NewsProTeam | Jan 20, 2021 | 0
I Have Always Run Alone. But now I miss everyone | by Mattie Birman | Runner’s Life | Jan, 2021
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 It’s not due to adamant opposition, but because I am absurdly withdrawn (for a Leo) from a social running view.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.