Want to achieve your dream life? Just go for a run.
The other day, a friend asked me what I think about when I run.
Sometimes I entertain world record marathon delusions, but I had to mull this one over for a moment and couldn’t quite come up with a succinct, distilled answer.
So I offer this story instead:
Typically, I do well with phone interviews. In fact, my track record had been flawless up until a few months ago, at which point I encountered the phone interview from hell. It was so predictably cringe-worthy that I could probably make a quick buck by writing the scene into a screenplay and selling it to whatever D-list sitcoms are polluting television these days.
Precisely as the eight-person panel conference call starts, a few thoughtful neighbors opt to fire up the most deafening lawn-mowers ever to grace our solar system.
The result? A hilarious and tragic string of miscommunication and general incoherence on my part, all to the inconveniently-timed backdrop of comically loud landscaping equipment that ultimately forced me to conduct the bulk of my interview from the sole corner of the house where any semblance of respite from the commotion could be acquired: the bathroom.
There I sat upon the toilet seat with all the dignity I could muster, my laptop teetering on one knee while the other acted as a makeshift resting place for my notes and pen (fittingly, having reached its last three molecules of ink). Sweaty and clammy with nerves, as fresh yellow-and-blue bruises bloomed upon my confidence and I shanked question after question, I had one prevailing thought:
Dear God. I would rather be running.
I sat for the remainder of the interview, expertly botching more questions as I looked ahead to the point where I could hang up the phone, throw on my Pegasus, and blast out the door for as many miles as would take me to forget this horrific abuse of my ego.
What do I think about when I’m running?
Here’s the mortifying truth:
While I am running, I retreat into a fantasy dreamland. One where I am far cooler, more socially adept, confident, funny, attractive, ambitious, and impressive than the person you all know in real life.
For example, in my fantasy dreamworld the day of that post-interview run, I hit every single one of those interview questions out of the park. I dazzled and thrilled the Department of Justice with my knowledge of their different functions, with my vivaciousness, sly wit, unique skill set, and slew of work-related accolades. I was offered the job, and moved to Washington DC, where I quickly established myself as a diligent, clever asset who looked adorable wearing heels and business-y pencil skirts every day.
(Obviously, none of that happened. I did not get the job. I did not move to the capital of the nation. I do not wear pencil skirts to work. Instead, I moved to the capital of Alaska. I wear rainpants to work. Adorable. Reality one-upped me. And not that I’m qualified to dole out any follow-your-dreams life advice, but I’m happy it did. Because in this case, a hearty dose of rejection allowed reality to throw something even better at me than what I thought I wanted. There’s something to be said for the thrill of uncertainty.)
This running-induced fantasy dreamworld isn’t exclusive to job-related matters. It’s a place where I reimagine conversations with family, co-workers, friends, attractive boys, people I talk to every day or never even interact with in real life.
I think about things I’ve said and better ways I would have said them.
I think about things I want to say, and better ways to say them.
And I boost and entertain myself with outlandish egotistical tales. For example, every time I get spooked about running into a bear, I launch into a fantasy where I battle hand-to-hand with some gargantuan Grizzly, barely crawl away alive, somehow rescue a bystanding small child from certain death, and then it’s all over the headlines of the newspaper the next day: “Local runner outwits raging Grizzly bear; saves schoolchild. Sarah Palin declares statewide holiday in celebration of heroics.”
Fact is, I’m a bit of a “slow processor” in person. I’m tongue-tied, frustratingly introverted and heartbreakingly average.
I never manage to get myself across the way I’d like to. I’m not as ambitious or purposeful as I feel I should be. I’m not as good at what I do as I want to be.
But in running fantasy dreamland, all those petty shortcoming dissolve. There, I’m cool-talking, slick, and so witty it hurts. On a 90-minute run, I’m an international rock star. Even on the occasion that a run is boring and tedious, I’m still in my happy place. Even on a regular old run, I can throw away the banal confidence issues that ride around with me during the non-running hours of the day and check my self-doubt at the door.
I suppose then, that what I think about when I run is who I could be. Go ahead and smack me upside the head for sounding so trite. But there you have it.