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.