What do you think about when running? This question paraphrases the memoir by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. When we long distance runners take to the road or trail when have a lot of time on our feet. Some people run to remember. Other runners set out to forget, however briefly. I know someone whom used to drink to the point of blacking out; the goal was to detach from reality and forget temporarily whatever was too much to handle. Sometimes running provided that detachment for me.
I recently was confronted with negative thoughts that created a real malaise over my whole person. I felt like crap. Even my wife noticed something was not right. I finally got to run and put in a solid effort. My mind focused upon form - arm swing, heel lift, foot placement, steady deep breath. That focus helped me push a hot pace and run out of the funk in my brain. No amount of alcohol or psychotropic drug could do that for me and leave me with such a sense of accomplishment, such a feeling of peace, such a connection with the world.
However I never considered what other people thought about running while running. I know some people hate the idea. For some any physical activity is cause for alarm. My efforts at "marathoning" were sometimes the subject of ridicule. The idea of what turns over the mind of other runners never occurred to me till I finally ran with other people. And not just in a race but as a community of runners.
I was a college senior in need of PE credit the first time I really ran. The class was pass/fail. Run 6 miles in 60 minutes and call me for graduation. All I really remember of the class was the struggle to get up for an 8am class and then run for an hour. Sometimes I would run with a classmate. He was a more capable runner (i.e. not a drinker) and usually left me far behind. Needless to say I do not recall much of what we talked about on those runs.
Over the next twelve years I ran alone. I was not a consistent runner during that time. I did run during lunch breaks and after work. But the I couldn't maintain the focus. Running for exercise, even for sake of running, could not hold my attention for long. Until I stumble upon the marathon. Training for a marathon and shorter races allowed me to focus on getting out the door and logging the miles on a consistent basis. Consistent training as developed my confidence as a runner, to know I belonged with other capable runners.
Earlier this summer I met up with a local women for an early Saturday run. It was great. I got to meet someone new, share running stories and test myself against someone whom has earned her stripes. She ran Boston for goodness sakes. Then I met another local runner and shared a few early morning runs. More opportunity to discuss grown-up topics. I also put miles in with a couple relocating from Florida. The common theme was that these guys all truly enjoyed the act of running. It is not just an "exercise" in exercise. Running is an extension of life.
My breakthrough into the mind of the other runner came later this summer when I finally joined up with a pack of runners in Myrtle Beach. There is a grizzled veteran. There is a wide range of ages and experience levels to make any runner welcome. Here I realized other runners enjoy "the run". One guy loves the group dynamic, but unfortunately does not enjoy "the run". For him is boarders on torture. But dammit his final kick is something to see.
And it was with this group that I discovered my ambition to help other runners. Whether it is simply through conversation to distract the mind from the pain and discomfort of the moment, or actually sharing training advice that has worked for me.
So what do I think about when running? Usually I think about how to run easier, lighter, smoother, farther or faster. If it sounds like a lot it is. But mostly I think about how nice it would be to share the trail, to run as part of a community of runners.
What do you think about when running?