I'm sure many runners will agree that one of the great attractions of long distance running is the opportunity to 'escape'; 'escapism'. Whether it's a quick jog around the block after work, or something a bit more adventurous at the weekend, in lacing up our trainers and putting in some physical graft we are running away the stresses and strains of increasingly frantic daily life.
I'm a massive believer in the psychological benefits of running, as well as the more often talked about physical ones. Let's face it, daily life is fast paced, frantic and stressful for the majority of the population, so the opportunity to escape this world for a short while, on a regular basis, has to be a good thing.
So why is running, in particular, good for this? Well I can only speak from experience on this, but as my feet tick along and the miles start to pass by, my focus becomes less on the clutter that is stressing my mind, and more on the physical aspect of the run. Beyond that I will drift off into a daydream, sub-consciously mulling over the goings on in my life. I honestly find that without any specific deliberate thought, my mind re-orders what it is thinking about, and work related or stressful things end up down the pecking order. It's important to switch off, right?
People often assume that as an athlete sponsored by The North Face I run full time and professionally, so therefore the concept of 'escaping' I am preaching about here doesn't really apply to me. It's quite the opposite in fact. As well as running rather a lot, I also run a successful construction project management business involving long days, stressful situations and a plenty of travel. I suspect I shoulder more commitments than many who don't have a semi-professional running careers do! Anyway, the point here is that I find running long distances perfectly complements my work, and actually helps me to perform better in the work place. They support each other.
Running helps me to remain balanced in my thinking and is often the time when I solve the real conundrums. Work helps me to maintain a solid routine, and creates stress, which is ideal fuel for a hard run! Many colleagues struggle to understand the concept of my 'holidays' involving a big race in some remote, far-flung, part of the world. 'Don't you want to go and relax in the sun on a beach somewhere?'. For me it's the perfect blend of travelling, exploring and unwinding. I come back completely de-stressed and with a clear head, ready for another stint at the day job. Yes, I may in reality be a little foggy in the head through fatigue, but through all that my thinking always remains clear, and I can excel at my job. Fitter in body, fitter in mind.
Taking this a step further (very apt), the world of long distance running provides ultimate levels of escapism. Take the marathon for instance. I think it's no coincidence that the marathon continues to increase in popularity to the masses, as people see the appeal of this classic distance running challenge as a means to unwind.
It's the same for ultra running - events over a marathon in distance - that often take place off road and in beautiful surroundings. These races may involve running for hours on end, sometimes into multiple days. Runners at the end of these races will tell you all they care about is a hot shower, a good meal and a warm bed. Thoughts and instincts are almost switching to survival mode, and are certainly on the primitive end of the scale. They certainly won't have stress occupying their minds. They have escaped for a while.