What I Think About When I Run

I am often asked what I think about when I run, especially when I'm running for 2+ hours! Running is more than just a form of exercise to push your physical limits; it's an opportunity to connect with your thoughts and develop an increased self-awareness. But similar to remembering a dream, I have a hard time remembering what I thought about during the run so I will do my best to break it down for you. 

I think about the route and my pace, my form, mental tricks, the surroundings, random things happening in my life or that I need to do, and what I can look forward to when done!

Route and Pace: The first thing I think about and visualize is my route and goal pace. I have a route in mind for most runs - a simple out & back, a fun loop, hills for breakfast - but sometimes I'll come up with one in the first mile. Route planning is accompanied by pace setting, which is generally by feel for easy runs but more intentional during speed workouts or harder long runs. Thinking too much about pace for every run is mentally exhausting and makes running less fun!

Form: As a coach, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing, and correcting form, and I use form cues myself to correct my own form when I feel myself slouching or zigzagging and motivate myself especially when running uphill and downhill. I know I don't have perfect form, but the mere awareness and cues make me more efficient.

Mental tricks: I truly believe running is more mental than physical. Mental strength expands your physical abilities to become a stronger runner. Some tricks I use include breaking down a run into smaller, digestible segments like three segments of six miles each, reciting mantras in my head such as "easy, light, smooth", "just relax", and "fight for it!", and reliving past runs or races where I overcame a similar mental block or fatigue that I feel in that moment.

Surroundings: I distract myself with the people and sights around, finding things to smile at to get rid of a grimace or jaw-clenching. It could be runners flapping their arms, a stunning sunrise or skyscraper, or just ridiculously cute dogs and kids. In a race, I'll be more tactical and draft strong runners holding a steady pace or reel in those not practicing nutrition or maintaining form. Smiling helps me relax, lower perceived effort, and even improve running economy or use of oxygen.

Stream of consciousness: A large part of my thinking is totally random! I remember an e-mail I need to respond to, pasta I need to buy, or laundry I have to do. I will make up acronyms to keep track of these things and repeat it to myself to remember afterwards. I never know what random thought I will come up with during a run, yet there's almost always a new idea that just comes to me.

Reward: I will deliberately think about a post-run reward at least a few times during a run - brunch with my wife and friends, a delicious oat latte, or game day for my sports team. This also takes the form of picturing myself finishing the run and getting that runner's high. Positive mental images help me relax and run my best.

Regardless of what you think about when you run, the time you spend running is your time. Your time to not only push yourself mentally and physically but also let go of the mundane and simply reflect. Fill yourself with positive energy and let your mind wander. Running will make you a more confident, passionate, and thoughtful person.

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