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I Have Always Run Alone. But now I miss everyone | by Mattie Birman | Runner’s Life | Jan, 2021

I Have Always Run Alone. But now I miss everyone | by Mattie Birman | Runner’s Life | Jan, 2021

But now I miss everyone

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

My reasons for running are not anything like those of Alan Sillitoe’s character Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Although used as a metaphor in both the short story and the film, running for me has never been a societal escape or a means to defeat misery. I really just dig the endorphin rush, the pure feeling of fit, and the delicious ferocity of being “rungry” when I haven’t fueled properly.

But thank you heinous COVID monster, I AM officially lonely. And I have always run alone.

I can count on one hand the times I’ve gone for a run with anyone; friend or family. It’s not due to adamant opposition, but because I am absurdly withdrawn (for a Leo) from a social running view. It’s absurd because if you catch me at work or at a good kitchen party, you’ll agree I am anything but shy. I simply convinced myself long ago I’d never be good or fast enough for any running group or team.

And forget running with just one other person — I can’t wrap my head around the whole to-talk-or-not-to-talk thing without conjuring all the advice I’ve ever read about talk-test effort, heart rate…and collapsing in the middle of the road in the first half mile!

I have always run alone, and I have always raced (which is the furthest thing from running alone). Racing is where I share my ludicrous finish time goals and nutty self-challenges with thousands of like-minded strangers — all as hopeful as I — in a mad dash of both private and public reckoning.

Racing is where I measure up and go head-to-head. It’s where I get the vibe, the music, the community, and the super meaningful moments that honor a local hero or reach a fund-raising goal for zillions of worthy causes.

I’ve never been into the carbo-load dinner or the pancake breakfast. I don’t do group warm-ups with insanely energetic group leaders, and ever since masters maestro Gene Dykes revealed that he doesn’t stretch, I don’t stretch. I activate! I perform drills! I am all business!

In the before times (like November 2019), I received an invitation to run the London Marathon for a charity a friend manages. It was crazy lucky because London, being one of the six World Marathon Majors, is difficult to get into and the charity was a small one with just five available spots.

I had run (and raced) fairly regularly throughout that year, and I started a formal plan just after January 1st for the April 26 race in London. I built my Virgin Money donation page, another one on Facebook, and I began an existence of driving family and friends completely bonkers with my total immersion in marathon mania. I even emulated the pros, “racing” a half marathon on March 1, purposefully slow, as a long run. I was dialed in and hit my planned 2:08 perfectly. It was almost easy — like a good long, slow distance (LSD) should be. I was aiming to bust 4:00 in London and the future was bright.

And then…well…you know what happened next.

I’ll skip past the hideous, frightening, and altogether life-changing early days of the pandemic. My fingers bristle just typing the word.

When they pushed London to October, I suspended my plan. I lost my mojo and stopped running. I returned from Sedona, my spiritual second home, where I’d planned a week of (kind of) altitude work, having not run a single proper workout. I hiked, and even that only half-heartedly.

A new word had dawned in the language of our sport, landing on my apps, in my emails, and as an actual onslaught of invites: virtual. Every race around the world would be virtual, including London, and now we’d all be using our Garmins and our RunKeepers to verify and prove our road-conquering pursuits. Our entrance fees would no longer be for water stations, security, medical support, and volunteers; just the medal and the shirt.

No banana? No bagel? Wha…?

Even though I always ran alone, I suddenly thought that maybe I need the sea of bobbing heads and the rushing sound of all that hammering rubber. That I might like to try a pancake breakfast and maybe actually meet a runner or two at an expo. Perhaps I could stretch my way through a group yoga class after a Lululemon 10k. What had I been missing? And why had it taken a virtual marathon spent fixated on an iPhone App for me to contemplate it?

I raised over $4,000 and ran that virtual London 26.2 in a sideways 30-degree rain on a mix of road and dirt (well, mud) with a proud smile and an achy bod. More on that next time…

But this whole virtual thing, even with its strong points and some things-we-didn’t-know-until-we-did, can never compare to the gut-wrenching passion and nervous excitement I feel at the start of a real race, or the pained satisfaction of a goal reached and a victory for the soul when crossing over the line. Here’s praying we’re back at it soon.

See ya at the finish.

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