An Escape Story
When I was really bad as a kid, my parents would send me to my room. Grounded in solitary confinement was supposed to change my behavior. It never worked. It never worked because I liked it.
I liked to be alone. I still do.
As a runner, I didn’t begin the miles on my own. From the first mile, to the following walk/run/walk/run miles, I had a running buddy; my wife. Without doubt, she deserves the biggest credit for my sticking with my running commitment in my first months of running. I would certainly have returned to my books on the sofa during those painful, nascent miles as a newbie. With her at my side, it was easy not to quite.
So from mile one to the my first 5K, to my first genuine race medal finishing a Turkey Trot 10K, I ran side by side with my much better half. Mindy proved the perfect running buddy, since we start our running routine at the same time. To clarify, Mindy was returning to running. She had ran many years before, including putting the Chicago Marathon on her list of running achievements.
She decided to bring running back into her fitness and invited me to try running with her. With both of us starting from zero, our running together was easy and fun. Neither of us have ever grasped why so many running articles warn of knocking out miles with your loved one. It never applied to us. We’ve always enjoyed our running together.
As we progressed through our running schedules, and signed up for our first half marathon, our paces had changed. During the first week of preparing for taking my body thirteen point miles, I began doing many of my training runs alone.
Running alone brought joy yet undiscovered. I had no idea I would embrace such peace, such precious space, in my over scheduled life as on my solitary runs.
As I began running alone, so did I begin approaching my running as being about much more than physical fitness.
It took some time to build the mindfulness to take a run and actually be alone. Like most, I was guilty of bringing work with me on my run. Yes, I was running by myself, but I certainly wasn’t alone. I was thinking about notes for the next meeting, writing email drafts in my head crafting marketing posts. Not exactly alone time.
And, again, like many others, I took my phone. It was important to me to bring my phone on my run. At some point during my supposedly alone time, the run became about grabbing a photo, melding my stats, and coming up with yet another way to get approval from the other runners on my feed.
Escaping the traps of bringing the world with me became a new focus on my life during my marathon training. I made a concerted effort to actually be alone. Through repeated weeks of mindfully disconnecting from all that connected me to the noise of the day, I got much better at running alone. And I discovered the genuinely solitary runs were improving my fitness, my pace, my heart rate, and my mental sense of well being.
It all brings me back to childhood simplicity. I’m by myself. I’m with my own thoughts, my own sense of self, my own awareness of the nature surrounding me.
I’m not seeking, needing, wanting, yearning, burning for anything other than the road before me. It’s a good place to be. Running. Alone.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, and many other ists have researched and studied and penned at length about why it’s difficult for many people to be alone. I have friends that cannot imagine a run without a social media post. I know people that can’t be in the house without having a TV on. Some have multiple TVs. All on at once. The simple truth is that many of us struggle with the basic, raw emotion of being alone with only our thoughts. It can be rooted in anything from mental health issues to current enculturation that we need to be achieving something every waking moment.
Running alone can be a simple pleasure. A time to take yourself off the hook. A time to just be you. You’re allowed to be you. You’re allowed to have time for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a lot of miles running side by side with my favorite running buddy. I hope many, many more of those miles are in our future together. But the time by myself, I’ve learned, is of equal importance.
The time spent alone. And on the run.