Head Space

Last couple of weeks of summer term – the weather’s been hot, the days have been full, the evenings spent working until late every night (or early next morning) trying to pack in more work than usual plus two family birthdays, preparing to go away on a long summer holiday, and all of the extras that come with finishing up another academic year for four children and a teacher husband.

On Sunday I got up early, to get in a postponed 5 mile run from the day before. The day was full, and it would be the only chance over the weekend to run, so I nipped downstairs to get out of the door before anything waylaid me – to discover that my bluetooth earphones were flat out of battery. I’d fallen more and more into the habit of listening to something on every run, mainly because my former ‘long run’ has become my normal distance now that I’m training for a half marathon, so what used to be a technique to slow me down to a comfortable long-run pace has become a habit. Knowing I couldn’t mess about trying to source an alternative, I just set off.

One of the ways I make it work to run four times a week is by listening to teaching from my church during longer runs. The talks are weighty and require multiple listens to properly absorb them, and clocking up 20+ miles each week simply takes out too much of my days to not make use of the internal processing time whilst I’m out pounding the pavement. I find when I listen to something which requires mental focus, I naturally slow down a little, which helps take the edge off my natural tendency to push as hard as I can every run. Other times I catch up on articles from NPR, or Radio 4 comedy. And yes: the Archers.

One huge benefit of listening to something challenging and valuable like the teaching I’ve been prioritising recently is that it keeps good balance: I’m not just after a strong outer machine; I need training in my spirit. Listening to comedy often produces an unintentional bit of extra cardio, when I start laughing mid-stride. The Archers podcast reminds me that however tough the run is, nothing is ever as grim as the story of everyday country folk…

Pushing through a long succession of packed and complex days has taken its toll recently. Suddenly, unexpectedly running in silence, I remembered the freedom of a quiet run. With nothing banging on the door of my brain for access (or in the case of some of the less substantial things I may tune into, buzzing around me like a cloud of midges), I had 45 minutes of open space.

The busy-ness of the last few days has pushed out both running and writing the way I love. I’ve had to constantly multi-task, when in fact each activity is significant and valuable itself. If the only way to get it all done is to do it all simultaneously: well, ok – better that than nothing. But constantly filling the internal space with thoughts from someone else has left very little room for my own. When I run in the quiet, I do my best thinking. Ideas float alongside me, taking shape as I stretch into mile two, mile three. They bounce back when I snap into consciousness after pushing hard up a hill, or grind out mile six, mile seven. By the time I’d finished on Sunday, I had the basis for my first blog post in over a week, and had reclaimed some headspace.

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One of my favourite trail runs – along the Long Mynd, where we’re planning to camp later this summer for a few days

I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning (um, actually just a few hours later this morning now!), when we leave with a fully loaded camper for a fortnight of under-canvas family happiness in the New Forest and France. I can’t wait to run in unfamiliar terrain – and to explore more internal territory. Happy Holidays – go run!

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