Have you had your (mental) break today?

By Laura Broullire

My high school cross country coach had a great runners’ tie. It featured a cartoon of these two old geezers, gasping and sweating in their track suits.

“What do you think about when you’re running?” the first runner wheezed.

The second gasped in reply: “Walking.”

My brain, when I’m running, is rolling a mental movie on a reel in my gray matter. I’m thinking about the kids, the weather, whether I need new running shoes, plans for the coming weekend, whether I have the right ingredients to make dinner and how long it’s been since my van’s had an oil change. I ponder new shower curtains for the guest bathroom, toy with the idea of planting a vegetable garden, make a note to reschedule my daughter’s next piano lesson and try (and fail) to remember the name of that book my sister-in-law recommended.

And then – somewhere between rating a chicken lasagna recipe and remembering to swing by the post office – the mental movie goes on intermission. All that chatter and clutter sort of fades and quiets … and my brain is able to just be.

That’s when I’m able to concentrate on the rhythm of my feet hitting their stride, the pattern of breath, the sweat on my skin. Do I have an ache or a pain somewhere in my body? Probably – but that, too, fades away when I’m concentrating intently on the cracks in the sidewalk and the direction of the breeze.

For me – as I imagine it is for many busy people today – my thoughts are constantly churning and swirling as I multi-task. I’m trying to grab bits and pieces of what happened in the past, at the same time desperately trying to prep for the future but still stay present and enjoy the here and now. (Exhausting!) So running for me, as I imagine it is for many busy runners today, is more than just a physical release – it is my mental break and opportunity to return to focus and clarity.

In the past, when my brain would start to get overwhelmed with its self-created “to-do” list, I’d convince myself that I had too much on my plate at that time to go for a run. So I’d stay home, and my brain would get even more chaotic. Now, thankfully, I’ve realized that when I start to feel like I can’t get everything done, that is the time when I need to go run – wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a clear head. And, while running, it doesn’t hurt to give yourself permission to think about the weather … or walking … or absolutely nothing at all.

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