01 July 2010

Thinking

It used to be that I never listened to music when I ran. Then I started listening to NPR. Then music. Then nothing again. Lately, I usually have my iPod with me and I've set up a few playlists for when I head out for a run.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I run. The two main reasons are that it's the most efficient form of exercise I know and that I feel both mentally and physically more sound when I run regularly. In the past, I've focused more on the efficiency of running and the resulting physical benefits. I constantly strive to go faster and longer, figuring that the harder I work physically, the greater the associated mental health gains will be.

I'm starting to realize that this is not necessarily true. It occurred to me the other day that in general in my life, I'm all too good at taking the hard road. The easy road does not come, well, easy to me. By nature, I choose the path of most resistance rather than the path of least. And so with running, I've come to believe that if I enjoy the run, I must not have been going fast enough. Or that I should have run an additional mile. Enjoy exercise? That's not allowed!

Over the past few weeks, I've worked on adjusting this attitude. I've stopped timing my runs. I still measure my distance; I'm planning to run a half marathon in the fall, and I need to be sure that I log the miles in order to do that race without injuring myself. But the time it takes me to do the runs? I'm trying not to care, because if I don't time myself, I can't use the results to beat myself up or gloat about a new personal best.

I've also stopped bringing my iPod with me. Sometimes. Running is some of the only time I get truly to myself, and I've tried to focus on letting my thoughts be where they need and want to be, on enjoying my surroundings. This has met with varying degrees of success. Often, I end up thinking about how I just want to be done with the running already. In those moments, I try to slow down a little, or speed up, or notice something scenic. I try to be in the moment, as corny as it sounds.

Yesterday, I ended up reading an article in a running magazine about meditating while running. Coincidentally, a friend posted something on Facebook about praying while running. Inspired, today I combined the two. I did a three-mile run, untimed, no iPod, and the whole time I recited the serenity prayer to the rhythm of my footfalls. It took me a while to find a natural way to fit the words to the beat of my feet on the pavement, but it came together. For the last mile, I slowed it down to half time, although for the final push at the end, I took it back to my original pace. Sometimes, I was completely lost in the rhythm and the words. Other times, my mind wandered, and I'd lose my place. At one point, I completely forgot the first line of the prayer.

I can't say that this was an aha! moment for me, but it was . . . something. A good practice? I think so. The mental discipline of focusing on just those words, just that rhythm, was as challenging if not more so than the running itself. I think I'll do it again, not every time I run, but sometimes. Anything that can help me be more gentle with myself is a worthwhile practice. Anything is worth doing if it can help me accept that easy and bad are not synonyms, nor are difficult and better. Martyrdom is not attractive, and it doesn't make me happy. It's nice to start letting it go.

16 comments:

Alayna said...

Wow, that is awesome. I am going to try it. I share your thing of feeling like it wasn't a good run if I'm not about to fall over at the end of it, and I LOVE the idea of meditating while running. Now I just have to remember what the serenity prayer is!

elderflowerpressee said...

Thanks, Snick. I learn so much from you. This was a good'un!

Snickollet said...

Alayna: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

After my son was born, I managed to give up on the whole more-farther-faster-better obsession with my running. (OK, so I never was obsessed by speed, but distance and effort, definitely.) I had gotten to the point before my pregnancy that I didn't feel good about myself if I didn't log enough miles. After my son's birth, I guess I felt so proud of my body that I was able to let go of some of that unhealthy thinking.

So, I hear you. After my son was born, my priorities shifted for some reason, and I was perfectly happy to just go out for a leisurely run three times a week.

Now I'm pregnant again, and I'm working on eliminating another unhealthy way of thinking: the running-is-the-only-worthy-form-of-exercise myth. Since I can't run right now, I've been swimming laps and doing pregnancy exercise videos. I'm finding that swimming laps empties my head more effectively than running does, and although it isn't exactly meditation, it is very relaxing.

kidderkat said...

I also sometimes do this when I run, although the line I repeat is "I surrender all." Never fails to give me perspective.

zerothdraft said...

I have a lot to learn from your perspective. An aspiring runner (barely), the most prayerful I get is "Jesus! Not another hill!" I could stand a bit more serenity (and courage and wisdom) I suppose.

Denise said...

I think that's great that you're trying to mix it up! But I wouldn't be too hard on yourself for, well, being hard on yourself. What if pushing yourself harder and faster is how you relax?

One of my favorite things to do while running is write in my head. A paper for work, a blog post...when I used to write fiction that was the best, because it gives you something to sic your thoughts on other than your own day-to-day worries, and something about running frees up the creative spirit. When I was in grad school I also came up with a lot of really good material for papers while running.

Denise said...

I think that's great that you're trying to mix it up! But I wouldn't be too hard on yourself for, well, being hard on yourself. What if pushing yourself harder and faster is how you relax?

One of my favorite things to do while running is write in my head. A paper for work, a blog post...when I used to write fiction that was the best, because it gives you something to sic your thoughts on other than your own day-to-day worries, and something about running frees up the creative spirit. When I was in grad school I also came up with a lot of really good material for papers while running.

caro said...

There was a NY Times article about the benefits of daydreaming. It made me realize I'm missing out on that part of the benefit of running by being plugged into RadioLab, etc. all the time. The focused meditation/prayer is something I haven't tried.

Watercolor said...

Very cool. I used to say the rosary on my fingers when I fitness walked. Said a prayer for a person for each decade then added something very short to the prayer on each finger, or just repeated their name. Was really powerful.

OTRgirl said...

I respect your self-awareness. It's often a challenge to the drifter in me and I like getting the nudges.

In part inspired by your running posts, I'm actually going to start physical therapy next week to fix my ankle/knee issues so I can start to run.

Thanks. Seriously.

Mary Ellen said...

Sounds like some great insights here, and a great practice. I would enjoy hearing, at some future point, if this practice develops in interesting ways.

Amy said...

I can relate to a lot in this post. Running is hard, and that is part of why I love it. On days when I run, I feel like I've challenged myself in ways that not everyone does. I feel strong, mentally and physically, and I like that.

It is not always enjoyable in each moment, but the feeling afterwards is amazing. More often than not, the best part of the run is when I stop! But, I, too, have been trying to enjoy or savor the moments as much as I can - including the running moments.

I run without an ipod too and often feel like an outcast. I like paying attention to the outdoors and the scenery, especially in a race where I haven't run the route before.

Good for you, and keep it up!

Rev Dr Mom said...

Once upon a time, before the Kid was born (and he's 18) I used to run, and I loved the time it gave me for NOT thinking unless I wanted to, if that makes any sense. I love the idea of praying while running, too.

I wish I had never stopped running. I think I am too old and out of shape to take it up again.

Anonymous said...

'i surrender all' would work for me. beautiful. wish i could be running right now...

Susan said...

Interesting Snick. I work our at a small club and try at least 3 days a week and I seem to be in the minority when it comes to NOT having ear plugs in and listening to music. I do exactly what you are saying, my personal think time and yes, prayer as well. It works for me in that I am working out physically and mentally all in one sweep and I love the fact that it is "my" time. Cell phone in locker =)