the long-distance runner is (voluntarily) lonely no more

the long-distance runner is (voluntarily) lonely no more

The backstory to this post is that I wrote it for The SF Marathon’s blog, since I’m a social media ambassador for the race (and totally want you to run it! It’s so fun). I’ve had the great pleasure of having family visiting for about the past month, so between all the wonderful family QT and just general life happenings — all good things, all good things — sitting down (or rather, standing) to write hasn’t been much of a priority. I have notes scribbled out, ready to be made coherent, for a handful of posts, so now that life is back to its regularly-scheduled-programming, perhaps my blog-posting regularity (eh), too, will commence. We’ll see. Anyway — yay running. Here you go; I think many of you (my team! my people) will totally get this.

People often ascribe some element of martyrdom to running. It doesn’t really seem to matter if you’re going for a little jaunt around your ‘hood one morning before work or putting in hours upon hours (and miles upon miles) during training for a half, full, or ultramarathon; for whatever reason, if you willingly run, people seem to think that you’re martyring yourself to a fruitless and futile endeavor, one characterized by literally doing the same thing – putting one foot in front of the other – hundreds of thousands of times.

To say that you’re a runner is to give many people the idea that you’ve taken upon the badge of honor that has begotten runners and joggers alike for the past few decades: a loner, someone who’d rather spend time with his or her thoughts than with other sentient beings. Becoming a runner is to add yet another character to the ongoing saga of “the loneliness of the long-distance runner,” a mythology surrounding our sport since the jogging boom of the 1970s. To be a runner is to live in isolation, away from every_one and every_thing, to be forever an introvert, and to be happiest when being alone.

Except that running isn’t a solitary endeavor. It’s as much a team sport as any out there.

There are so many elements to the running community that seem to have withstood the test of time simply because they’re tradition. It’s practically sacrilege to have anything pre-race but pasta, evidenced by many races’ Marathon Eve pasta feeds, wherein many a runner will stuff him- or herself to the gills with the starchy carbohydrate in part to top off glycogen stores (one can hope) but mostly, I’d guess, out of deference to the tradition. Similarly, many in the running community and those who support us perpetuate this ongoing mythology of “the loneliness of the long distance runner,” conjuring images of runners out there pounding pavement each morning to the tune of … nothing.

While the pasta/carbohydrate loading pre-marathon might have a glimmer of basis in science, I’m calling bullshit on “the loneliness of the long distance runner.”

Thanks to the explosion of social media over the past few years and many runners’ willingness to put themselves and their training out there – creating blogs, twitter and instagram profiles, facebook pages, and creating and maintaining training groups through platforms like Strava, Dailymile, or MeetUp – if you’re a) even minutely connected to the internet and b) a runner, chances are you can easily connect yourself with a team (or three).

Running can, of course, be a solitary and singular endeavor – and many people revel in that quiet time to themselves, a time when they don’t need to stress about their work, family, or any other obligation – but it doesn’t have to be.

Maybe this proclamation is a bit melodramatic, but to run – to be a runner – is to connect yourself with prior millenia’s worth of history, dating all the way back to our earliest ancestors whose lives and livelihoods literally depended on their ability to run. Surely I can’t speak for you, but I think it’s pretty badass to (willingly!) do something our ancestors did so long ago. Not many other sports have been around for nearly the entirety of life as we know it.

Running as a team – running and training with friends – brings with it a lot of practical components that can be beneficial. Of course there’s the accountability aspect – because you’d probably feel like an ass if you left your partner high and dry in the predawn hours, when you’re supposed to be out running – but there are also many other ways that running with a team/with friends can help you, such as giving you more opportunities to run a variety of paces (slower or faster than you’d usually run), which in turn might actually make you a better (read: stronger, faster, fitter, healthier) runner. By actively being involved in a community of runners, you can also forge and cultivate some incredible friendships, and you might also find various avenues to link service with your running, since so many races (including TSFM) give you the option to run on behalf of a charity and to fundraise. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to use a hobby like running to benefit some social good.

In the absence of physically running in real life with a team, social media can also be an acceptable way to join forces with runners near and far – and in the process, create your own virtual team (and even complete a virtual race, if you’re so inclined). Sometimes  overbooked life schedules preclude us from meeting up with our buddies for a run, but virtual teams – virtual accountability, if you will – can also be a lot of fun. It can get the job done.

When you train alongside someone (in real life or virtually), you’re giving yourself a buddy with whom you can incessantly “talk shop” about training, racing, running, or anything else that’s on your mind. Your team “gets it” – all the highs and lows of training, the momentary boosts of confidence and the crippling effects of anxiety and doubt – because chances are, your team is going through the motions just as much as you are.

Running and training for endurance events invariably give us opportunities to be raw and vulnerable as we set goals and work our asses off to realize them. Having a team is to have a sounding board through every step, every mile, of the process, and in our moments of confidence, anxiety, dismay, excitement, and the entire emotional gamut in between, your team’s got your back. Even when you’re running by yourself – because no one can run your race but you – your team’s in your back pocket.

So many people have run before you, and so many more will come after you. The greater running community is like one big hippy dippy happy family, singing kum-by-yah as we run mile after mile each month, sometimes praising our decision to run for fun and other times wondering what the hell is wrong with us that we’d voluntarily enlist ourselves in such a challenging activity.

In the most non-patronizing way possible: your team gets you. Your team understands. We do this for all the same reasons that you do (give or take).

Runners are a welcoming bunch, and I encourage you to put yourself out there and connect with some, either with clubs in your area or with the virtual running community. I think you’ll be surprised how much more enriching this sport becomes once you realize that yes, while no one else can run your mileage but you, being on a running team isn’t an oxymoron. If there’s any doubt in your mind, just watch the USA women’s Olympic Qualifying Trials from the LA Marathon on 2/13/16. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers (in the off-chance you haven’t already seen the ending), but believe me: the OQT will assure you that running is as team-based an endeavor as they come. I dare you not to tear up.

6 thoughts on “the long-distance runner is (voluntarily) lonely no more

  1. Great post! 🙂 I think running can be whatever we want/need it to be at any given time. Before I was temporarily retired from running last year, I did a LOT of my runs with friends, joined group runs at the neighborhood running shop, did races with friends, etc. It was a fun, social thing for me, which definitely helped keep me motivated. And like you said, running at different paces (always faster in my case) was cool because keeping up with my friends pushed me in ways that running by myself just couldn’t.

    Now that I’m out in the boonies and just getting back into running, all of my runs are solo (though I do have a lead on a gal who runs at my pace and lives a mile away), and that’s what I need right now. I’ve been all kinds of stressed this winter, so getting outside to enjoy some fresh air, sunshine and music has been awesome. But I do still feel the community aspect of it since I’m posting my runs on DM and sharing with my old running buddies.

    1. thanks, gal! it’s great to see you posting again on DM. and I totally agree- part of what makes running so great is its versatility. It can do a LOT for us. 🙂 xo

  2. The OQT was fantastic especially on the women’s side! I hope everyone was playing by the book on the men’s side. 🙁 Anyway, I was recently listening to a podcast with a guy who has run about 105 marathons and 100 of them have been sub 3:00. I was trying to glean some info on his secret for running sub-3:00 and one of the tips was to try to run as often as possible with someone else. So after reading your post and hearing his advice – I definitely need to make an effort to run more with others.

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