It is becoming increasingly difficult in life to have time to ourselves to think, reflect or completely switch off. Often this is forced upon us by the challenges of juggling work and family. At other times, the predicament is entirely self-inflicted. We simply can’t seem to resist the urge to reach for our digital gadget to fill any sliver of idle time that comes our way, be it sitting in the restroom, waiting at the bus-stop or queuing for a caffeine hit from our favourite barista. Running provides that rare avenue by which we can totally remove ourselves from life’s many distractions and truly have time for our minds to either roam wild or do absolutely nothing. No email notifications to divert attention, no phone calls to answer, not screaming children to attend to. Just the sound of our feet pounding the pavement as a backdrop to our thoughts pondering the possibilities.
When we first begin running, our minds are often disoriented from the sudden prolonged period of zero distractions. This rather ironic situation invariably leads to random or abstract thoughts sprouting in all directions—a fertile setting for true creativity. Admittedly, not too many runners have come up with ideas for curing cancer or longer-lasting light bulbs. However, I have lost count of the times, while running, that I managed to come up with solutions to the most frustrating of my problems, or with ideas from the innermost depth of my sub-consciousness.
Some of us are unfortunately so weighed down by the pressures of daily grind that, even when exercising, we can’t stop thinking about our problems. In most other sports, these lingering worries are forced to compete with the athletic tasks at hand (eg figuring out how to put that little white ball in a hole 400 yards away). We consequently come away from these activities feeling neither relaxed mentally nor fulfilled athletically.
On the other hand, the primitive nature of running does not put any extra demand on our mental capacity, other than that we need put one foot in front of the other and not forget to breathe. If we can’t help ourselves stewing over our lives’ problems, running allows us to continue stewing over them. It allows us to do the stewing to our heart’s content, without interruption, until we have ourselves had enough. Each run then begins to eliminate just that little bit of our frustrations and anxieties, either by putting them in proper perspective or because we have worried about them so much during our runs that there is very little more to worry about. Before we know it, we start to feel mentally energized after each run, as if some of the worries have seeped out of our bodies along with the sweat.
People pay very good money to escape to secluded islands or isolated mountain-top temples in order to achieve a sense of tranquillity. For those of us not as financially or spiritually able, the feeling of peaceful mellowness after a long run can be just as relaxing. I’m not sure whether this is what they call “the runner’s high”, but I have yet to find anything more therapeutic than the zen-like state of mind that overwhelms me after a 20km jog, as I sit under a shade, sipping an icy-cold drink while listening to the sound of my heart beats recovering and bird songs humming.
It may appear remiss of me that I have not mentioned the many physical benefits as a motivation to run. However, if you can find the appeal in any or all of the above mental reasons to start running, you are much more likely to embrace it as part of your routine, instead of treating the exercise as a chore. The cardiovascular and health benefits then become just a by-product, albeit an extremely important one.
(Photo credit: Legs of a Runner During a Marathon via Shutterstock)
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