When people learn that I run marathons and ultras, there are typically three things they’ll say.
- You’re crazy. Um, no, not really (ok…maybe…but not in a bad way).
- How far do you run every day? Hmmm, the real answer is it depends where I’m up to on my training programme…but that’s complicated to explain…so I usually just say, “not enough!”
- What do you think about all that time – isn’t it boring? Yessss! That’s my favourite question. And here’s why.
For me, running is much more about what’s going on inside my brain than it is about what’s happening to my legs.
And that means that there could be any number of things I’m thinking about at any particular time. Basically, they boil down into the following categories.
Nothing: Yep, that’s right. Nothing. Blissful, sweet, nothing (no, not sweet nothings…. Just…nothing).
In this super-connected world, I just love the fact that if I choose, I can completely unhook myself from reality and think about nothing at all. I don’t have to apply my mind to problems at work or…anything at all.
I guess in those moments I’m like a two-legged Labrador running through a meadow with an empty mind allowing myself to be distracted by anything I care to be. “Oh, look there’s a butterfly.” “That fluffy cloud looks like a pillow.” You know, serious intellectual stuff like that.
Dad Jokes: Ask my kids…I’m a champion at thinking these babies up. And running is a prime area for mining – and dispensing – bad (but perfectly harmless) jokes. You know the kind…the ones your father or wacky uncle always trundled out, only to be met with a collective groan from everyone.
Example? Someone stumbles in front of you…and you say, “Enjoy your trip”? (Only if they haven’t hurt themselves, mind). Others my boys…um…are familiar with are when someone says, “I’m thirsty,” you say, “Pleased to meet you Thursday, I’m Friday”. Or when they say, “I’m hungry”, you say, “Hi Hungary, I’m Turkey.” Boom, boom!
Races are a great place for Dad Jokes. For instance, when approaching an aid station and the volunteers are issuing instructions for where the water, electrolytes and coke are. Of course you say, “Which end is the beer?” (Sigh – bet they’ve never heard that one.)
Or when you’re on a steep climb, “Someone said there were hills on this course – where abouts?” Mind you, then you leave yourselves open for the comeback: “Yeah, they’re up ahead – right after this flat section.” Ugh, groan.
The sad thing is, I’ve heard all these in actual races. Ok, I’ll admit it…I’ve uttered them too. (And, no, my kids won’t be surprised).
The problems of the world: When you’re running with a group of mates, more often than not you talk quite a bit of nonsense. Some runners – me included sometimes – just enjoy the distraction of wittering on about the flotsam and jetsam of life.
One day I was running with a group when one of them had finally had enough of the mindless jibber-jabber. “Why do we always talk rubbish?” he harrumphed, exasperated. “We should be talking about something productive.” Someone replied: “Like what? You think of a topic and that’s all we’ll talk about for the next 15 minutes.” “Alright,” said our group philosopher, “the crisis in the Middle East.”
Silence ensued for about 10 minutes before we all burst out laughing. There was no way anyone on a Sunday run was going to start talking about the Balfour Declaration or other intricacies of the Israel-Palestine situation and its roots.
Having said that, some of my most productive thinking time comes after I’ve laced up my shoes. If I’m of a mind to, I seem to be able to figure out all sorts of things while I’m running. I’ve cracked tricky structures and script lines for stories I’m working on; got my head around how I’m going to juggle a crammed diary for the week ahead; and generally, as the kid in the “Ghost Chip” ad says, “Internalising really complicated situations in my head”.
The trick is to write down the solutions as soon as you get home…the ideas and thoughts seem to vanish pretty rapidly once you stop panting and puffing.
Podcasts/music: Until recently, I never, ever ran with headphones. I hated the idea. But then I discovered a few good podcasts and couldn’t think of when else I’d get time to listen to them.
This is when I reveal myself as a running geek (as if it wasn’t obvious earlier) …my two favourites are Marathon Talk and Talk Ultra. There are a few others I’ll download depending on what mood I’m in.
I’ve also found music useful too. Recently in a race, I found that I was getting dehydrated and forgetting to drink, for some reason. So I put my headphones in and started taking a sip every two songs (after about 5km, without going into much detail, I realised the strategy had worked and I could peg it back to every four songs).
I certainly don’t run with them all the time, but I have become a convert. Just give me a whack if you ever catch me singing out loud while I’ve got my earphones in.
Race/training zen mind state: For a couple of sessions a week, and in races, you sometimes just need to knuckle down and focus on the job in front of you.
For a hill rep day, you need to be focused on what you’re supposed to be doing to get the most out of the session. Same goes with a tempo run, for instance. If you let your mind wander, you can easily find yourself drifting off the target. Get concentrating!
Same goes with a race – there’s actually lots to think about…nutrition and hydration strategy, pace, effort, desperately trying to pass/hang on to the person in front of you, what delicious treats await you at the next aid station….
One thing I never think about is how far to go – I break a race down into manageable chunks, depending on the overall distance and how zonked I am.
So, see, there’s heaps to think about and it never gets boring. Just try to avoid thinking about the pain. That’s fatal. And probably the topic of a whole other blog.