Having logged over 145-hours since I began running in 2010, I've had ample time to think, cogitate, mull, reflect, dwell, brood and employ just about any other form of meditation possible. (Lest you think that's a lot of time hoofing on blacktop, for runners, it's probably average and for ultra runners, it's diddly. Moreover, were I to apply Malcolm Gladwell's infamous 10,000 rule, I have only 9,855 more hours to go to achieve greatness. I'll be one hundred forty-three by then, I'll probably need to taper some toward the end).
Still, one hundred and forty-five hours is a lot of time. Enough to write a couple dozen essays, compose several songs, solve a quadratic equation (only one), outline a few novels and enumerate a litany of to-do's. It's plenty of time to simply think.
But, of what?
What do avid runners, cyclists, walkers and other neurotics think about? How about ultra-runners? What does Anton Krupicka think about?
God — man I don’t know. I’m really comfortable being in my own head space. I don’t know. It’s funny, because I worked as a lifeguard for five years during part of high school and college and it’s the same sort of thing. You are sitting on a chair for literally eight hours at a time, where you get a little five-minute break every now and then. You are just up there with your thoughts. It’s the same thing with running. I think a lot of people have to have music on or watch TV or be on the computer. They have to be stimulated somehow by a screen or audio and it’s really nice. When I’m injured I really miss having that time each day, where I can let everything clear out and be able to think for a while. I’m trying to think about what I was thinking about today. For a lot of the time you are thinking about nothing. You are just cruising down the trail. You are really in the moment. That sounds so Zen and cliché and New Age, but that is kind of the point: it’s a form of meditation. But there are other times that I think about races and how I want the race to go. You know, basic visualization. That happens a lot, actually. But it’s not like something I do consciously. I definitely have those times where I can write a blog post in my head, but be so frustrated when I get home. Things were flowing so well and then you get home and you can’t even remember how you were starting it. But I never get bored—put it that way. - A Simple Kind of Man, Competitor
What about celebrated author and runner, Haruki Murakami?
I'm often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.
On cold days I guess I think a little about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I'm sad I think a little about sadness. When I'm happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too. And, occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel. But really as I run, I don't think of anything worth mentioning.
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People's minds can't be a complete blank. Human beings' complex emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.
The thoughts that occur to me while I'm running are like the clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn't exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn't. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in. - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.
Like most poets, Murakami distills my thoughts about running succinctly (it would take me far too many words). I run in the country, a bedroom community just outside the city. I run pavement and country roads (my favorites are trails and narrow farm roads, mostly composed of dirt, occasionally blanketed with gravel by a fiscally challenged small town budget). When Murakami states that "we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in", he was describing my average run.
I've discovered in running a perfect habit to combine my restlessness with my desire for daily solitude. Murakmi, again, expresses it thusly, "the hour or so I spend running, maintaining my own silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental well-being. When I'm running I don't have to talk to anybody and don't have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by. This is a apart of my day I can't do without."
Running is a form of solitary confinement surrounded by both an expansive firmament and a finite world. You carry with you the randomness of the day, the unknowingness of the future, the breathlessness of the moment and, if you're lucky, at times, a tranquility that transcends even yourself.
Celebrating The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner...