Unplugging the long run: Embracing the sounds of silence

Marc is training for the Bayshore Marathon in late May. His goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Everyone has a place where they do their best thinking. (Guys, insert your own joke about the bathroom here!) For me, that place is out on the road, with the plopity plop of my shoes on asphalt, and the wind in my face. (There has to be wind for me to feel the air moving around me because I don't really run fast enough to generate much air movement on my own.) Itâ??s kind of magical-the peace I find out running, and I found it by accident.

For more than 15 years I wouldn't have dreamt of heading out for a run without music blaring through my Walkman (kids, that's what we had before iPods-they played cassette tapes-that's what we had before mp3's and these Walkmans were so heavy that if you used the included belt clip it usually meant you were mooning any runner behind you..but I digress). Anyway a Walkman and then an iPod were mandatory for me to get out the door. I would spend hours putting together the perfect run mix, loud upbeat tunes meant to make me run faster and further than possible without the music. Driving beats, techno, rap, oh I ran angry and determined!

A funny thing happened one day-in grabbing my iPod I noticed it was dead! I remember equating a dead iPod to only having one shoe--you can't go for a run right? But guilt got me out the door for that 17 mile long training run with nothing but my own mind to keep myself distracted from the running.

It was one of the best runs of my life.

After a few miles of grumbling about being bored without the music, I started looking around. Suddenly my run wasn't only contained in my head like the music that used to be pumped through the headphones. I heard the sounds of the world waking up, the woods coming alive, little squirts of dogs barking trying to scare me, birds chirping, but it wasn't those sounds got me hooked on running without tunes. What I really heard was the sound of me running. I heard every foot strike, and could tell when I was getting sloppy. I listened to my breathing and could tell when I was working too hard. I found myself regulating my running based on what I was now able to hear, and for the first time in a long time, I ran focused and HAPPY. For years I felt I needed the distraction of music to get me through. But I discovered on that run, and all of them since, that I am not very good at doing one thing while thinking about something else. (Yes kids, it's like turning off the TV when doing your homework.) By unplugging I became a much better runner, which might have been reward enough.

But wait!! There's more!!

Not only did I turn better miles, but I discovered that I suddenly had hours every week of forced contemplation time! What else are you going to do while running if you can't sing along with the music? I don't want to get too emotionally touchy feely here, but how often do we all get time to just "be" these days? Quiet time with nothing but our thoughts? My runs turned into private therapy sessions with myself. A few miles in, and the thoughts just start popping up. The beauty is that I actually have time to get past the apparent cause of those feelings and get to the root of it all. If that thought fades something else replaces it. It's not overwhelming or rushed, it's actually remarkably soothing. I know that when I get crabby or stressed the best thing I can do is lace up those shoes and just go until I have it figured out. Maybe you have one those places? Maybe you are much better than me about quieting your mind in your daily life without having to run? But I am not. I work in a loud newsroom with at least three TVs blaring, police scanners squeaking, a dozen phones ringing and a lot of people who get louder as deadline approaches! Work isn't a quiet place.

But we are blessed to live in a place where almost all of us can find a place to stretch our legs without dealing with stop lights, traffic, and a concrete jungle. Feeling the sun on my face, and hearing Northern Michigan come to life is the best "distraction" to running and in some instances my life that I have found. And one that I wouldn't trade for even the most killer playlist.

Happy training!

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