“What do you think about when you run?”
The answer is actually fairly simple. I don't think about anything really! There's no specific memory of "on that five hour run I thought about this." The reason: running is not my therapy.
Running is the reason I don't need therapy! It's a time of complete freedom. Imagine a world where you were free of stress, deadlines, meetings, body image issues. Would you need therapy if the stressors were removed from your life, if you felt completely free? Think about it; when do you feel the most at peace? It's probably not when you’re trying to solve all of your problems in a "therapy" session.
Running allows the body to move in the ways it was meant to. Running also allows the mind to move in the ways it was meant to. No stress. No constraints. No one to answer to, listen to, respond to—just you and running.
I know a lot of people who run to relieve stress or use running as their time to figure out their problems. But I think of running as a time when I don't need to do this. Using running as a time to figure something out only puts pressure on the run. Now, that's not to say it doesn't happen! It does. I have thought of business ideas, come up with perfect speeches, picked out the coolest outfits, and found the solution to world health on runs! But these things come into thought only if I want them to. If I don't feel like solving a problem on my run, I don't have to! That's freedom.
I think the reason some people call running their therapy is because they look at it as a means to an end. I must run 20 miles to train for this marathon. I must run for one hour to burn calories. I must get work off my mind on this run. These things are all great! Running does help make goals possible. But what about just running to run? What about no plan, no schedule, no race? This is how running for hours is possible for me. Instead of a plan, I feel sunshine on my legs. Instead of a schedule, I see mountain tops and wonder what the view is like from there. Instead of a race, I run to see where the trail leads.
On your next run, don’t designate a time limit, don’t set a course, just get out there and move. Enjoy the scenery and fresh air, let your mind wander, allow your body to do its thing while your mind takes the time to relax. Breathe the air. Smell the flowers. Listen to the wind. We don't need therapy for that.