Running Solo

There's a lot of running-group love in Spirit of the Marathon (which I can't recommend enough to my fellow runners). All of the people in the movie are training for the Chicago Marathon. Most are ordinary people, some training for a first marathon, and almost all of them train weekly with the same large running group made up of different pace groups.

In one particular scene, one of the featured women is hugging her fellow group members. She had recently gone through a divorce, and her weekly running partners were her support system. They talked about their weeks, psyched eachother up for the long run ahead, and once it started, they chatted their way through mile after mile. When this particular woman started to lose it both physically and mentally around mile 20 of the Chicago Marathon, it was one of her running partners who literally scraped her up off the ground to help her beat the mental demons and finish.

This is not my training experience.

Since I started running seven years ago, I have almost always ran alone. Occasionally, I would run with my sister when she was in town. But other than an early training run back in May in which I ran with my sister and uncle, I have trained alone.

There aren't many people in my "real life" who know about my half-marathon training, and even fewer who care about how important it is to me. My main support comes from my friends in the computer, especially my Marathon Godmother, people at my health club, and some preschool friends who are also runners. My extended family sees my training as foolish, as "just another thing" in a life that was already stressful and full of responsibility before I set this goal. The hubs is often resentful of the time I spend running, as this means increased responsibility for him at home. My main support, honestly, comes from Isabella, who always asks me "how many miles did you run today, mommy?" when I get home from early-morning runs, or who gingerly rubs a Neosporin equivalent onto the many blisters on my feet.

It is hard to train without a support system. But it's also given me the mental fortitude to realize that while the half-marathon is a race in which I'm (obviously) competing against other people, really, I'm competing only with myself. It's me and 13.1 miles on race day, and running solo all these months has prepared me to do battle with the half on my own, and in the end (hopefully) meet my goal of a sub-two-hour race.

This isn't to say that running groups don't have their benefits. I tried one out on Saturday for the first time. I joined our local Fleet Feet distance runners for a 9-mile run. My long runs to this point were averaging less than an 8:30 per mile pace. A week ago, I ran 8.1 miles at an 8:16 pace. However, as I learned on Saturday's 80-degree, sunny, and humid morning, there was a very good reason why there was no 8:30 pace group (the group I intended to join), and that the fastest pace group was a 9:30.

Running long and running very fast are not advisable unless you happen to be Deena Kastor. If race-day weather conditions mimic Saturday's (and in upstate NY in September, they very well could), then there is absolutely no way I can sustain an 8:30 pace. I finished a few minutes behind the group in 1 hour, 25 minutes. Frankly, I'm worried about sustaining a 9:00 minute mile pace, which will get me to the finish line in just under 2 hours. Running with the group in those conditions on Saturday taught me an important lesson, and as a result, I am purposefully slowing down my runs until race day to focus on endurance.

It was also great to be among a large group of runners in a non-race environment. Talking about running isn't something I get to do a lot of "in real life" and I enjoyed the pre-run and post-run chatter. I liked the encouragement I received from the guys once I finished my 9-miles. It's support I don't have when I run solo.

But I couldn't get into my head while with the running group, as I'm used to doing during my runs. I always, always run with my iPod. None of men I ran with (and the group members were all men in their 30s and 40s in perfect physical condition) did. They chatted with eachother. They tried to talk to me, asking me to sing what I was listening to, asking me how I felt, etc. And I did not want to talk to them, and towards the end of the run, I literally could not talk to them because I was struggling to breathe in the heat.

I was constantly worried whether the older dude with the crazy stride and weird arm motions was going to whack my arms as he ran alongside me. I was concerned I was going to miss a turn on the route and run smack into one of the guys because I couldn't hear the pace group leader. And of course, when I fell a bit behind, I felt like a gigantic loser because I was suddenly the girl trying to run with the big boys and clearly out of her league.

So on Saturday, when I'm scheduled to complete the first 10-mile run of my life, I will be running solo. And while keeping my pace steady and slow(er) on my own may be challenging, and while the camaraderie of being amongst fellow runners will be missed to a certain degree, I've realized that I am my own best running company.

And I'm totally okay with that.

3 Responses to “Running Solo”

  1. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    You should run the way YOU run. If you rock your best times (and feel good) going solo with an iPod then don't try to change it. Music gives you rhythm and can keep your mind busy and positive, when it *could* be telling you to quit, because you're tired etc.

    While you've been training, you've been training more than just your legs, your feet and your body. Your mind has been going through a process too, so rather stick with what your mind knows and do your best that way.

    Back in the day when I was an athlete (granted, as a sprinter and polevaulter we never ran further than 2miles) I always did better when I kept myself away from everyone else, otherwise I'd get drawn into chatter and it would send my mind off in a hundred different directions rather than focusing on my next vault etc.

    So just be you and keep rocking at it.  

  2. # Blogger Veronica

    I love this post. You've inspired me to write about my cycling. xoxoxo  

  3. # Blogger Jesser

    I'm definitely with you on this. Running is a personal thing for me. My husband runs too, but he is so freaking competitive and definitely faster than me, and even though he's not a mean person and TRULY doesn't mean to make me feel bad, he says these little things after we run together that just drive me nuts. I run with girlfriends sometimes too and that is a fun treat since we chat and the miles fly by, but I am never at my BEST during those runs.

    When I am at my best and enjoy it most is when it's just me, my music and the road. Or even me, the treadmill and the TV. Thoughts optional. ;)  

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