you’re pushing through a difficult trek. Disciplining yourself -and overpowering the physical limits you think are in the way – is a lot more mental than physical. So don’t be afraid – cheer yourself on!
“That Felt Awesome – Let’s Do It Again!”
Finally, when you’ve conquered that run, you realize how pumped and exhausted you feel at the same time and it’s the best sensation in the world! There’s a unique feeling of accomplishment and pride you develop within yourself after struggling through a run and realizing you can do anything you put your mind to.
It makes no difference whether you’re grateful for the run immediately after or an hour later. It’s an activity that truly “recharges” and replenishes the body and mind.
Regardless of our focus, we know we’ll reap the benefits of pushing ourselves through a run and enduring the roller coaster of thoughts we had along the way. After all, a good run cleans the body and it also clears your mind.