Seems to me that any runner should be able to answer that question right away. And yet… surprise! When I was asked, I fell silent. Rather than talk nonsense and, intrigued by my own ignorance, I played the honesty card. “Uh… seems strange but I’m really not sure. I’ll pay closer attention on my next run and get back to you.”
That evening, I went running to think about what I think about when I run. After all, I had often come up with potential solutions to problems during my daily runs. Never do so many ideas form in my mind as when I let chaos reign and new schemes take shape. But explaining how it works in practical terms? That’s quite the challenge for my cortex on an endorphin rush!
Here I am in the very act of running, attempting to let my thoughts roam freely while remaining conscious of the ongoing process. Talk about torture! It’s like quantum physics. “Measurement perturbs the system.” It’s as complicated as trying to remember a dream. A runner’s mind only moves when in a state of unconsciousness. As soon as you become aware, the process is interrupted, damaged, sometimes destroyed.
After a few days of trying, I nevertheless came up with a few answers for my friend... and, more importantly, for myself. Often, the first thoughts that come to mind are focused on the problems I leave behind when I break into a run—like work-related worries or family frustrations—, whatever they may be. So, all of that is gone in a few minutes! Poof!
I then alternate unpredictably between two contrasting states of mind. Moments of being completely aware of how my body is functioning—during which I analyze its movement, trying to interpret the signals generated by the effort being made. But, inevitably, there are also some purely dreamlike episodes. Consciousness switches off, and then the magic happens. Problems, ideas, things I read online, the day’s discussions, personal projects, everyday anecdotes… everything gets mixed up, criss-crossed, and combined.
Sometimes, an idea gushes forth from the magma and instantly snaps me out of my meditative state. Why? Dreams are generally totally absurd, except that some are on occasion so realistic that they wake us with a start. The same thing applies when—among the sterile re-combinations—a new, practical, and applicable solution is identified. But like with those brief moments of nocturnal consciousness that leave only a vague memory, the challenge is to be able to remember the brilliant idea at the end of my run...
What was the question again?