How to Get Out of Your Head While Running

Ominous sky over St Michael’s Cemetery

I forget what it is I would rather be doing.

Floral and verbal, I am in the thick

of what I would rather be doing, jumping off a cliff,

rousing subordinates. There are just so many things

one would rather be caught out doing, like measuring the tree,

the swift shadow of which menaces us and bluebirds.

–John Ashbery, “The Perfect Hat,” A Worldly Country

Today, as I set out for my run late in afternoon after my cranky five year old went down for her nap, the humidity was oppressive, which was fitting. The world is a heavy place right now, both personally and culturally. Between a worldwide pandemic, protests over racial injustice, massive unemployment, we’re all feeling stress. For many of us, running is that release valve, but it’s not always that easy. 

Like many of us, I usually start my morning with an early run, setting the tone for my day. But family health issues and my daughter’s nightmares have led to sleepless nights and a lack of motivation to get up and get out the door. We’re all still out of normal routines right now, and that is really throwing me for a loop. My writing routine is off, I’m between courses teaching, and my running routine is all over the place.

I usually run with some close friends in the morning, venting and laughing, but now it’s solo, fitting it in when I can. It’s easy to get out of your head with others, the support and distraction is like a lifeline in tough times. 

It’s definitely harder alone, and we often end up just running hard to get the stress out, but you can’t do that every day and stay injury-free. I’m going to share two things that help me get out of head while running easy that I’ve turned to this past week. They are also great ways to get out of writer’s block by letting your subconscious work for you.

Sing Out Loud

I know this one sounds a little crazy, but hear me out. If you’re truly running easy, you should be able to talk and sing. Load up your favorite musical you know by heart or your favorite full album and belt it out as you run. Concept albums, if you’re so inclined, can be fantastic. I could probably run to Yes’ “Roundabout” on its own for hours! Your stress levels will decrease, you’ll quit thinking, and the miles will fly by. 

My favorites right now are Hamilton, The Who’s Quadrophenia, and Rick Astley’s 50 (judge me). Let me tell you, there’s no better feeling than belting “Here comes the General! Rise up!” when hitting a feel-good stride or finishing a run to the chorus of “Love Reign O’er Me” and singing along with Roger Daltrey. 

Run in the Rain

(I’ll start this one with a caveat: this is a warm weather tip. Running in the cold weather just usually ends up with me focusing on how miserable I am!) In warmer weather, embrace the rain. The sound of rain can help reduce anxiety and alleviate stress. Forget the rain jackets and gear and just throw on a visor or hat to keep the water out of your eyes if you want and lube your toes and/or wear toe socks to avoid blisters and get out in that cool or warm rain. 

Six miles into my 8 miler today, the wind picked up, the sky turned dark in places and looked outright ominous. I had hoped to beat the rain, but when it started pouring, I embraced the cooldown, stretching out my bare arms to welcome the sensation on my skin, taking out my ear bud and tilting my head back, letting the sound of the rain drown out the noise in my head. I didn’t know how much I needed that. 

Rain beading on my sunscreen.

____________________________________________________________________________

Be kind to your body. Try to get out of your head without running hard. Put everything else out of your head when you head out the door to run. Give yourself some grace and that time, whether it’s 30 minutes or 90 minutes or more, to get out of your head and reset. What are your favorite ways to get your of your head when you run? 

Why I Love Running in Cemeteries and How You Can Too

Heaven grows to a bird


With pretty wings


Her flight is like a question


Searching the South


For someone.


“Untitled Poem,” In the Dark Before Dawn: New and Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton

Normally, I run the majority of my miles on trails, but the influx of people into our park systems has made me leery. I had always run past cemeteries near me and never entered, but over the past couple of months, they have become some of my favorite running routes, peaceful quiet, and relatively empty of the living. 

Designed as green spaces in the 19th century to give people a place to gather and recreate, the rural cemetery, built one to five miles outside of city limits, originally solved the problem of crowded churchyard cemeteries in urban areas. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the first, built in 1831 as both an arboretum and graveyard. People were able to escape the city and enjoy statuary and gardens previously available mainly to the rich. Within a few decades this changed as cemetery ownership was dominated by institutions and businesses who started to design cemeteries more economically. City officials in many areas also began to greenlight more parks, leaving this idea of cemeteries as recreation spots behind. 

These days, however, many cemeteries still welcome runners and walkers. St Michael’s Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky even puts bowls of water out for dogs. Calvary Cemetery running along the South Fork of Beargrass Creek also has bird feeders hung in trees, benches and reflective areas, and has miles of very hilly paths to explore. 

