Isn’t it wonderful how the brain can sometimes remove itself from the body?
[Note: This is an archived post taken from One Small Step, a blog I wrote during my training for the 2012 London Marathon]
I don’t necessarily mean in any kind of New Age spiritual way, more the way that your mind can completely wander off course into all manner of thoughts whilst your body stays firmly committed to the task at hand without putting you in any great danger.
I realised this myself back in December when I completed my first big Marathon Goal of running for one complete hour.
That might not sound like much to some people, but given that my disastrous first eight-minute run was such a trauma for me, hitting the one hour mark seemed impossible.
After that, things started to get a little better, and when I eliminated alcohol from my life, things got better still.
Within a week, that eight minutes became twenty, a week later I was hitting thirty. Things were going well, those little improvements were really starting to add up.
There was still one problem though, even though I didn’t quite realise it at the time; I was always very conscious of the fact that I was running.
Every splash of cold water against the back of my throat stayed on my mind, every footstep pounded against my brain, every corner I turned lingered in my thoughts for many moments after it was long out of sight.
My inner-monologue at once acknowledged the difficulty of the challenge ahead and encouraged me to keep going as the entire run turned into a taxing work out for the mind as well as the body.
Then, something happened that wasn’t quite what I’d expected.
It was during what I’d assumed would be a standard run; push on, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, one lingering thought, one inner word of encouragement after the other, turn that half an hour I’d been doing for the last couple of days into forty and call that a success.
No matter how much those footsteps pattered against my brain or those heavy breaths blew against my mind, I was going to push on, hit forty minutes. I’d be ready to nail that one hour mark next week if I could just reach forty today.
And so I set off, and things began pretty much as they always did.
Feet hit the ground and off I went, running through some kind of self-diagnosis in my mind.
OK, legs a little stiff today, they’ll be fine…. Heart and chest feel fine…. Is that a stitch already? Meh, that’ll soon pass..
On it went.
… OK, body’s fine, where am I going?.. Reckon I get to that church? Why not?
..Hmm, seem to running in time to the beat of this song…What is this? Rage Against the Machine…Remember when I saw them live at T in the Park? That was a good gig…gigs,…that gig I’m organising is coming up soon….what’s left to do?
And so on, until all of a sudden, my mind was a million miles away from the task at hand.
I thought about work, I thought Stace, I thought about anything other running.
My body was on autopilot, my mind was enjoying a much-needed moment of clarity to sort out all the many jumbled thoughts going on up there until I spotted a familiar sight; my own house.
Man, how did I get back here?
I looked at the stopwatch, fifty-eight minutes.
Somehow, I’d been running for the best part of an hour without really being conscious of what I was doing.
I pushed on, past the house, down to the bus stop, turn round and back again until hitting the one hour mark became no longer impossible.
Ever since then I’ve found my running has dramatically improved. Though I’m still listening to my body, checking everything’s in order and that I’m not likely to damage myself, but I’m quite happy to admit that for the bulk of most runs, I switch off and let my mind deal with other things.
Now, what began as an incredibly taxing challenge for the mind and body has become a wonderful way to distress and think clearly about life’s bigger challenges