What should I do with my brain when I'm jogging?
April 22, 2013 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I have been running for a few weeks (with the help of a Couch to 5K app), and am facing an unexpected challenge -- the incessant chatter inside my head. What is a more productive use of my brain while my body is running? What do experienced runners focus on -- breathing, the next marker, their body, music, nothing at all?
posted by swift to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
posted by entropicamericana at 8:16 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I try to focus on breathing and my pace, and to simply practice being *aware* while running. The temperature of the air, the timbre of light, the dappling of shadows, the rustling of foliage. To try and take in all these in the midst of the ongoing knee-pounding & body jolting involved with jogging seems to help me dim the mental chatter.
posted by chicxulub at 8:16 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I usually listen to music, but if that's not available I do this weird counting exercise set to the rhythm of my footfalls (so, like, 1-step-step-step 2 step-step-step) where I mentally count from 0 to 50 and then back down and then back up over and over. At some point, I usually wind up losing the count because I've gone into some more meditative running state, which I guess is fine, too.
posted by COBRA! at 8:18 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like music. I pick stuff that has a relatively good rhythm, I notice that faster songs unconsciously pick me up a little while slower songs can cause me to slow down; occasionally I skip a downer of a song when I don't need to take it easy for a bit.

But the funny thing is that after a while I kind of tune the music out and just let my mind wander; I do some of my best thinking when running, the music is just there in the background.

Another option is to run with friends. Having a conversation when running makes things fly by, really, even on some very long runs. It also slows you down a little, which is good for cardio training.

You have to find what works for you. These are the things that took me from "couldn't run a mile without walking" at 30 to "ran a marathon and signed up to do it again this fall" at 39.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:20 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I usually listen to music, but if not, I sometimes make up stories about the other people running, or I focus on my form, or I think about races I want to sign up for.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2013

By no means am I an experienced runner, but I go to the gym 5-6 times a week and spend a fair amount of time on the cardio machines. When I am jogging/running or on the elliptical, I listen to fast-paced music and I focus on timing my steps to the beat. Once I feel like I am running/moving in sync with the music, I focus on breathing in and out for endurance. When I feel my brain slipping to thinking about non-gym things, I take that as a cue to go faster and then I have to re-focus.
posted by gursky at 8:21 AM on April 22, 2013

I have Runkeeper on my phone telling me my pace, and I listen to podcasts.
posted by siskin at 8:22 AM on April 22, 2013

I think a lot of it is up to you and your own personal tastes. I only run with music on a treadmill, but I can also read academic papers on a treadmill, and sometimes do. If I'm on the street, I'll come up with little mantras to get through rough spots, or I'll go through rote things like verb conjugation. Or I'll just watch the scenery and try to figure out the changing storefronts or if I've run with the other runners out before.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:25 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I vote for zombies.
posted by thejanna at 8:27 AM on April 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you're not aiming for pace, then comedy podcasts, or a radio show with good comedy whittles away the time really well.

If you're aiming for pace, then count your steps per minute and use itunes or equivalent to find songs with the beats per minute that match the pace you want to run at.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:27 AM on April 22, 2013

To second what jetlagaddict says, it is going to be personal to your interests. Whenever I have time when I don't need my ears for the task at hand, such as commuting or exercising, I listen to language drills in whatever language I am studying at the time, podcasts of theology lectures, and so on. If you had free time to learn, what would you learn? Listen to that.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:29 AM on April 22, 2013

I like to listen to guided meditations/visualizations. This Power Affirmations recording is one of my favorites. I'm not so much of a believer in "the woo" that I really believe these kinds of things will transform my life, but it helps me think positive and powerful thoughts in the moment at a time when my body may be telling me that it feels tired and hot and sweaty and is generally not happy with the things my brain is telling it to do.
posted by drlith at 8:32 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I listen to music for short/intense workouts, or sometimes podcasts, but I actually really love the chance to be alone with my thoughts on a trail run or hike. I have had some pretty cool moments of epiphany on long solo hikes.
posted by mskyle at 8:35 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mindfulness in Plain English
posted by Flunkie at 8:36 AM on April 22, 2013

