They say that sometimes, walking out the door is the hardest part...

April 5th, 2014, 3pm

But they would be wrong.

The hardest part about going for a run is deciding what you’re going to think about the whole damn time. Before you lace up your shoes, before you pull back your hair, before you lift up one knee and push off with the opposite foot, finding a way to occupy your mind is a runner’s biggest priority.

At least that how it is for me. When people ask me about my love for running, I have to just smile and shake my head. Running is boring, I want to tell them. Day in, day out, an hour here, 90 minutes there, then back out again in the evening for another quickie to cap off the day… it’s really not that enjoyable.

I gave up running with headphones long ago— or, rather, I was told running with an iPod was not allowed, by my first college coach. And when I broke the rules, ran blasting Death Cab for Cutie or some other mid-2000s emo band, and nearly got run down by a teammate on a twisty trail mid-long run because I didn’t hear him stalking behind me, I had a mini heart attack, was scared out of my wits, and never ran with music again.

But that’s a lot of years running sans entertainment and a lot of miles faced with only the company of my mind.

Of course, you don’t think about anything when you’re running a workout on the track. You’re so dialed in, so focused on the task at hand (usually running a certain time for a certain distance). Occasionally snippets of song get stuck looping in your head— a few recents were U2’s “Pride,” The Supreme’s “Baby Love,” Ke$ha’s “Timber.” One of my first races in college was accompanied, in my ears only, by KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Shake Shake”— but only the line, “You can… You can do it… Very well… You’re the… Best in the world… I can tell… oooooh, Shake Shake Shake… Shake Shake Shake…” Yeesh.

Yet when I head out solo, without the chatter of training partners (where, full disclosure, our conversations run the gamut from ex-boyfriends, sex, bodies, countless games of “Would You Rather”), I desperately cling to a train of thought to get me through it. Daydreams that I can return to over and over again— my life with a family, with my children, one day in an unforeseeable future, with little faces that I can paint in my mind, imagining the feeling of a pregnant body. Conversations I’d like to (or need to) have— with someone I want to collaborate with (perfecting my pitch, I guess), with a friend I haven’t spoken to in too long, emails I want to write, arguments I want to have. Running a fight (that hasn’t happened) back and forth in my head is a good distraction from the pounding of feet on pavement. Scheming up new projects, ways to expand this business or that dream job into a tangible action plan, with goals and deadlines and to-dos, is a wonderfully productive way to pass the time. Writing blog posts or Hi moments often occur (this post was born during the same run I snapped this shot). Before I know it, 12 miles are done and I’m walking to my car!

I love running in neighborhoods for the fodder each home, every little yard, any discarded sign of another life— toys on the lawn, a unique mailbox, lights in the windows— brings me. I can imagine myself in that house, I can dream up the lives of current occupants, I can debate the pros and cons of having red windowsills or a turquoise door, brick or stone, front porch or stoop… How would I live if I were you?

Not having a thought plan— allowing myself to wander, willy-nilly, in the stream of consciousness of my mind— is never a good thing. Hard feelings come up, guilt about not responding to that message or anxiety about an upcoming phone call with my lawyer, the stress of what exactly I’m doing— giving up 3 years of my life to train with the hopes of making an Olympic team, years broken down into days, the routine of it all, the suffocating, clenching of my heart when I realize that yet again, I’m out for another run today… No, no, it’s far better to be prepared, guarded, have a daydream at hand to fall back upon when icky feelings come up.

Of course, there are the glorious I’m Winning The Race fantasies that serve to fuel a rather arduous run. Those get my heart beating wildly, stir my blood, make me subconsciously pick up the pace until I’m flying, wind rushing by, arms pumping, wide smile making me look like one of those serene models on the cover of Runner’s World. If I relax, I believe those thoughts— I can feel them come to life with each step and my confidence soars with the knowledge that I’M DOING IT. I’m living my dream. Yes, jabs of fear and doubt can crowd in, turn my bliss into anxiety and stress… but more and more these days, I can look down at my body, look inwards to my spirit, and look logically at my training and allow that little voice to say in my ear, “You got this.”

So yes, getting out the door is always the first step— but finding company in the confines of your mind is a much bigger challenge.

Indu, Lin, Sara, joe and 21 others said thanks.

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Stephanie Marie

A make-it-happen kind of girl. My worlds: a steeplechaser sponsored by New Balance and training with Furman Elite in Greenville, SC | The Fête Blog | Be Loved PR | University of Virginia grad

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