One of the questions runners are invariably asked by non-runners is: “What in the heck do you think about while running? What do you do?”
Good questions. Keeping your mind occupied and yet engaged while doing a run—much less a long run–by yourself is not easy.
You can’t spend all your time thinking about your form, stride and breathing or even your next race. A long run is especially difficult. Running 20 miles by yourself takes a long time and if you can think less about your running and more about your life, time will pass quicker.
The best remedy is always to run with a training group or several friends. But even if you are part of a training group, chances are you do some of your running by yourself.
One study of runners actually found that runners had more energy during their long runs if they focused their thoughts away from their running and more on daily concerns, the scenery, their jobs and family. These are called dissociative thoughts. Associative thoughts are when your mind is focused on running.
During a race, your mind should work differently than on a training run. Competitive races usually require the runner to do plenty of associative thinking about the demands of the race, strategy and pacing. The longer the race, the harder this is. In a marathon, most runners spend time fluctuating between dissociating (thinking about things, other than the race) and associative (thinking about the next aid station, picking up the pace, running up and down the hills, etc).
The trick is to keep your head in the race by thinking ahead to what needs to be done and monitoring how you feel, without becoming overwhelmed by these thoughts.
But on a solo training run, the best advice is to only spend a small portion of your run actually thinking about your running. The rest of the time dissociate away. Let your mind drift and wander, settling on a vexing problem, a memorable day at the lake or a pleasant period in your life.
Solo running can be a joy. It can be valuable alone time—just you and the road.
Here are some good topics to pass the time on your next solo run:
- Childhood memories, including important incidents that you may not have thought about in years.
- Selecting a particular year of your life and re-examining it month-by-month in as much detail as possible.
- Your next marathon. And how you’ll feel at various points of the race. With a mile to go on your training run, imagine how you’ll feel in the final mile of your next marathon.
- Former relationships. What went right and what went wrong. Remember the good and not-so-good times.
- Films. Make a list of your 10 favorites and see if you can remember the names of all the stars. Or, examine in great detail a particular actor’s films.
- Music. My favorite. I make lists of the best and worsts bands I have seen. Or favorite recordings.
- Great races you’ve run. What went into each race and try to figure out why you ran so well. (Forget the bad ones.)
- Work-related issues. You’d be amazed how easy it is to solve problems while out on a run.
- Your next vacation. Where to go, what to see.
- What you’re going to eat and drink when you get home.