I wouldn’t really call it “running.” That’s not what I do.
There isn’t a quick and easy way to say “I’m off to disappear into another dimension for about an hour while also physically exerting myself, and I actually do this all the time but in a less official and noticeable way, but now it is official and noticeable, so I’m going to be blocking you out of my perception in exactly ten seconds.”
Instead, when I walk out the door, plugging in my earbuds, I say: “I’m going running, bye.” But now you know that’s a lie by omission.
It might be easier to say that what I’m really doing is losing touch with reality.
Some people run to be in the moment; to be present, to enjoy the feeling of exerting themselves, to take in their surroundings, or to be social with running partners. I’m not one of those people. For that matter, I don’t really remember running. I’m not there when I’m running. I intentionally block everything out—my surroundings, the people near me, the movement of my body, the ground beneath my feet—it all disappears. It’s just my mind and my music… and the occasional audiobook or podcast.
Time is precious, and so are ideas, and you can run out of both, because you usually have to sacrifice one for the other. This is one reason why I run. When it comes to running, walking and movement in general, humans are actually pretty good at multitasking. You can talk while walking, sing while skipping, count while jump-roping, and mentally compose a grocery list while driving. Some people even read books while on treadmills, or so I’ve heard. I run to multitask. I listen to my music, my audiobooks, my podcasts, not only while I run, but because I run.
Sometimes it's hard to do just one thing. When I try to focus on one thing only, my attention wants to split. Inattentive ADHD. I get bored with things, and my mind wanders, and before long, I wonder if I could be doing better things with my time. This sometimes happens if I run without audio, or when I listen to audio while sitting still. When I listen to music, I get lost in thought, and when I get lost in thought, I start moving. I’ll pace when I’m thinking, usually, but if I’m outside and going somewhere, and I get lost in an exciting daydream, I start running before I realize I’m doing it.
The running helps me focus on the music. The music helps me not-focus on the running. I can run for as long as I’m inspired.
Neighbors see me running around the block and tell me that I have a strong work ethic, a determined mindset, a good routine. The coaches at college see me running around the track and have been wanting me to join the teams for years. My parents see me running and wonder whether I get hot in the humid midwest summer days that get up to the nineties. I do, but I still go out each day and run for an hour, or until I feel like stopping. I don’t consider myself a runner, or an athlete. I’m not particularly dedicated to it. I’m not doing it to lose weight, (though that is a nice plus) or to impress people, or really for any reason other than it allows me to completely lose myself in my mind and not have anyone question it.
What’s so exciting about being in my mind, then?
I watch movies in my mind. When I listen to a song, particularly if it’s a soundtrack, I’ll often see it as a trailer; a series of clips that bring out the story and emotion that I’m imagining. Intense confessions, epic duels, training montages. The song ends, a new one on the playlist starts, and a new train of thought, or trailer is formed. I watch them for as long as I have time for. I don’t usually run for the entire hour. Sometimes I walk, if I feel like it, or if the song necessitates a slower pace. I keep moving until the hour is up, but then I have to stop—not because I’m tired, but because the end of the hour signals that I have to come back to the real world.
I wish I could describe the worlds I go to, but I can’t do so in a way that does them real justice. Some are pre-existing worlds—vast fanfiction universes with more than their fair share of original characters, and other times it’s a world all my own, like a D&D plot, or a fantasy novel I’m writing. But no one reads fanfiction about original characters, and fantasy operas take too long to actually write out, and D&D plots never go as you plan them to, so the stories stay in my mind forever, steadily expanding on a near daily basis. The music lets me slip into those worlds.
I initially started my routine for a pedometer challenge, but that isn’t important. It doesn’t truly matter why I started running, where I am or how many steps I take. All I need is my music, my mind, and a loop. Around the block. Around the gym. Around a field. Then I can lose myself, and for once I feel like I’m allowed to. For once, losing touch with reality is considered productive.
Occasionally people will ask me why it is that I run. I’ll tell them that it’s because I like doing it, which is true; but the real reason would take longer to explain. In short, I run because my legs compel me to, I walk in the calm between storms and I stop when the music dies.