Thursday, 18 October 2012

The pensiveness of the long distance runner*

Posted by Jean Adams

Have you been following #episongs? It’s like a game. But for epidemiologists. On Twitter. You’ll appreciate this lends it a certain in-crowd, geekiness:

     Bayesian Rhapsody (from @martinwhite33)

     One way or ANOVA (from @soozaphone)

     Geoffrey Rose the boat ashore (from @gingerly_onward)

     You say use StAYta, I say use StAHta (yours truly)

I have been using my running time this week to dream up contributions.

The loneliness of the long distance runner, Dir. Tony Richardson
I run most days. I down tools sometime between 5 and 6pm, gather up my stuff, head down to the toilets in the lobby of our building, where a secret door takes you through to a tiny changing room, and change from smart young professional into Supergirl. Well, more often it is from slightly scruffy climbing hut chic (as my dad once graciously labelled it) into rather smelly day-glo shirt and running tights.

Often I can’t quite be bothered. But I have found that this thought can be turned off long enough to get changed and out the door and by the time it comes back there’s no choice left.

I run because I like to be fit enough to keep up with my climbing hut buddies, because it gives me licence to eat a certain amount of cake, because it gets me outside for at least 45 minutes, and because it allows my brain to think in a different way from normal. I think it keeps me healthy. But it might not.

When I'm running, my thoughts take on a different quality. I don’t have to stop them because I need to focus on getting an abstract down to 250 words, wording an email just right, or so I can work out what exactly the person speaking is trying to say. I can just let them happen. But it’s not like there is a jumble of thoughts. Often it’s just one thing. Going back and forth. Round and round. Upside down.

I have some of my best ideas when I'm running. Ideas for research projects. Ideas for how to solve the problem I've been sweating over all day. Ideas for how to teach the cohort study session without killing everyone in the room with boredom. Ideas for #episongs.

Sometimes I think that the quality of my thoughts is so good when I'm running that running time should be reclassified as working time. Other times, my thoughts are not about work at all and I would feel resentful of having to think about something in particular when I'm running.

I presume the two things are not unlinked: my thoughts happening differently, and the good ideas coming. I presume there’s a technical term for the thoughts thing too. Once when my brother was particularly frustrated about something or other, I suggested he take up running. He said he was going to go on a meditation retreat instead. I suspect they might amount to nearly the same thing.

I'm a bit of a running evangelist  But I try not to be a running bore. Pounding the same loop, or variations of it, day after day is not that interesting of itself. Beyond the occasional wildlife spot, hardly anything interesting happens when I run, apart from in my head. There is not much about running itself to talk about. And, to be honest, I can get the same thought effect from swimming, walking and various other repetitive physical pursuits.

What I really want to get out of running right now is a running related #episong

*with apologies to Alan Sillitoe

1 comment:

  1. steph clutterbuck14 November 2012 at 14:34

    this is exactly why I love running so much. I always feel like a genius after a run due to all my/the world's problems i have managed to solve. it's like meditation on the move!