A few weeks back I was invited to a small 6-hour running event happening tomorrow. It’s a 3-mile looped trail course that my friend Brad put together. It was planned specifically for people in the area who are training for the Pinelands 50k, but open to all. I looked at the event description on Facebook and it seemed like a good time, and a good way to get some major mileage in. But I didn’t plan to go.
Why not? Was it because 6 hours is too long for me to run? Because I have a half marathon next weekend and I should be taking it easy? Nah…I mean, come on, you should know by now that I don’t usually miss out on doing fun things just because they’re stupid.
No, I wasn’t going to attend the 6-hour Fatass run because I’d already planned a 15-16 mile run for today, and well…I wanted to run it alone.
Turns out, even though I’m an exceptionally social person, when it comes to running I’m a loner by nature. I realize this is a weird dichotomy, but it’s just the way I am. Normally, I will happily wax poetic with anyone on almost any topic, especially running. But the more time I actually spend running, the more I find I prefer being completely solo (except for my dog Oscar).
Running with a buddy is still fun, of course. It makes the time fly by, kills two birds with one stone (catching up with friends and exercising), and it’s good training for the slower or less fit person. Which is usually me.
But I don’t really want the time to fly by when I’m running (in fact, I’m usually sad when a run is over). I want – I need – to be mentally focused on my long run. On how my legs feel. How my form feels. How steady my breath is. How the woods sound. I want to run slowly and feel every rock under my feet, not pass the time talking about work or comparing cellphone carriers. I like to slow to a walk every once in awhile, and sometimes stop altogether. Stretch my legs out. Observe the brook rumbling along beside the trail. Refuel without having to chew while bouncing. Direct Oscar to some fresh water and watch him drink. Then start up again.
And that’s probably why it takes me so much time to be done with a long run.
Most people I run with seem to just want to run fast the whole way, and finish under a certain time. In that way, maybe the long run is different for me than it is for some others. I’m there to train, sure, but I’m also there just to be outside. And it’s hard not to feel pressured to move faster with the other person, or feel guilty because I can’t.
Perhaps that just makes me a runner (or maybe a jogger…heh), but not a racer. I suppose I’m okay with that. But, I digress.
I mean, lovely as it is, it’s the very distraction of running with someone else that screws up my whole run. It’s not so bad on a 4-5 miler where I barely have time to get tired, but it is on the long run. I get so caught up in conversation that I lose focus of my body’s movements. I never catch myself slouching, or over-striding. I talk the whole time, use up too much energy in conversation and have none left for the run. It usually results in premature fatigue, a bad race time or an injured…something.
In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, the only races that I’ve ever even kicked ass at were run alone. My first 10k, my best 5k and a stellar Thanksgiving 5-miler. My performances at those races still make me proud, and not only because they were nice PR’s, but because of how I felt throughout. Strong, calm, and most importantly: focused.
I can’t achieve those things while I’m chatting up a friend during a race, and I can’t stop chatting once I’ve started. So it stands to reason that my most important races and runs must be solo. And maybe for the most part, this also includes Pineland. Sorry, Sheree.
That said, I have decided to go to the 6-hour run tomorrow, after all. Why? Mostly because I need to train myself to be “alone” even when there are lots of people around. I need to learn how to ignore the temptation to be social every minute just because there’s someone within earshot to blather at.
I figure tomorrow’s run might somewhat mimic the social situation on race day at Pineland. So it will be a good opportunity to practice running my own race even though I am not running alone. And even if it turns out I’m by myself 90% of the time because I’m so slow, it will still be a lesson in not trying to keep up with everyone else. A lesson in letting go of my fears of being the slowest person there (which I am sure I will be). And the other 10% of the time it will be a lesson in still focusing on my form while there’s someone running beside me.
So wish me luck, folks! It’s going to be a brand new trail for me, hopefully a new distance PR, and a tough mental training challenge. Also there might not be any bathrooms – and some of you may know by my status updates how many times I’ve ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts bathroom after 8 miles or so. Could prove interesting.
Those Central-Massachusetts squirrels better be on their watches tomorrow.