The pros and cons of doing long runs alone

I’ve always been a “social runner”. While I love my solo runs just as much as the next person, typically I only enjoy running the shorter, easy runs alone. When it comes to long runs, I hardly ever do them alone. I haven’t wanted to do them alone. I’ve been lucky enough to always have a group of similar paced friends to run with, and that has kept me training outside, all year round.

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A pre-race group shot with my team in Toronto, just before we all went out there and smashed out some PBs. I miss them!

When Mike and I decided to move to Europe, from a running perspective, I was most concerned about how I would manage to do my long runs on my own. Originally we thought that we could find some local run groups in whatever city we were staying in, but it turned out to be harder than we thought. It really depends on the country, city, and what the running culture is like. I’m starting to realize that running long distances isn’t really a “thing” in Europe (not counting England). But that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, that was my long winded way of saying that I’ve had to do almost all of my long runs myself since we’ve been here. And, they’re not getting any shorter. Today was my longest long run that ever felt long (that’s actually what I said in my head during the run, and even though it makes no real sense, it still makes me laugh).

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Mike snapped this shot of me as he was pulling away from me at the start of our long run. I’m always the one watching him disappear into the distance. 😛

This long run was TOUGH. It was the farthest I’ve run in general since 2011, and it was also the farthest I’ve ever run on my own. It didn’t help that I convinced Mike to do a 3 hour walk with me the day before. Lesson learned: you CAN overdo it with walking, especially the day before a long run! I even pulled out my “only in emergencies” iPod shuffle for the last 10km of my long run, but it refused to turn on. I spent the rest of my long run trying to decide whether I preferred having friends to run with in Toronto versus running alone – but in Europe.

Pros of Doing a Long Run Solo:

  • I can go at my own pace. This means going faster/slower when you feel like it and taking as many (or little) breaks as you want. I rarely ever run at the exact same pace throughout an entire run. It’s a lot harder to change up your speed based on how you’re feeling if it comes at the cost of holding a group back.
  • I can work on my mental strength. In theory, this will mean having more to draw from during a race… I think? I’ve gotten a lot better at quieting down my mind, being in the moment, and focusing on nothing but the run itself. On good days, this can make a 26km run feel like a 10km run. On bad days… it really, really sucks to be out there alone when you just feel like quitting.
  • I’ve gotten better at taking care of myself. When I’m running with a group, I never look at the route or pay attention to my surroundings. I just follow whoever seems to know where to go, and focus all my energy on chatting and having fun. 😉 Now, I’m better at reading maps, running through tricky terrain, and using positive reinforcement on myself (yes, I am the girl that occasionally speaks to herself out loud).
  • I don’t have to talk, and it’s guaranteed alone-time. I’m introverted. Usually talking too much, for too long is extremely draining. I find it’s normally okay during a long run, especially when there’s a group of people so that you can stay silent for long periods of time without breaking up the conversation… but I do appreciate the silence and alone time.

Cons of Doing A Long Run Solo:

  • It can boring and lonely. Being bored causes my run to drag out. Unless the scenery is constantly changing (which I’ve been lucky enough to have), running the same routes over and over again just leads to me checking my watch too many times and counting down the kms to go with dread.
  • I miss catching up with my friends. Even though I’m introverted, I almost always finish a long run energized and happily caught up with my friend’s lives. I’ve made some of my best friends over long runs. I’ve made life decisions over long runs. I even discussed my now husband to death with my run friends before we started dating because, you know, it’s fun to talk about your crushes. 😉
  • You have no one to draw strength from. Not only have I gotten lots of running-related advice, I’ve also had friends pull me out of dark situations when I’m feeling off and unsure of whether I’d be able to complete a run. I share water with friends, gels, and motivation when we need it the most. When I’m alone, I have no one to pull me out of rough patches.
  • It makes running less fun. Don’t get me wrong – running solo at times is meditative and empowering. Yes, I do appreciate the alone time. But I also have a limit and running with friends makes the whole training process a hell of a lot more fun. I’m not an elite athlete whose job depends on my race performance. I run & train because I love the idea of progress and working towards a goal. I run because I choose to, not because I have to.

I’ve asked myself a lot, how I’ve changed as a runner during this trip. I think it’s too soon to tell. I still miss my teammates like crazy and can not wait to catch up with them over a long run when we’re back in Toronto. But, I guess I’ve finally reached a point where running solo has become the new norm – at least for now. Rather than fight it and dread every single long run, I felt a change in my attitude for the first time this past weekend. I knew the long run was going to be tough, but I also knew that I was going to get through it. And whenever I found myself taking a wrong turn, slipping on mud, slowing to a crawl up hills, and feeling desperate to take a break and catch my breath – I took care of it.

I think it definitely helps that each weekend is almost like brand new territory to explore – of course it’s easier to keep distracted! I think if I had to choose, I’d choose doing a long run with a friend any day over doing it alone – but I wouldn’t trade having this experience in Europe for the world, so having to run alone is a small price to pay for getting to explore this corner of the world.

alison

 

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