You hear a lot about “the loneliness of the long distance runner.”
Which makes it sound like a bad thing, but…
I crave that solitude.
I walked through downtown Seattle recently, unable to run and trying to merge errands with a pleasant walk by the water. It surprised me how quickly I became frustrated by the noise, the people walking by, the multitude of things interrupting my thoughts. I tried to put on headphones but the tinny music made it worse.
I wanted to slip through the woods hearing nothing but the trees and the light tapping of my feet. I found a park but even the park was filled with people whose eye contact I wanted to avoid, whose conversations I wanted to not hear, who I wanted to breeze past in my own world.
But I couldn’t run, and that inability is making me so grateful for the times I have, and will, run alone again.
Then I will watch the shadows on the trail from the nettles that seem to always be where you think they’re not. I’ll round corners I think are going to be downhill but are actually steep hikes up to the sky, and take off my shoes before I go home so my sore feet can seek out the energy of the grass beneath them.
I want to tune into my own breathing, mimic the rush of wind between trees, that breeze coming off of the water that reminds you there’s motion in the world beyond your own.
I want to figure out what I’m thinking about all the time, what’s beneath the way I exist on the surface. There’s something deeper in me and I want to know it.
I want to know who I am, truly, what I know and what I don’t and what I really care about learning.
I’ll admit, city runs are an amazing way to see a new city, to open up a world beyond the one you already know…
but sometimes getting away from it all is what you need.
I think this is probably why people do yoga, only I have the patience of a flea and can only hold a pose for about 3 seconds before it starts hurting. I feel more relaxed when I’m faced with the challenge of an enormous hill or watching my footfall over uneven terrain.
There’s just something about moving through the world relying on just your body and your mind to get you someplace.
I want to run alone so I get a clearer picture of myself. How do I react when faced with a challenge? What speed, what distance makes my body sing out in joy? In pain? How much pain can I take, what can I push through, how much is too much ?
How much stronger than I think I am can I become?
I believe that the purest version of ourselves emerges when we are alone. When we are immersed in something that we love and that challenges us.
Running in a group makes me feel connected, social, happy.
Running alone makes me feel alive.
I am free to be selfish, to consider the needs and desires of no one but myself. I am permitted to be wild- no one can see the expression on my face, no one can hear the things I might say to myself. I can daydream and annoy no one with the fact that my mind is light years away from the present.
I’ve cried while running, pouring my heart and soul and the worst emotions I’ve felt into the ugliest of runs, and while I didn’t feel magnificent after, it felt like it helped lift some weight.
I’ve also bounced along grinning, rejoicing in the freedom of being alive and free and having a working heart and body and the fact that I get to be wherever I am, now, doing this one thing I love so much.
Again and again when I need to find myself, the answer is not to sit down and write about things.
It is not to read self help books or to turn to Google. It is not to sit and fume, to lash out, or even to blast loud music (though that can help).
Instead I rely on the resplendent, beautiful loneliness that is part of being a long distance runner- a pleasant loneliness, and a remarkable one.
When I need to find myself there are a few steps I take.
I put on running shoes.
I walk out the door.
I run miles and miles, enjoying the companionable quiet of solitude.