“All alone. Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!” - Dr. Seuss
I recently went for a run at the Cannonsburg State Game Area. I didn’t tell anyone I was going, I didn’t announce the trip, nor did I call anyone to join me. I ran alone. The parking lot had three other cars in it, one SUV and two with bike racks. Once I stepped off the road onto the dirt, it quickly popped into my head that it had been a long time since I’ve run alone. If you had asked me earlier I would have answered that I run alone a lot…but I really don’t. I’m faster than some and slower than others, and I frequently find myself running alone in limbo between the two. Let me tell you now that there is a distinct difference between running alone and running by yourself.
Earlier this summer I ran alone at the Yankee Springs 10k. I passed and left the last person in sight before we hit the second mile marker. I didn’t sense anyone behind me, but I think there was one runner ahead of me who I would catch occasional, distant glimpses of through switchbacks. I was alone for all intents and purposes. I wasn’t about to slow down and let the runners behind me catch up, and I just couldn’t catch the mystery runner in front of me. But I was chasing someone. While I felt alone at the time, there were other runners out there with me, so I wasn’t alone, just by myself.
On one of our spring group runs at the Cannonsburg Ski Area I ended up being “the fast guy”. I wanted to get in a good workout so I ran as I had planned, and ended up leaving my fellow runners behind. Before long there wasn’t a runner in site, and I was alone. But the sensation of being alone never took effect because my solitude was occasionally interrupted by mountain bikers. Their identities hidden by glasses and helmets, they were no more welcoming than random strangers on the street, but I wasn’t alone, just by myself. And whether those mountain bikers were there or not I knew that my reward for the workout was going to be a beer with my friends at the end. Again, I was not alone, just by myself.
Running with people, or racing, puts your mind in a distracted, or focused, place. Both of those situations can be compared to living our normal, hectic lives. But running alone, truly alone, is like meditating. And if you have ever meditated you know that it can be messy. On that run at the SGA my mind went to some odd, random places, and I was a little shaken at times. In the first mile I thought I heard voices; in the third mile, a motor bike. When I passed 4 Mile Rd., and my last chance to take a shortcut back, the trail seemed more narrow and suffocating than ever. My heart was racing, the forest was closing in, and I felt like Indiana Jones trying to outrun that boulder. But then I stopped…and I breathed. I looked around to see that there was no one in sight and that the forest wasn’t in fact closing in on me. The trail actually looked very welcoming. My heart rate dropped, so I breathed again. My focus expanded, the forest started to breathe with me, and I felt a sense of calm settle around me. Now fully aware, I started to run again. I started to run fast, and I felt the trail urging me, not fighting me. My legs felt fresh and strong, and I finished the loop with the traditional sprint to the parking lot. I did my cool down, stretched, took a picture, and packed up to head home.
Reflection, like meditation, is a very helpful tool to help you find your way, and the post-run clarity is the perfect time to sort through your mental garbage. In that moment you are able to see more clearly, to evaluate more accurately, and digest everything that is present in your mind. Sometimes the realization you come to requires action, other times you get validation. If you find that some part of your life has gone off the rails, don't be afraid to make the necessary changes. Some might be small, some large, but change is the only constant in this world so embrace it. Life, like shoes, requires changes. Tiny tears become bigger, support fades, and once cushion-y shoes become hard. So what's next for you?