The living can make the cemetery more alive, and remind us of what’s important in life. In this post, I’ll detail the three reasons I love running in cemeteries and some tips and reminders for doing so. 

Safety

One of the main reasons I love running in cemeteries is the safety aspect, both traditional physical safety with the scarcity of cars and no roads to cross as well as injury prevention with the asphalt surface. 

As someone who runs in an urban area, I’m constantly on the alert for cars that don’t notice me at intersections and cars that run red lights. It makes it hard to get in the groove with the start and stop of intersections as well. I can truly be in the moment, taking in my surroundings and surrendering to my thoughts, even more so than on trails where I have to be tuned in to terrain and spring and summer games of “stick or snake.” (Side note: always assume snake!)

Also, the break from concrete surfaces definitely gives my joints a break and lessens the impact from running so many more miles on concrete sidewalks than I’m used to. I’m a big advocate for staying off the concrete as much as possible.  

Variety

Most cemeteries have a loop of some sort around the outside and multiple paths running throughout. This design gives you plenty of options. You can just run the outside loop or cross around the inside paths however you want. Once you learn the mileage of the route, you can make adjustments. 

Map of St Michael Cemetery

Many of the cemeteries I run in are also extremely hilly, which definitely adds to the beauty, so I can loop through and around to run either more or less of the hills, looping on the flats or taking on some steep grades depending on my goals that day and how I feel. 

You never have to run the exact same route twice if you don’t want to, and I actually really enjoy cutting through different directions and paths, giving me time to notice more, the peonies blooming by graves, a magnolia shedding petals over gravestones, and roses creeping up the sides of tombs. It also lets me notice more of the monuments and headstones as even running the same loop the opposite direction lets you see and notice different things each time.

Reflection

Running in cemeteries gives me the chance to turn inwards and reflect as I notice names and details on graves and explore these beautiful green spaces. Originally named Saint Michael Gottes Acker, which means “God’s Acre,” the heavily German names on the graves mirrors the neighborhood’s origins, which can be seen in names like Goss, Gnadinger, and Hoertz, all streets or parks in the area. 

As a writer, these little details speak to me, like the layers of rosaries left around the Virgin Mary statue at Calvary, the Public Vault from 1870 in St Louis cemetery, and all of the personal items left on top of gravestones, like teddy bears, figurines, and dolls. I imagine who these people were, what their stories are. What caused this child to die so young? What was this couple’s long life together like? 

Virgin Mary at Calvary Cemetery

One I noticed just this past weekend is a monument to a husband, his wife, and their four daughters from the late 1890s. However, there are only five, not six, statues standing on the top of the monument, all female and all with individual personalities and looks. When I looked closer at the dates and inscriptions, I saw the husband outlived his wife and daughters and had this made to honor the women he cared for in life. But who were they? What is their story? 

As I run through cemeteries, I think of the stories around me, my own family members and loved ones I’ve lost, and what I want my story to be. I put together 

Tips and Reminders for Running in Cemeteries

If you want to explore a cemetery as well, you definitely need to keep two main things in mind to explore in a reverent manner deserving of these places.

First, do your research before you go. Find out if the cemeteries near you allow running and any other related rules. One historic cemetery near me only allows walking, while most of the cemeteries maintained by the Archdiocese of Louisville welcome runners, walkers, and pets. Research the cemetery’s rules online and read the rules posted at the entrances. Strava’s Segment Explorer is a great way to see if there are cemeteries near you. 

Second, be respectful. I know that’s rather broad, so here are four more specific tips on how to do that.

  1. Stay on the path—Do not, I repeat, do not cut through the graves while running. Sometimes I see a monument in the middle of a section that I want to examine, so I stop and walk over to it, giving the moment the reverence it deserves. 
  2. Avoid funerals—Do not run by or through a funeral. With the layout of many cemeteries, you can cut around and give them their space. If you absolutely cannot avoid it, walk. 
  3. Keep your mucus to yourself—Do not spit or perform a snot rocket in cemeteries, even if no one is around. Carry a bandana or handkerchief. 
  4. Leave no trace—Do not litter. Treat cemeteries like trails, and use trash cans or store empty GU packets and other bits of garbage in your vest or pocket. It’s a privilege to share these sacred places. Treat them accordingly.

Closing

What’s still here

settles
at the edges of this 


simple place still


waiting to be seen.


“Eight Plus,” Selected Poems, Robert Creeley

I always thought of cemeteries as creepy places that you only visit for a funeral or to lay flowers on a grave, but now I see them as living spaces for nature and for us as well. Honor the past by visiting these places on a run, but do so with respect and planning. Have you ever run in a cemetery? Why or why not? Where could you explore close by?  

