But I haven't run with music at all in 2011. And now, instead of having XX minutes of empty airspace to fill, I have one or two hours of silence to endure.
I first ditched music when I ran the Resolution Run 5K and Polar Bear Plunge on New Years Day. The course dipped into Lake Washington just before the finish line, and I couldn't really submerge my iPod in the 40-degree water, so I went without it. Since then, I've run completely music-free.
I notice how the rhythm of my breath settles in with the cadence of my footsteps. I notice if my body is struggling to keep up or if it wants to push harder. I notice what my thoughts are, if I'm angry or stressed or pleased about my workday.
I'm really good at burying inconvenient feelings and distracting myself by keeping busy. When I ran with music, I'd anticipate that running would be unpleasant, so I went in armed with a distraction to keep my mind occupied and deflect the unpleasantness.
But then I forgot how nice it is to feel, even if the feeling isn't good.
Running is my time to notice. Even if my body runs quickly, my mind slows down. It takes a good look around — at the trail I'm running on and at myself — and sees more in 30 minutes that it has all day.
I'm still plenty guilty of distracting myself. I'm always glued to my smartphone when I ride the bus, and I often surf the Web while watching TV (essentially distracting myself from a distraction).
But I have running, and I sometimes go to yoga — not because I love sun salutations, but because the instructor always starts by asking us to relax, close our eyes and notice our thoughts.
I recently ran an 8:16 mile (which is fast for me) from the gym back to my house after an intense 75-minute power-yoga class. Even though I was tired, I felt ridiculously light and relaxed. I flew.
I had just lost a loved one the previous day and my mind had been backed up with sadness and worry. Yoga will never fix everything or bring a person back, but that night, it helped me acknowledge those feelings and then clear them out a bit.
Sadness and worry that go unnoticed don't go anywhere.
Do you notice what you're thinking or how you're really feeling very often? How much do you matter to yourself?
It may sound selfish to focus on yourself like that, but I know what it's like to let buried feelings build up until they explode. It's not good. The last time I let that happen, I was unable to sit at my desk at work without crying. I found it impossible to look in the mirror and muster a genuine smile. I couldn't answer "yes" to the question, "Are you OK?"
It was all so unlike me, and it was scary as hell.
The worst part was that I had no idea why I felt that way. My "everything's fine" attitude had pushed every inconvenient thought and feeling straight to the back of my mind, where they all piled up and festered for months. I failed to notice how stressed, anxious and overwhelmed I had become until it all boiled over.
It's easy to be distracted and let some of the most important stuff go unnoticed. I'm no psychologist or anything, but I've been doing better. Here's what works for me.
Turn something off — whatever it is that distracts you the most.
Pay attention to your thoughts. Go for a walk, close your eyes for a few minutes at your desk or just stare out the window for a while.
Acknowledge the inconvenient stuff. Let your fear, anxiety, self-doubt or whatever come to the surface.
Clear it out when you're ready. What can you change? What must you accept? What can you stop worrying about today? Sometimes just thinking about it is enough; other times, you may need to write it down, confide in a friend or talk to a professional.
And make room for more good stuff. My stomach and my mind agree: It's always worth it to make some room for good stuff.
It all starts with noticing.
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