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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.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/19/2010 02:20

    Running is a good time to think. It is amazing how many problems I solve while I am running.

  2. Jul permalink
    10/19/2010 05:51

    Heh. I work in Washington, DC, and sometimes wear pencil skirts to work, and stumbled on your blog one day and am often so, so jealous. (I realize the grass is greener on the other side, etc.). But I always thought I’d do something like Americorps in Alaska or Montana or Hawaii or Wyoming after college. Not a desk job.

    I love your blog. How are you liking work?

    • 10/19/2010 12:53

      I love the work (“volunteer service”) that I’m doing here. It’s nature education and Alaska is a wonderful setting for that. In retrospect, this turned out to be one of those instances where reality is “better” than what I originally imagined myself doing with this year. I’ve escaped the desk job… for now… and plan to enjoy it while it lasts. There are certainly some drawbacks to being here though — it’s not all northern lights and humpback whales all the time! DC is a very cool city and I hope you are enjoying it!

      • 10/21/2010 04:34

        Very cool to hear. I plan to escape myself someday! But yes, for now, DC is a very cool city, and I am doing my best to get all I can out of it. 🙂

  3. 10/19/2010 06:22

    ummmmmmmmmmmm i have no idea what i think about. seriously. i guess when i was still in school it was how to work through assignment problems and whatnot but my mind wanders and i think about anything. it’s like a stream of consciousness.

    but i will say that sometimes i pretend i’m a celebrity when i run hahah

  4. 10/19/2010 06:39

    I was asked this once for runners world. I either think about: things I need to do, something that irritated me, daydream, occasionally something blog worthy or absolutely nothing. Oh, and sometimes I pray – “Dear Lord please help me make it to a bathroom before cramping my pants.”

    I’m not much of a pensive runner I guess. I just let my brain wander, or not.

    Oh and as for interviews… At my first big-girl interview I told the guy he wouldn’t have to worry about me ever taking maternity leave bc I didn’t want children. Hahaha. Insert foot. Not sure why I was compelled to have vomit o’ the mouth that day.

    • 10/19/2010 12:54

      “Dear Lord please help me make it to a bathroom…” — 100% with you on that one. And actually all of that.

      • 10/20/2010 14:14

        ahaha i just realized i typed “cramping” but i’m pretty sure you got what i meant. i have to comment from my phone 99% of the time b/c i am reading blogs at work and work likes to block them for some reason… productivity or something maybe.

        anywho. just had to share this – got it in my email today and i think you were the one who liked them. if not, then i am spamming you i guess.
        get a 15% discount off Chocolate Peanut Butter or Chocolate Coconut Zing Bars. Simply enter coupon code: boo at checkout (and be sure to hit “Apply Coupon” for the coupon to take). Good until Oct 31.

  5. 10/19/2010 07:06

    Anything and everything? I also seem to feel way cooler while running than I am in real life. I don’t know if I ever really realized that before I read this post. Guess I was in denial?

  6. 10/19/2010 07:13

    I definitely think about conversations with people that have happened or may never happen, too. Other than that it’s usually just a stream of consciousness like Karyn said, unless something big and stressful is happening in my life

  7. jbf permalink
    10/19/2010 10:23

    Almost exclusively, I think about how much I want to stop. It’s a rare day that I actually want to go out and train.

    This comment was brought to you by feeling compelled to say something relevant before making my primary comment: Boston sold out in 8 hours. Ridiculous. If you didn’t bother sitting by your computer when it opened, it looks like your decision was made for you!

    • 10/19/2010 13:22

      Haha, yeah! Closed at 1pm, AKST.

      Based on advice and blessings to skip out on it, I had already committed to NOT registering, but I still checked that ish out due to sheer curiosity, and my jaw dropppppped.

      Time to tighten up some of those standards, fo realz.

  8. 10/19/2010 10:39

    I am all kinds of day-dreamy when I run. I think long distance running attracts day-dreamy people.

    • 10/19/2010 13:23

      That’s the perfect way to put it. I might just delete this post and copy/paste your comment in instead.

  9. 10/19/2010 22:49

    and its amazing how many things i confess to when i am running with someone. i am all cool and suave at the beginning, but an hour into the run, i start blurting out all the things i swore i would not tell a single soul….

    • 10/24/2010 20:19

      I can really, really relate to this. In normal life I’m not a huge talker — I choose my words carefully and am the think-before-you-speak type. But take me on a run and I morph into babble-mouth Barbie.

  10. 10/20/2010 08:27

    If I’m running a hard workout or race, I try to “associate” vs. “disassociate” and think mostly about my form, breathing, effort, etc. If I’m just running easy, I think about things that are pissing me off/stressing me out. And food. 🙂

  11. Deb Brunetti permalink
    10/20/2010 10:32

    You are soooo funny and you write soooo well. I need to think more like you when I run instead of wishing I were stronger, skinnier, faster, that my shin didn’t hurt or my hammies weren’t burning! 🙂 Run on!

    • 10/24/2010 20:15

      Thank you so much! Yeah, the “delusions of grandeur” are a big reason why I run. It’s fun to be in fantasy-land for a few miles… and trust me, I do spend portions of each run wishing things weren’t hurting and burning and turning over so slowly…

  12. 10/20/2010 17:33

    My on-the-run thinking is almost exclusively in the delusions of grandeur category. The longer I run the more amazing I am. I also routinely crack myself up – and worry the townsfolk.

  13. 10/20/2010 19:33

    honestly, when i run outside i spend most of my time thinking about what’s going on around me. i think about the ground (bumps and potholes), i think about the crowds of pedestrians/tourists (living in downtown Sydney means there are A LOT.) but i also try and think about my form (shorter, quicker strides) and if i’m lucky, i get to get lost in the music and feel like a bad ass for about 3 minutes. it’s those 3 minutes why i run.

  14. Murdoch permalink
    10/21/2010 04:43

    Usually my mind will wander to race settings, but its almost always realistic, like running 15:20 or 2:40, not like setting a world record. I find this funny, it must mean I have no imagination.

    • 10/24/2010 20:13

      No, I think all it means is that you’re actually good at running, and are not delusional.

      Actually, my midrun fantasies usually START by being realistic. 3:20! And then, as I keep running, they get less and less realistic. 3:10! Sub-3! The heck with it, world record!

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