Running to stand still

The lengths we go to, to disconnect from our devices

No music, no life was once the mantra of Tower Records and as a self-confessed music geek, I can very much subscribe to this viewpoint and I still love listening to music throughout my day. I have posted previously here on Medium about the restorative qualities of music but there are a few occasions where I don’t enjoy listening to music, one of which is especially when I run.

As much as I like technology, I don’t want to feel encumbered while running with a music player, headphones, I look forward to what feels like the only quiet time I seem to get these days and I am not alone, modern life is getting louder!

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Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which so many of us now live, work, and lead

But what I once viewed as a really unpleasant chore, running has become a favourite pursuit. There was a very good essay on running, by Nicholas Thompson in the New Yorker a few years ago that has stuck with me:

“Running is indeed a sport defined by injuries. Each stride puts stress across the body in the same way every time. Our shins splint, our tibias fracture, our patella tendons become inflamed. Part of the problem is that the thing that injures a runner — running — is the very thing that makes him better. Basketball players may get injured by crashing into people as they rebound, but they can improve by shooting jump shots alone in a gym. You improve at running by running.

Despite the odd nagging injury, from the most common running mistake of too far, too fast, too soon I now endeavour to run as often as I can manage, primarily to gain that real true benefit that running provides, which is it the activity never fails to clear your mind. I wholeheartedly agree with Martin Fritz Huber in his post A Totally Biased Case for Running in Outside magazine who mentions:

It’s one of those rare pursuits where, while engaged, I’m never beset by the feeling that I should probably be doing something else.

The acclaimed novelist and writer Haruki Murakami mentions a similar sentiment in his book, ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’

“I just run. I run in void, Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.”

And there is plenty of science out there to back it up, reference Exercise four hours after learning actually ‘boosts memory ’, How Neuroscientists Explain the Mind-Clearing Magic of Running and how “regular exercise is very beneficial for the health and functioning of the brain in the over 50s.

Getting out into nature,“can also boost our creativity and capacity to think clearly”. Excerpted from the book Solitude, Michael Harris writes “Time in nature even boosts, in a very concrete way, our ability to smell, see, and hear. The data piles up. The cumulative effect of all these benefits appears to be a kind of balm for the harried urban soul”

This is articulated so eloquently, in the documentary ‘Finding Traction’ about endurance runner and extreme athlete Nikki Kimball, where evolutionary biologist Bernd Heinrich, author of ‘Why We Run’, explains why running is a central role in human evolution. Hennrich proposes that “our ability and passion to run represent our ancient heritage and residual capacities as endurance predators

There is an podcast interview from a couple of years back that is worth listening to, for more from Bernd, including great quotes like “Running is kind of like yoga, Only the scenery is much better”.

There is such a real benefit to escaping our devices, especially in this modern life and it reminded me of a few different pieces that surfaced together recently in the same vein, which all cite the benefits of disconnecting including writer Neil Gaiman, where he touches upon this, explaining how important it is to creativity and that it is “ok” to be bored

“I think it’s about where ideas come from, they come from day dreaming…The trouble with these days is that it’s really hard to get bored.”

In How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative, Clive Thompson mentions that “The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them.”

One of the most popular features of Spotify, came from a slow moment, from a employee’s idea of slack time,

“Innovation happens in the cracks. The best innovations appear when people are not fully booked — when they have time to explore an idea, try something new, learn something new, or just sit back and reflect. Applies to both individuals and teams. Example: Spotify’s most popular and successful feature recently is Discover Weekly, and that was unscheduled and unplanned. The people who created it did it in slack time, based on a spark of inspiration which they took the time to follow up on. If a manager had been there, demanding that they ONLY work on the scheduled stuff, trying to optimize for 100% utilization of their time, Discover Weekly would never have happened”

Michael Harris, mentioned above, also talks about “those who occasionally ditch their phones find that, while solitude cannot be monetized, it is of value in several parts of their lives

And I wonder at times, if we are increasing running in a subconscious move, just to get away from our devices?

Brad Stulberg a columnist for Outside Magazine, where he writes about health and the science of human performance on a regular basis, discusses the benefits of getting out more into the greenery, his timeline is a great source of positive content advocating a healthier lifestyle and merits of disconnecting your device.

But, having said all that, if you do like to listen to music while running, there are plenty of running resources including the Spotify running app and many playlists available. Even Murakami likes running with music, to groups like The Lovin’ Spoonful during his long sessions, but it is just not for me!

Spotify running app