I often start my runs without a set distance in mind. I’ll pick a range, say eight to 10 miles, and make a game-time decision before the turnaround point. I’m also a creature of habit, treading the same handful of routes without experiencing an ounce of boredom.
A week or so ago, I set out for my weekly long run. It had recently snowed and the trail was an obstacle course of melting snow and mud. Despite it being midday, the overcast sky had a purple, dusk-like feel, which blended into the blanketed white grassland. I had the trail to myself, save for a prairie dog scurrying across the path here and there. And because I’m a firm believer in running without music, my breaths and the crunching snow beneath my feet were the soundtrack.
At first, I figured I’d bail at the four-mile mark—eight miles were more than enough in the tough terrain. But within steps of pulling the u-ey, it hit me. Despite my slowed pace, this run felt borderline euphoric. Here I was, leaving a path of footprints through a stunning snowy landscape, lost in my thoughts yet finely tuned into my body. I suck at formal meditation, but this felt like my own form of meditation. So I pressed on for another mile with a renewed sense of purpose, yearning to prolong this sensation for a few more minutes. Hello, ten miles and an unexpected runner’s high.
These days, since I still don’t have a formal race on the calendar, running has served as a mental escape, a quiet break from all things digital. I started my first job as an RN just over a month ago (which I absolutely LOVE!), so running in the fresh air with the birds chirping balances out full days spent indoors with call bells buzzing haphazardly. And the hour or so spent on the gravel unglues me from my phone (thank goodness).
I can’t say I spend the time thinking about anything in particular nor am I working through the minutiae of my last shift. If anything, I’m constantly assessing how I feel — Does my breathing feel relaxed or strained with the altitude? Do my legs feel springy and fit or is yesterday’s 12-hour shift still weighing them down? Why do I feel warm but my thumbs still feel like ice cubes?
Throughout my life as a runner, my runs have served many purposes. They’ve erased stressed and maintained my sanity. They’ve inspired me to push myself to new heights and allowed me to connect with others. These days, they feel like a routine cleansing of my mind. It feels good to focus on how it feels to just move and breathe. It’s almost as if, after three years of the sheer insanity that was changing careers, my mind is craving simplicity.