You learn a lot about yourself when you run long.
Running socially is one of my all-time favourite past times. I’ve made some of my best friends over long runs, and I’ve never pushed myself harder than when I have a friend beside me encouraging me not to give up. Part of the reason why I fell in love with running so much last year was because I joined a group that inspired me, motivated me, and made me feel like I was part of a family. I looked forward to every group run and always jumped at the chance to do any run I could with company.
But today, I learned that I’m a stronger runner when I run solo.
Earlier today, I had a complete meltdown at the beginning of my long run. I was with Mike at the time, and it happened while we were running up a pretty massive hill. It wasn’t the steepest hill I’ve ever run up, but it was one of the longest. I started panicking about how this was only the first few kms of a very long run, and it escalated to a full-blown meltdown about 500m from the top. Have you ever cried out in the middle of your run? I hadn’t until today. In a way, it was kind of a release – of what exactly, I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring that out. I think it had to do with some things beyond the run itself. But in the moment, it felt mostly like tears of frustration from being so tired of running uphill! Poor Mike was stunned and did his best to console me. It took me a few kms to pull myself together and start acting like a normal human being again. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, especially when I reminded myself that I don’t run because I have to, I run because I want to – for fun.
Eventually, we split off (Mike’s still recovering from a minor injury so he took it easy today) and I continued on my own. Almost immediately, I got lost. Then I took the trail path that Mike had routed out for me, but almost slipped several times on it because it was so muddy. My first instinct was to give up, but what choice did I have? I was alone in a heavily forested area and the only way out was to suck it up and continue running. So I did.
I continued on and lost my way again. I briefly thought about turning around and retracing my steps, but instead I pulled out the map and decided to continue on and meet up with the original route later on.
So I carried on, proud of myself for adapting the route…. until I couldn’t find the trail that was supposed to link me back up to the original route. I ran up and downhill frantically (my tired legs loved that), and again felt the urge to throw in the towel and call it a day. But how exactly would I do that? I was out in the middle of nowhere with no option to take a bus or catch a cab back. The only way back was to run or walk. With no one to complain to (literally, since I don’t speak Swiss-German), I took a deep breath and kept going.
Since I had lots of time to think during my long run, the contrast between how I was when I ran with Mike for the first half of the run compared to how I was when I ran by myself became clear to me. It was surprising how quickly I resolved “setbacks” when I was running alone, compared to how defeated I got when I ran with him.
I love running with Mike and my friends back in Toronto. I can’t wait to see them again and catch up over a deliciously long run. I hope to continue meeting more people wherever I live, since I intend to run as long as possible.
But today’s solo run that reminded me that I can do hard things like navigate when I get lost, run on unmaintained trails, and push myself to continue running when I’m exhausted beyond belief and the thought of running another few kms feels impossible – because it isn’t.
And that realization feels nice.