You have more than 1,200 thoughts during the course of a 30-minute run. That's 1,200 opportunities to dwell on everything from, "How much farther until I burn off that entire pizza?" to "Wow, my legs feel like garbage." A new study from the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology delved into what runners actually think about while putting in miles, and found they consist of three major themes: pace and distance, pain and discomfort, and surrounding environment.
That means you aren't the only one who catches yourself mentally repeating, "This sucks, everything sucks." in between your bouts of, "Wow, look at those mountains, look at the sky, look at those trees. The world is a beautiful place." The study complied more than 18 hours of audio from 10 amateur runners, aged 29 to 52, who were in training for a half-marathon or longer distance race. The participants were given recording equipment and asked to record their thoughts while out on a run of at least seven miles.
The results revealed that 40 percent of the thoughts pertained to pace and distance, and show the connection between mental management and physical action. Unsurprisingly, thoughts of pain and discomfort followed up with 32 percent of the runners' thoughts. Surrounding environment (anything beyond your pace and pain) came in at 28 percent of the recorded thoughts. Here are 10 of our favorite recorded by the study participants.
Pace and Distance
"7:30 [mins per mile] feels good but it's flat, just wait for that hill." –Henry
"Come on, keep the stride going, bro." –Bill
"I'm definitely tiring out. I'm not 100 percent for sure. I should be freakin' flying right now for sure." –Bill
"Just focus on getting back home, keep this pace, let's go." -Laurie
Pain and Discomfort
"Hill, you're a bitch … it's long and hot — God damn it … mother eff-er." –Bill
"Ugh, I feel like shit." –Jenny
"Come on, you have enough energy for a mile and a half, keep going, ignore the pain." –Enzo
"This is me recording a log of my death by rattlesnakes." –Fred
"Whoa, get out of the way — fucking crazy people. All of the cars are getting me wet." –Laurie
"Another guy ahead. How are you doing? Another couple, more ladies. Good morning, ladies." –Enzo
This small sample showed that long-distance runners might not use their time on the road to ruminate all of life's conundrums, but to instead tune in to their bodies, their workout, and their surroundings. That ability to focus on the present moment and yourself is the opportunity to put all of those other mind-cluttering thoughts and concerns aside. Which may suck when the present moment is your quads being burned on an extra steep hill, but is imperative when it comes to that infamous, clear-headed runner's high.
Another study conducted by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia found that the sustained increased heart rate that people experience during long-distance runs pumps extra oxygen into your brain, promoting memory function and information processing by upping cell growth in the hippocampus, as well as a drop in stress hormones.
So go ahead and embrace your internal dialogue during your next run, because although it may not always make the run seem enjoyable in the moment, it allows you to talk yourself through the pace, the pain, and the conditions toward your goals and toward a better brain.