What do you think about when you are climbing, running, swimming, working out, etc? The New Yorker explores this topic a bit:
To run five or ten or twenty-six miles is, as much as anything else, to engage in a sustained way with the deep strangeness that is the human mind.
Much the same could be said about the thoughts experienced by runners. When they are working at maximum intensity—racing up a hill, sprinting toward a finish line—runners cannot think at all; the brain is only the desperate charioteer of ten billion mutinous cells, famished for oxygen. Conversely, when everything is working to maximum perfection, runners can’t really be said to think, either, so blissfully loosed from conscious control are their thoughts. (“I run in a void,” Murakami writes, in the single passage in his memoir that I admired. “Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.”)
Most runners run to achieve either or both of these conditions as often as possible—to provoke a kind of Cartesian collapse, mind and body suddenly in anguished or glorious collusion. And, most of the time, we fail. The body twinges and hitches and aches; the mind fusses and fidgets. What is it all for? What was it all about? Gardner compares his thoughts while running to the blue herons he sometimes sees on his route; they “rise and rattle, spread their wings, legs trailing them over the pond.” Summoning them back after the fact is difficult. They are as elusive as the ideas in a dream, “a kind of un-retraceable wandering.”
I love that quote "I run in order to acquire a void"...much like I feel that climbing completely clears my mind like nothing else can. I've never been so tuned in and quite-of-mind as when I'm hyper focused on a climb.
When talking about what the mind really wanders around when one is on a long run the author focuses on Poverty Creek Journal, a book that (according to him) does the best job out there relaying just that.
“Poverty Creek Journal” consists of fifty-one entries, beginning on January 6, 2012, and ending on December 30th of that same year. Almost all take the day’s run as their point of departure, and none exceeds a paragraph. Through these constraints, running is simultaneously put in its place—the forty or sixty or ninety minutes Gardner spends each day on his morning runs mirrored in tightly limited lines—and, like a sonnet, permitted to contain everything. Indeed, of the many forms that the book glancingly resembles, one is the sonnet sequence.
I highly recommend reading this New Yorker piece - especially if you've ever done some longer distance running or understand what it means to climb "inside the bubble". I've already added Poverty Creek Journal to my Books list.