Because I'm somewhat prone to injuries while running, I focus on my form. Am I landing on my midfoot instead of on my heel; am I keeping my shoulders down, back and relaxed or up around my ears; are my hands relaxed or bunched in fists.
posted by mchorn at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband doesn't run, but he swims. He is also a tournament Scrabble player. Since podcasts aren't an option in the pool, he occupies his brain by using his swim time to try to recall new words. He will glance at a word list before his swim, scan the list/any mnemonic device that might help with recall, and then during his swim he tries to remember all the words on the list.
posted by little mouth at 9:27 AM on April 22, 2013

Outrun the zombies with a fun running game on your ipod/android phone.
posted by seasparrow at 9:43 AM on April 22, 2013

When I'm running outside I focus on music to keep my pace up, my breathing and form - once I'm confident with all of that and don't want to think about the dying that I'm experiencing or how much longer/farther I need to go, I do some long form math.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2013

I'm a long time runner and I find that when I listen to music my brain can go off on focused tangents, and when I don't listen to music my thoughts are too distracting. This is incredibly embarrassing but usually I listen to some hip-hop pandora station and start out by picturing myself looking awesome and dancing amazingly in some club... then I think about what I would wear... then I think that I am awesome for running and taking care of my body, then I move into a mental phase where I look at other aspects of my life I want to improve and spend some time brainstorming. The music just kind of shuts out all the other thoughts. Without my iPod it's more like huff puff + bombardment of observations with my lungs burning in the background.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm a podcast while running kind of guy.

I run mostly on a treadmill so I will occasionally play games with the TV. For example during a baseball game I ramp up the speed for each out made and the drop back to my base speed at the end of an inning. Likewise during an football game I will pick one team's offense and run hard during their time on the field and then run at a slower pace when the other team has the ball. I find these little mind games as nice distractions from the running.
posted by mmascolino at 10:55 AM on April 22, 2013

I listen to music.

When I don't feel like running - like, I just don't want to get out of bed at all, let alone run - I will drag myself to the computer and quickly put together a new playlist for myself. That motivates me to get get out there and run: the chance to listen to the music I chose.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2013

I'm surprised by the answers thus far because, as a long-time runner, I embrace the incessant chatter inside my head. Embracing the chatter is one of the true joys of running in my opinion. A racing mind when running can serve 2 purposes:

1. It's the perfect distraction, and a long run goes by quickly.

2. During the incessant worry about work, the kids or my health, I actually think about a problem from a new angle and emerge from my run with a new idea to try. It's actually the only time where I feel internal chatter is actually productive (unlike trying to sleep or get something done at work, where the chatter is obviously counter-productive).

P.S. I like listening to music or podcasts when I'm on a treadmill, but when I'm outdoors, I don't feel safe with earbuds in. I prefer to be aware of my surroundings.
posted by glenngulia at 11:57 AM on April 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Seconding glenngulia. Embrace the chatter. Your mind does wonderful things when it has nothing to do but wander. Do you solve problems while brushing your teeth or taking a shower? Running is like that but much more extended.

My average pace is 1 problem solved every 3km. Yours may vary.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:34 PM on April 22, 2013

What do experienced runners focus on -- breathing, the next marker, their body, music, nothing at all?

I'm an experienced doof, so none of this is scientific.

1. Music.
2. Some kind of mantra for the really horrible bits, usually "mental toughness" over and over.
3. I'm a spy and everyone just thinks I'm a mild-mannered hippie won't they be surprised when I save them all from armed robbers ha ha ha.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:41 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

No one else with the audiobooks? My public library has them to borrow. The trick is to pick something exciting enough that it distracts you but also formulaic enough that you're not trying to skip back all the time because you blanked for a few seconds.
posted by anaelith at 4:15 AM on April 23, 2013

« Older Brady Bunch to be, please help make everyone happy...   |   How high can a fever get before seeking care? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.