My favorite runs are the ones where I get lost in my thoughts. Distance running is far more enjoyable for me when I don’t think about it. Have you ever seen this shirt “Running is Cheaper Than Therapy?”
While I am therapy’s number one fan (I think everyone should be in therapy it’s the greatest gift you could give yourself), it’s true running is a great way to cope or be with your thoughts. I’ve read a lot about meditating while running and while sometimes it’s effective and nice to quiet my brain, I have a HUGE imagination and I love to use it when I run.
When I was in college an acting technique I was taught is imagery. It’s creating or sourcing an image that is loaded with emotion. (Do you ever wonder how an actor can cry in a production day after day after day? Besides being invested in their given circumstances and living in the world of the play this is often how they do it.) It’s easy to do in real life- think of the happiest or most tragic day in your life. (For me tragic is easier.) Your brain will start to remember where you were, who you were with, the feelings you were feeling and as you start to explore that day the image becomes bigger, fuller and more specific. Eventually that image will start to work on you, eliciting different emotions. (This is personal recall also called method acting, sense memory or affective memory IE you’re recalling a personal experience. When you’re in a production you don’t want to do this so you use your imagination to create fictional memories you can source that feel real to you.) So how does this pertain to running?
One of the biggest driving factors that keeps me running is because it helps me grieve. I lost my brother four years ago to alcohol poisoning and one of the most effective ways I have found to grieve is to go for a really, really, really long run. It seems illogical; when you’re feeling distraught normally you don’t want to be in public. And yes, when I can't stop crying the last thing I want to do is go out in public. But I force myself to put on some sunglasses and a hat and I take off. I have a hard time sitting still when I am feeling the anxiety and pain that accompany grief. If anything fuels me down a rabbit hole it’s sitting still. I’m also an emotional eater so getting away from a pan of brownies is always a healthier option.
So how does one get "lost in their thoughts?" Here’s what I do, ironically it’s very similar to how you meditate.
1. Before I start to run I put on a playlist I am really familiar with. (I hate running without music. Some people hate running with music. To each his own.)
2. I then take off and start to focus on my breath, taking steady breaths in for four seconds and out for four seconds.
3. I check in-I normally don’t have to ask myself what’s wrong (it's normally obvious and overwhelming me), but to get going think about your day or whatever it is that you can’t get off your mind.
4. Then, I remember. For example, if I have someone on my mind, I go back to some of my happiest memories with them and try to remember in as much detail as I can each particular day. I try to let my curiosity take over with what ifs and let it build from there.
5. If you’re having a hard time focusing, look up. Notice the scenery and people around you. Let your mind wander. If you can't focus on anything besides being exhausted from a run then go back to your breath. Then look up again. Bringing your attention outside of yourself is sometimes the best way to shake off any negative energy you have on a run. I know nothing will make me turn around faster than thinking "I don’t want to run." I will qualify my way to kingdom come. I could already be out the door and a mile deep but if I don’t want to do it and I tell myself its hopeless I will give up. (This is why daydreaming is so helpful to me.)
6. Let your mind go. Don’t force, judge or stop your thought process. Sometimes letting yourself go is exactly what your mind needs.
7. Focus on you. One of my brilliant mentors Alexandra Billings has an exercise in source work and in it you write down I hope, I wish and I dream. We would do this as ourselves or as our characters. I have since brought it into my daily life and I LOVE asking myself this almost every day, especially if I am struggling. I hope, I wish, I dream is big for me because when I'm feeling hopeless, just getting to tomorrow can seem impossible. So asking I hope x, I wish y and I dream z gives me something to literally go towards. I normally find myself exploring these on a long run because why not? We’re always telling kids anything is possible; why not tell it to ourselves? (And sometimes the things we are most afraid to do pop up in there and they are a wonderful reminder that there's still time.)
Otherwise just say yes (I know, easier said than done.) There are some days where getting lost is much easier than others. If I am in a great mood, it’s a given I can run 10 miles without even thinking about it. There are some days where I am so overcome with grief that again, it’s a given I will just run until I collapse with exhaustion. Then there are those pesky average days where just focusing on the task at hand is strenuous and unpleasant. But those blissful days are the days we runners dream about. That’s what happened on Saturday. In Manhattan we had our first perfect weekend of the year. I can’t even tell you what I saw in the middle of my run because I zoned out. I just remember hitting mile 10 and ending up in Harlem, completely lost thinking "maybe I should figure out how to get home."
I’ve been thinking a lot about Boston and the tragedy that took place a year ago. As someone who’s lost someone and as a runner it has really hit close to home. It doesn’t make sense. It was a senseless tragedy. It’s overwhelming to see the support everyone is receiving though I know it doesn’t make it any easier for those who lost irreplaceable friends and family members and for who lost parts of themselves. What is inspiring are those who suffered and continue to endure going back again this year. I am in awe of the tremendous bravery that was on display yesterday and will be on display this coming Monday. I think it’s safe to say everyone in America, runners and non-runners alike, have you all in hearts and in our minds. #BostonStrong
Until tomorrow. #RunSelfieRepeat