I grew up in a small farm community north of Kansas City, Missouri. With 1200 people in the town, it wasn’t unheard of to graduate their high school with 50 students per year. It is the life of the small town, and the life of growing up without friends…
The other part of growing up in this kind of atmosphere is knowing that if you love to run (especially if you are really bad at it*), you will be running alone on the back farm roads…a lot.
Summer, spring, argument with parents, friend-zoned by some girl, there was always a reason to lace up and take off out the door. The reality though, was aside from my own small aid station 1 1/2 miles outside of town**, I was on my own. I never learned paces, I never learned running in groups, I never had the moment to find people to run with because I was informed that running together was ‘fun’.
Reality is that until this past year, I had never learned how to run with other people. Monday nights are my chronic, semi-painful practice session to keep pace, breathe, and try to answer questions all at the same time…without falling on a tree root.
The flip side of all of this was an added personal benefit to trail running that I hadn’t noticed until a few months ago. As alluded to in the review from the Rocky Raccoon 50K, weeks prior I had visited a random trail, needing 24 miles, I just took off through the woods alone.
I’ll make an argument; we each need our own solo runs. For some of us it is an easier feat to accomplish compared to others, but in the end, we all need it. Being a
lying experienced runner who is doing the whole ‘blog’ thing; I’ll even give a few reasons why you need that solo run:
- Bowel movements: Let’s just get this out of the way. While trail runners all talk about their amazing community, friendship, etc…no one really wants to be grandpa heading up the hill with the walking farts, causing fellow runners to dive into the trees fearful that haters of the sport have opened fire on them. Especially if they feel they have to report it on Strava. Running solo removes the fear of judgement. Get it out of your system with each step you take; though, I caution you to never trust a fart.
- Mind games: When you run with other people, you don’t have to think about yourself. You only have to focus on the conversation, the roots, the rocks, the hydration, the pace, and the fun (it is in there, I promise). When you are alone; it is all you and the woods. Unless you enjoy having conversations with yourself frequently (corn fields never replied back, so I started this habit at an early age), the mental challenge can be a challenge for many runners. However, if you are planning any race in the future, ask yourself, “Will I always be around other runners?” Likelihood is not in your favor. In fact, I have been in multiple trail races this year with over 500 runners, I have been found alone in several situations (usually delusional, lost, and craving ginger ale and donuts). Trail running is just as much mental as it is physical. Especially when you are out in the woods, mile 92, convinced that there are scorpions on the ground and a nice, cozy house in the middle of the woods (both of which do not exist).
- Body language: As a runner who truly has no idea what I am doing at least 9/8th of the time, I have found it to be important to pay attention to how my body is reacting while out running. Especially along a 200 foot ledge that could easily result in my demise, and no one would know. I mentally try to trace over my body; each muscle group, each joint, historical trouble spots, etc…It is my body to use, I might want to make sure I know how to use it correctly.
- Time: Going solo on a long runs isn’t about the fast pace, it isn’t about the competition, it is about time on your feet. This ties directly back to the mind games; when we spend insane amount of time on our feet in the woods, we tend to be more comfortable when coming up to race time. Additionally, solo long runs; they are not about record breaking speed or time. It is about setting a goal, meeting the goal, and learning more about yourself in the process.
- Fuel: Prior to trail running I had never taken a water bottle running with me, because I was dumb. I never thought there was a purpose to hauling extra weight. It only took one run in the woods for me to realize that, that is a great case for an early death. Solo runs are great opportunities for you to find what works and doesn’t work with your body in reference to fuel. Two months ago, a 24 mile solo run showed me that I needed to be eating something every six miles otherwise I would crash hard. When we are not as distracted by the people around us (no offense to the lovelies), we can focus more on what our body is telling us we need in order to
survive be successful.
The reality is that your next race will be a race in which you are running. It is your adventure. If you take the time for your own solo runs; it helps ease any fear of knowing that in some ways, brutally honest here, you will be going it alone. Yes, crew, friends, family, teammates all exist, but they won’t be with you each step the way. It is just you and the woods (and in some case the other five voices in your head).
*There was this girl that was a distance runner on my high school track team. Many years we were the only two to do distance races. She lapped me three times in the two mile, because a NCAA All-American in cross country (without having a high school cross country team), and was always supportive when she passed me . If salt pills would have been a thing back then, she would have offered them.
**True story. This girl (same age) lived at the top of our ‘hill’ in the community 1.5 miles outside of town. During the summer, when I would run by, she would frequently be out there with a glass a water. I thought she was very kind for doing such things, and only learned nearly six years afterwards that she had a crush on me the whole time. Me=Oblivious.