I'm a runner for a lot of reasons, the same reasons that most of you are. I had three too many slices of pizza or that I want the accomplishment of finishing a race having done my best. But just as important, if not more important, for me is the ability to think through my life when I'm running.
It's a process called dissociative running, which is a fancy way of saying that you're not consciously thinking about your pace, technique, etc.--you're not thinking about your running. Runner's World had a good article about this where it talked about why we do this and how it differs from associative running (thinking about your running as you're doing it). And the article makes the point that more competitive runners are typically associative runners while less competitive are dissociative runners. Probably true.
I'm in maintenance miles now post-marathon, so I'm trying to put in about 20 miles/week so that I can get to LA on time for law school graduation in May. So I don't need to worry about quality of the miles or pacing or any of that. Frankly, though, I don't think I ever worried about that stuff when I did have to care about it.
I've had a lot on my mind recently and I've found that my pace has quickened... significantly. I was typically in the 8:15-8:30/mile crowd for shorter (read: less than 6 miles) runs. Now I'm finding myself in the 7:45/mile pace. And yesterday, when I had a bunch of stuff on my mind that I had to work through, I was averaging about 7:30/mile for just over 6 miles. It wasn't conscious. I was just concentrating on other stuff in my mind and my body was flying down the road.
It's freeing, really. All I have to do is make sure I don't hit any potholes and that I stay away from oncoming traffic. If those two things are taken care of, then my mind can wander. And, oh does it ever.
Come to think of it, I don't think I'd still be running if I had to think about my technique all the time. That's boring to me. Very boring. But I understand why true competitive runners have to do it. It's not about the letting go. It's about each step of the race for them.
Makes me happy that I'm not a better runner.