I just finished a 10 mile trail race with Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right” running through my head for most of the time I spent on the course in beautiful Sleepy Hollow State Park. Sometimes Johnny Cash worked his way in, as did Lucinda Williams and Joss Whedon. (“Bad Horse” if you must know.)
Occasionally real thought happens too. After casual runs I’ll often drip sweat all over a sheet of paper as I write down plot points, exchanges of dialogue, and solutions to storytelling problems that have shown up unexpectedly. Many times these will be good and usable, but I can almost never make good and usable thoughts happen on purpose. They mostly show up unbidden, like commercials or airchecks on my internal radio station. Then it’s back to the song (fragment) of the day, whatever that is.
It turns out I’m not alone. This morning at breakfast our friend Kris talked about how she does this while swimming, and even some of the greats deal with endurance training and racing via song. Or worse. Specifically, I heard the amazing Diana Nyad talk about her swim from Cuba to Key West (!), a swim she began just a few hours ago, and she describes what goes through her head during hours in open water. Listen to her at NPR and then track her progress at CNN.