A running app is my sad little diary


The best part about working from home for the past two years is the ability to go for runs during my lunch break. Pandemic life has meant a lot of monotony and solitude, and the challenge of processing the emotions that come with them. But recently, my runs have started to fill that role — and gave me the opportunity to step away from my work and rest my mind in a way no other in-office lunch break has afforded me.

I use Nike Run Club to track my mileage, route, and split time. Over the past few weeks, I’ve also started to use the app to track my feelings. 

Today around noon, I stepped out into 37 degree weather, and set out for a 5-mile run around the park. When I run, my brain reverts to its most natural state. Today I was first focused on my pace, music choice, and this article. On mile two, I was focused only on the music: the beat of J Balvin and Bad Bunny in “Cuidao Por Ahí” and the lyricism of Tyler, The Creator’s “Lemonhead.” By mile three, the music didn’t matter nearly as much as the way my thoughts wandered. I daydreamed about my upcoming weekend. I felt grateful that the sun decided to show itself after days of terrible weather in Brooklyn. I was angry at the way someone treated a friend. I was frustrated that I couldn’t kick my legs faster.

These are all thoughts and feelings I likely wouldn’t have felt sitting at my desk working, or on my couch this morning while I journaled. And that’s exactly why I love taking notes on my running app when I get back home: I want to see where my mind wanders when I’m not directing it anywhere. My running app has been promoted from a glorified pedometer to my sad little diary.

Grateful for weird vibes
Credit: Screenshot/ Mashable/ Nike Run Club

During my first weekend run of the new year, I wrote that I was focused on a particularly terrible person for the majority of the run. As I was writing down my post-run complaints, I decided to block them — anyone taking up that much negative space in my brain can’t be great for my mental health. On Jan. 12, though, I ran six miles and wasn’t focused on reality at all. Instead, I wrote: “Couldn’t stop thinking about the best way to evade a public disaster. Will mention this to [my] therapist.”

David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Johns Hopkins that the reason exercise has such a “dramatic antidepressive effect” is because it “blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress.” It also helps grow your hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that keeps memories and is associated with learning. I feel like working out that specific part of my brain adds to my theory that writing down your thoughts during a run is one of the single best ways to investigate the places your brain goes at its most raw and natural state.

slow ??
Credit: Screenshot/ Mashable/ Nike Run Club

Not all of my notes after runs give me any kind of introspective peek into the fleshy tombs of my gourd, though. On Jan. 8, I ran when it was 17 degrees outside and wrote: “Wish I got injured because an ambulance might help me warm up.” When I beat my personal record for a mile, I wrote “Am I…  better than everyone?” A few days ago, my brain was replaced by one of those monkeys smashing cymbals together, and my entire note was: “Ludacris should never have stopped rapping.” He hasn’t, but the point is I felt like he had.

Just knowing I’ll end the run with an emotional recap has made me more observant of how my body and mind feel and more intentional with my thoughts, but beyond what I feel are indisputable advantages to writing down my thoughts post-run, remembering what I think about and how I’m feeling when I run and seeing how that affects my mile time is helpful. For instance, I found out that I’m not actually a faster runner when I’m angry; I’m fastest when I’m daydreaming, and I’m slowest when I’m sad. 

Processing feelings through exercise is nothing new, but Nike Run Club is letting me focus that process into usable data and insights about where my body and emotions intersect. And even when it’s not doing that, it’s valuable because it gives me somewhere to store what might otherwise have just been passing thoughts and observations — even if my only thought at the end of a run is “how did someone wearing white cloud Yeezy’s pass me?”