“What Do You Think About For Seven Hours?”

When I tell people I’ve run for over seven hours (or even four, or three), one of the most common things people want to know is what do I think about during that long of a run?  It’s hard to sum up, but I tried to do a statistical break down of what occupied my thoughts for seven hours and thirty-seven minutes.

30 minutes: Chatting with other runners.

35 minutes: “Ow.”

25 minutes: Singing Brittney Spears “Until the World Ends” in my head.

53 minutes: Singing the Robillard’s “Roctane” jingle in my head

12 minutes: Wondering “Do I need another gel pack, or is eating one going to make me sick?”

65 minutes: Fantasizing about crossing the finish-line

25 minutes: Fantasizing about crossing the finish line of Western States

15 minutes: Fantasizing about collapsing but still crawling across the finish line in an inspiring act of endurance that brings all the spectators to their feet.

45 minutes: Wishing I’d brought 2 water bottles.

12 minutes: Sucking at an empty water bottle even though I knew full well there wasn’t any water left.

60 minutes: “This hill can’t keep going up forever, right?”

35 minutes: Writing a blog post about the race in my head

20 minutes: Thinking about the fact I was writing a blog post about the race in my head.

2o minutes: Wondering what I’d been thinking about for the last hour.

This is a bit facetious, obviously, but also rather accurate.  Thoughts come, thoughts go, and time is sort of suspended while you keep running.  It doesn’t seem “long” really, thought it certainly doesn’t seem short.  It just is.

But if you really want to know what one thinks about on a long run, the best description is from Murikami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:”

I’m often asked about what I think about when I run.  Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves.  I always ponder the question.  What exactly do I think about when I’m running?  I don’t have a clue. 

On cold days, I think a little about how cold it is.  And about the heat on hot days.  When I’m sad I think a little about sadness.  When I’m happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too.  And occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel.  But really as I run, I don’t think about much of anything worth mentioning.

I just run.  I run in a void.  Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.  But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void.  People’s minds can’t be a compete blank.  Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum.  What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void.  Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.

The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky.  Clouds of all different sizes.  They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always.  The clouds are mere guest in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.  The sky both exists and doesn’t exist.  It has substance and at the same time doesn’t.  And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in.


About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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2 Responses to “What Do You Think About For Seven Hours?”

  1. runariran says:

    Love it! I often write blog posts in my head, but mostly ,y mind jumps around from topic to topic…really no rhyme or reason, and I like it that way. Congrats on the finish, by the way!

  2. Sally says:

    excellent!! Love the empty water bottle and the crawling over the finish to bring spectators to their feet :)))

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