What do you think about when you run?

Saint’s sister asked me yesterday what on earth I think about when I run stupidly long distances like 20 miles, which I did for the first time of this training cycle yesterday morning.  Since I had just walked in the door from finishing the run and cooling down for a few minutes, I was still in that weird, oxygen-to-the-brain-deprived, endorphin-driven mental state where I can’t get myself to stop talking, so this is what I told her:

For the first few miles, I thought about how long unfamiliar roads are: when I’m on a new route and I know that I have a new road to spend some time on, 1 mile always feels like 3. It’s never 3; it’s only ever 1. But, just because I’ve run a road before doesn’t mean I’m still not delusional about its length the 25th time I run it. (see: Monument Avenue in Richmond. I keep expecting it to shrink, but it never does. Hrmph.)

From miles 7-12, I thought about how unfair it is that I never think once about pooping or needing to poop on any run shorter than, say, 12 miles. I swear it only happens when I’m going really long and have absolutely no idea where a bathroom or Porta-Potty is. Yesterday was no exception; I knew I was in trouble when I started seriously thinking that it would be okay to duck down an alleyway and discreetly fix the problem. Thankfully, I remembered that there was a Starbucks on my route near mile 12, and I was in enough distress to convince myself that it really would be morally OK to walk in there and use the toilet without buying anything. The good news is that these miles flew by because all I could think about was poop, but they also dragged a bit because all I could think about was when I would be able to take a poop.

For miles 12.1-12.5, I thought about what a freaking awesome idea that pit stop was. Holy crap, I felt so much better. (no pun intended)

For miles 12.5-18, I thought about the following things, in no particular order: It’s hot in this sun (it was maybe 50-55 degrees throughout the run, but the sky was cloudless and the sun was bright), and I am going to get burned (I did, a little bit, but not lobster-like). I want a Cookout milkshake when I get back. Do I remember all the words to Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage”? [Answer: I don’t, but more than I had thought.] No, wait, I also kind of want a sandwich from Chiocca’s – no, I want both that AND the milkshake. Things hurt. I have to stay strong. I have (seven, five, three) miles to go. Why do people name their kids what they do? Why did my sister pick X instead of Z for my nephew’s first-name first letter? How does the designation of in-laws work? Take Saint’s mom’s siblings, and their spouses – to her, they’re in-laws, but what are they to each other? How is this going to work when we get married? Do our sisters become in-laws, or does it stop with me and him? [I’m not kidding, that was a good 30 minutes of thinking that very much helped me out] Oh my God, I have to do another one of these runs in two weeks? Dafuq? Oh hey, it’s Munchkin time [the Marine Corps Marathon hands out Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins at mile 23, and I wanted to try them on my 20-milers to make sure it was okay to eat them three miles from the end of my run. I ate these a little early – at mile 15 – but dear sweet baby deity, they were a GODSEND]. I think somehow I STILL haven’t managed to take enough water with me [I went through two 16.9-ounce bottles]. OH MY GOD THIS ROAD NEVER ENDS AND I KNOW THIS FROM EXPERIENCE AND ALSO THAT IT IS MOSTLY SLIGHTLY UPHILL BUT IT STILL SUCKS also partially because there is no shade on it and I am hot in the sun. Hang on, two miles to go? Oh shit, I’m actually going to finish this. Oh man, this run is almost over!

For miles 18-20, I thought about what a stupid idea it was to design my route so that the last two miles were sharply uphill. Actually, it was mostly mile 18-19, but still: my legs were not happy with me at that point. It took me until here to really wonder: if my legs were this sore and tired on a 20-mile training run that I was taking slowly, how in the hell was I ever going to run that plus 6.2 more at a faster pace for the actual race? Two seconds later I mentally bitch-slapped myself, reminding me that this run was happening on purposely-tired legs that have been through 13 weeks of training and that the race will find me on fresh, rested legs that will have been well-cared for by that time, so shut up and stop doubting yourself already. At mile 19, I started to think that it was just about time to get on home and watch some football. At mile 19.5, I started grinning like an idiot, and felt kind of sad: it was going to be over soon, this crazy long run of mine. At mile 19.8, I garbled something resembling “I don’t want to run over your puppy!” at a guy whose leashed dog veered right into the path of my feet because no one – myself including, because I was basking in the moment of being awesome – was paying attention. At mile 19.9, I thought about how much it would suck to get hit by a car so close to the end, but also that it might not feel too bad because it would take my mind off the pain in my legs. At mile 20, I slowed to a walk and started laughing, and thought: “BADASS. Beer. Hmm, yes. WAIT OHMYGODFOOD.”

This morning, I woke up and thought, “Wow, that was some of the best sleep I’ve had in weeks.”

This afternoon, I’ve been thinking: I only get to run 5 miles tomorrow? I get to do this, again, in thirteen days. And then I get to taper, and then I get to run a marathon again.

I think that’s pretty awesome.

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4 Responses to What do you think about when you run?

  1. Love it! My daughter often asks me how I keep from getting bored out there. If I’m alone I have some of the crazy thought like you have, wonder about bizarre stuff. Sometimes I have just a few bars of a song stuck in my head, for many miles.
    In San Francisco I had that Journey song stuck in my head for over an hour!

    • kmt4n says:

      Oh heavens, I’d have gone nuts if I had Journey stuck in my head for that long – though that’s happened with other songs, too. I’ve played entire albums in my head, too.

      I think my craziest mental exercise during a long run was to first see if I could name all of horse racing’s Triple Crown race winners from 1986 to the present. That was about 5 miles gone right there, and then for some reason – I actually think I was doing this run on the morning of the Kentucky Derby – I decided to see if I could figure out the dates that each Derby had been run on since then. (It’s always the first Saturday in May, but that changes every year, so…) I thought I’d figured it out, and then I realized I’d forgotten to take leap years into account, so I had to start all over. Suddenly, 8 miles were gone and I was just about done with my run….! Not surprisingly, because blood does not reach my brain after a certain point during a run, I ended up being completely wrong about the dates but pretty spot-on for the winners.

      It’s a wonder that I haven’t spaced out completely and run into the next county by accident. I’m still waiting…

      • LOL. I’d never attempt such a challenging task as that! I find sometimes my mind is completely clear. No worries, concerns or stress. It’s amazing what just trying to get up the next hill or get to the end of your run can do for your mind and mental state.
        We spend so little time with nothing on our minds. It’s really a luxury to be able to think of nothing for even 10 minutes.
        Then there are times when I can focus intensely on what ever I need to focus on.
        It’s amazing, no thought, intense thought or random crap. 😉

      • kmt4n says:

        Oh yeah, I definitely have those moments as well, and I love them – but as soon as I realize I’m in them, my brain starts thinking “hmm, we need to fill this space with something so we don’t realize how far we still have to go”. Until then, though, it’s awesomely clear.

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