5 Running Podcasts You Need In Your Life

Learning is but an adjunct to ourself 
And where we are our learning likewise is: 
--William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, Act IV, Scene 3

“So what do you know about X race? What do you usually put in your drop bag? When do you usually fuel on a long run?” 

Running with a group or even just one other person gives us a chance to tap into the community resource and pick each other’s brains. Just like writers love to talk about writing, runners love to swap stories, tips, and gear and race suggestions. In fact, you can’t get some of us to shut up about our personal running loves. Get a runner started about their favorite shoes, and they’ll likely still be talking a mile or two later, myself included. We love to share and, most often, overshare. 

And above all, we’re curious. We wouldn’t be in this endless sport of simply putting one foot in front of the other until we can’t any longer and seeing places we never could otherwise if we weren’t. Right now, though, many of us are spending more time running solo as well as spending more time at home. 

Discovering new podcasts can help make the time pass and fulfill that curiosity as you’re getting your long run in or even just pulling weeds or cleaning the house. Listening to a running podcast can both educate and entertain, giving you new ideas or workouts to try or introduce you to inspiring people in our sport and everything in between. In this post, I’ll go over 5 of my favorite running podcasts.  

1. Science of Ultra Podcast

Don’t let the name scare you off! While the focus is on ultrarunners and training, you can apply many of the principles to any distance or terrain. After all, good running is good running. Hosted by Shawn Bearden, PhD in Exercise Physiology and full Professor of physiology at Idaho State University, the Science of Ultra Podcast, also known as SOUP, started in late 2015 and has gone through several formats but has always included interviews with athletes, coaches, and researchers as well as a Coaches Corner Round Table in 2018-2019 with Ian Sharman, Krissy Moehl, and David Roche. More tailored to the scientific aspect of running, Shawn breaks complex topics down so they are easy to understand. With 124 episodes as of this May and episodes varying from around 10 minutes to a little over an hour, you can find one to fit your interest.  

2. Trail Runner Nation

One of the older running podcasts, ultrarunners Don Freeman and Scott Warr established Trail Runner Nation in 2011 and host this grab bag podcast with interviews, playful discussions, and a brand new Bonk/No Bonk feature with the same coaches/ultrarunners as SOUP’s Coaches Corner: Ian Sharman, Krissy Moehl, and David Roche. They feature scientists, physiotherapists, ultrarunners, and coaches to name a few. Irreverent and always willing to get into a good debate, Don and Scott have over 470 episodes on everything from running culture to nutrition and mental discipline and everything in between and will both entertain and educate you. And with detailed episode notes, you can always make sure you don’t miss important information. 

3. The Strength Running Podcast

Hosted by USATF certified run coach Jason Fitzgerald from StrengthRunning.com, this podcast obviously focuses on the strength aspect in relation to running performance and injury. He interviews other coaches and athletes, goes over case studies and best practices, and even records some of his coaching calls for the podcast to see the principles in action; as a teacher, the coaching calls are my favorite. The detailed episode notes for each podcast and links add to the information-heavy aspect, which I love. With 140 episodes and counting, there’s lots to catch up on!

4. KoopCast

The newest of the group and hosted by Head Coach of CTS-Ultrarunning and ultra runner himself Jason Koop. His podcast’s tag line sums it all up: “Chunking the knowledge bombs since 2019.” His podcast features discussions with other running experts, ultrarunners, and coaches. Covering topics from nutrition to when to hike and when to run to overtraining. He injects a bit of fun into information heavy discussions, making it easy to follow along and absorb lots of great training tips. Mindful of the running community, especially in this COVID-19 world, he even adds “shameless small business plugs” for running stores and services in his local area, Colorado Springs. 

5. Bluegrass BAMR

Another newer podcast started in spring 2019, this one is local to me and close to my heart. Hosted by Stephanie Boyd, my She Runs This Town chapter leader, Bibrave Pro, and all around bad ass runner, it features interviews with other BAMRS, bad ass mother runners, many of whom I love dearly. It gives me a chance, especially right now, to hear familiar voices and learn more about their journeys and stories. We never know what another is going through, and Stephanie’s podcast lets you have a glimpse into someone else’s challenges, whether it’s living with Bechet’s disease and doing ultras like Abbi Auger or my favorite yoga instructor Joyce’s Colwell’s journey to wellness and trail running. This podcast is one I listen to as soon as it comes out. 


With so many races cancelled and more time on our hands, it’s an ideal time to catch up on information, training tips, and workouts to incorporate into your text training cycle or just for company on a run. Slow down, catch up, take what you need, and leave the rest.

What podcasts are your favorites to listen to when running? Share them in the comments below.