After discovering I run without the company of music, a co-worker spent the entirety of the day inquiring about how I could endure such torture. How could I possibly run without an iPod? How?
I tried to answer but in all honesty I had no idea what to say. “I don’t know. I think of…things.” That was the best I could give her. Which probably explains why she wouldn’t let it go.
But I don’t know what I think of when I’m running. Today for instance, I set out running with my thoughts focusing on what I would be making for dinner. I managed to actually go food shopping for the first time in about 4 weeks and stocked up on root vegetables, Daiya cheese, and cashews. Basically, what I’m currently calling the three food groups of my life at the moment. But two minutes into my run and all thoughts related to my dinner menu had slipped away.
Sure, I have runs where I contemplate the meaning of life, what television shows I’ll try to catch later that night, or how I’m going to end world hunger. But most of the time I just think about running. Some people run to get in shape. I run because I truly love it.
I know I love it because today I ran the same seven-mile loop that I have run more times than Jesse James cheated on Sandra. That’s saying something. This seven-mile trail loop is part of the 40-miles of trails that reside in what I call my home trails. When training for the marathon, I would do this same seven-mile loop over and over again. Day after day. Somedays I would add-on some additional loops to rack up more mileage. A mile here, a quarter-mile there. And sometimes I’d just run it twice in a row. Just because I could.
Certain days I’d think maybe I should branch out and try some new trails. Certain days I would. But I’d always end up back to my home loop at my home trails. Because it is the perfect loop. Seriously.
The first half-mile is a mainly flat carriage trail, which allows my legs to loosen up some. Then right about when I’m limber and ready to pick it up, the terrain starts to get a little more intense and the trail narrows. The gentle rolling hills eventually turn into the equivalent of Mount Rainier, and my breathing becomes what one would refer to as labored.
Just when I think that the trail might be a little boring, the scenery changes. There are big oaks and tall pines, wooden bridges, and streams that require me to perform some fancy footwork to pass. Certain areas allow the sunlight to stream through the branches while other areas make me wonder if I’ve been running so long the sun has set.
But this seven-mile loop is both thoroughly exhausting and enjoyable. Exhausting because exactly at mile four – right when this labored breathing takes hold and I think walking might be a good idea – the trail turns back to a carriage trail and flattens out. Enjoyable because exactly at mile four - right when I’m about ready to pass out and I think putting my body in a horizontal position might be a good idea – I am able to bring my heart rate back down to a healthy level and recuperate.
There are certain parts where I pass multiple bikers and the occasional family out on a morning hike. Then there are parts where I feel like I’m the ony person in the world and the sound of a fleeting deer scares me to the point of needing to stop and take a bathroom break. Which I can do given the complete absence of human life.
With the absence of human life is the absence of my actual thoughts. Because, as it turns out, in my head I’m pretty boring. Because when I’m running I really don’t think of much at all besides how happy I am at that very moment. Besides how absolutely perfect those seven-plus miles really are. Because I run because I truly do love the sport of running. I find pleasure in every part of it, even during the moments when I’m attempting to run up a hill so steep that if I reach my hands in front of me I can touch the ground. Even after I’ve taken 23 weeks off from running and I’m left breathing heavier than a contestant on The Biggest Loser. Even when deep down I’m a little worried that I might pass out in the woods because all I’ve had to drink that day are four cups of coffee and a Dixie cup of water and the only life form that will be aware of my lifeless body will be that single fleeting deer.
So yea, my co-worker thinks I’m crazy because I find pleasure running in the silence of my own thoughts. And yea, certain people think I’m a fool because I run through injuries and against the advise of medical professionals. But sometimes you need to accept yourself for who you really are even if it means admitting you’re kind of lame. And sometimes you need to endure a little pain to find happiness even if it means you’ll end up couch-bound for 23 weeks wallowing in self-pity. I know there are consequences to my actions just like I know that sometimes regret is a price you pay for happiness. But I like to save my worrying for later. It’s why they created the day after pill. For people like me.
I don’t know what I think about when I’m running. Usually it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s everything. But mostly, it’s just about how much I love it. How happy it truly makes me in that very moment. Sure, I still have no idea what I’m having for dinner tonight but right now I’m happy. I’ll worry about world hunger later.