Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Virtues of Solitude

I am a social runner. I belong to a more than one running group, my phone is full of runners, I even have a Facebook page swarming with enthusiastic running buddies. I try to rally someone to run with me for anything over five miles. It makes the time fly by. The benefits of running with other people are many and I'm sure I will blog about that at some point, but today I want to acknowledge the pure bliss of solitude.

It isn't always possible to find a running partner, especially if you have to squeeze in a run at odd times. Recently I actually chose to do my long run alone. It was an odd feeling to want to be by myself, but I did. I was looking forward to going at my own pace and enjoying the crazy eclectic shuffle on my ipod.

The cool thing and the scary thing about running alone is that devoid of chatter, my mind seems to have a..., well a mind of it's own! I can't always control my thought patterns and that means I am at the mercy of my unruly mind, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes torturous. My fickle brain often sends me mixed messages about my comfort level throughout a run "This sucks, this feels great, I'm tired, I'm awesome, it is okay to turn back now, must go on, what is that funny feeling on the ball of my foot, hey, that guys was checkin' me out, I think these shorts are chafing my thighs, blah, blah, blah..."

My ipod is a welcome distraction from my mind, but that "shuffle" can also influence my mental path. During my recent solo trail run I experienced a myriad of emotions that were a combined mix of scenery and music. U2's "In God's Country" came on as I was ascending a hill that gave me the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and I felt joy that almost brought a tear to my eyes. Then while running through neighborhood horse trails, the B-52's gave me a playful giddy feeling. Near mile six I heard an old punk song that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend and I reflected that it has been almost one year since his death. I got very emotional reflecting on the thought that I am still thriving and running and living and he is not. My life experience is growing every day, his has stopped. It makes me grateful and sad at the same time.

Marshall Ulrich (the great long distance runner most known for the idiosyncrasy of choosing to have his toenails removed) said it well when he admitted "I need to get outdoors, clear my head, allow myself to time to think about what I'd experienced and then think about something else for a long, long time. I need to run, to empty out the accumulated emotion, to strip myself of comfort and grieve both deal with and avoid emotional pain. "

Gee, I thought I was just trying to get my heart rate up and keep my jeans fitting! But Marshall is right about the cathartic quality of running. It may not completely eliminate the need for therapy, but it sure helps our emotional and mental health.

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