“What do you think about when you run?” is probably the most common question I get when I tell my non-running friends that I run for long distances by myself with no headphones.
I have as many answers as there are runs, as my thought patterns are unique every time I go out. Yet there is one habit I do come back to time and time again, often when I am struggling at the end of a long run.
This has been happening frequently this winter and spring, as I’ve been preparing for the Boston Marathon 2022, my first full marathon in 20 years.
So if you are wondering what I wilI be thinking about as I’m going up (and down) Heartbreak Hill in Boston on April 18, here’s your answer.
My Gratitude Mantra
In many ways, my entire training regimen for this race has been one great gratitude mantra. After more than 45 years of competitive running, I am humbled by gratitude for the health, opportunities, resources I’ve had to sustain my efforts, the places I’ve been able to run, and most of all, the people who have supported and inspired me.
The people have been particularly vivid for me during my recent training. I’ve been raising money for Boston Children’s Hospital, who has sponsored my entry in the race, and have had contributions from more than 120 people from all stages and phases of my life. It’s mind-boggling when I look at the list of donors.
(There’s still time to join my team. Just click here –> DONATE NOW <– any amount will be appreciated by me and even more so, by the patients and families at Boston Children’s Hospital)
In my Gratitude Mantra, there’s room for all of them, and all the things and all the places and so much more. Here’s how I approach my mantra, and how you can form and meditate on your own, whether you are running or not.
It’s All About the Nouns
I took a workshop with a writing hero of mine, Lynda Barry. Known more as a cartoonist, she has an astute mastery of how to slip into a reader’s mind and take you on a journey that’s a combination of her characters and your own life. She taught me the single most memorable writing tip I’ve ever learned in a classroom.
I had always been taught that the action and descriptions of a story are what people are drawn to, the verbs, adverbs and adjectives, if you will. She pointed out that what people most remember of their own lives are the nouns. People, places, and things form the structure of our memories. Once we recall a noun, the rest of the memory fills itself in. It makes sense that a cartoonist would have this revelation– she draws objects that tell stories. And that’s what we can do with our words.
She suggested we pause journaling about activities and just start listing nouns as a way to remember what a particular day was like– something I’ve done on trips in lieu of more detailed travel diaries. It’s very effective and detailed in a granular way that holds up over time.
I bring this up because that’s also the way to approach a Gratitude Mantra. Keep it simple and tangible. Stick with the nouns — then drill down in any way you see fit on the people, places, and things you want to savor.
For example, when I’m running I find it more emotionally rewarding and uplifting to express gratitude for people. So I go deeply into individuals, known and unknown to me. The same could be done with places and things, and as my run goes on, the lists often merge in a stream-of-consciousness. There is no need to be so grammatical in the distinctions between the people, places, and things that we are grateful for as they have appeared in our lives.
Often, the things we know (like our socks) have so much unknown behind them: the people who we will never meet (those who made the thread and elastic and designed the packaging) and the unknowable places we are only vaguely aware of (the manufacturing plant, or the fields that grew the cotton, or the wells that pumped the petroleum that’s the source of fabrics, or the forest or recycling plant or steel mill that were the source of the boxes they were shipped in.)
Once you start drilling down into all the nouns that have touched us, you will find an almost infinite array of people, places, and things to be grateful for and honor with your running.
I Run For …
I express my gratitude through the joy (and ‘joyful pains’) of running by repeating the phrase “I run for.” Then I list people who come to mind, known and unknown, who have either helped me, inspired me, or now motivate me to get through the end of the run when the going gets tough.
It often goes something like this…
I run for those who can’t run
who no longer run
who have never run
for those that wish they could
for those who don’t know the joy of running
I run for those that help me run, taught me, coached me,
for those who ran before me
for those who run with me
for those who run ahead of me, behind me
I run for the people that made these shoes
the people who designed them, sewed them, molded the plastic, made the laces,
for the people who desired to build the manufacturing plant,
financed the company which made them, cleaned and maintained the places where they are made and sold, for everyone who’s transported them to me, helped me find them and choose them.
For my socks and the people who made them.
for all the gels, equipment, clothing,
for the grass, the dirt, the earth that supports me
the creatures in the soil, and water, and air
… and it just goes on to whatever comes to mind as I let that gratitude take the place of the pain and fatigue in my mind. When it works, it’s almost like I’m floating to the finish of my run on the wings of all these people who have brought me here.
Try Your Own Marathon Mantra: People To Be Grateful For
When you are considering your own gratitude mantra for running (or otherwise), consider this list that came to mind for me. The beauty of this approach is that you can choose whatever level of detail you want to dive into. Each of these categories of people on my list could be drilled down into dozens and dozens of individuals of their own. For example, just listing people you have learned from, either in school or in life or in history, could keep you running a marathon or more!
I am grateful for…
The family I was born into, the family before me
the family I’ve made
the families I’ve felt a part of
People in neighborhoods where I’ve lived
Teachers at school, teachers in life
Companions and playmates and teammates and work mates
the coaches and trainers and referees and officials
the mentors, friends, and experts I learned from
The runners who came before me
The people who see me as I am
the people who see me for more than I am, give me more than I deserve
The people I inspire
The people I love
The people who made my shoes and clothes and watch and glasses
The people who grew, transported, sold, prepared my food
The people who organized my races
The people I train with
The people in this race with me, people cheering for me
The people who have kept me safe, provided, volunteered, worked
The people keeping the air and soil and water clean,
The people who built and maintain and paid for these roads and planted these trees
and cared for all the roads and trails I’ve trained on
The people who have loved me
The people who have fed me, healed me, cared for me, listened to me
the people I remember
the people I’ve forgotten
the people I will never know
The people who I will soon meet
the person I am becoming as I run
the persons I have been
The people I’ve laughed with, cried with.
The people on my side
The people who doubted me, fought me, rejected me, competed with me
The person I am because of the people that are now and the people that have been
Every time you head out, you will find you recall different people. Even if you are running 26.2 miles or more, if you really think about, you will never run out of people to be grateful for.
And if you do, there are always places and things to get to!