Running alone, love it or hate it, whatever your opinion it has some value. Personally I like the odd solo run. When I started out nearly all of my training was done on my own, I really didn’t know any other runners. Dragging myself out on cold rainy dark evenings was a challenge in itself, as was getting out the door before work on some days. I found even 30 minutes on my feet a challenge. As well as the physical exertion there was a whole mental side, how did I stop getting bored and focusing on just how hard and painful it was? It was running solo that helped me learn to deal with these issues.
When I first left my front door to run I discovered I could not make it 300 metres. At that point I could have given up. I did not have to run, there was nobody else to tell me or persuade me, but I realised that the whole half marathon adventure would be won or lost that moment. Gritting my teeth I carried on and the rest is history. The lesson, that ultimately your training depends upon you is good to learn. It does not matter how many friends you have, or how supportive they are, ultimately it is your teeth that you have to grit, and your arse you have to drag out of the door. If you can motivate yourself to do it alone, you will probably be OK. For me the reason why, was a half marathon, and as long as I kept that in my head I could force myself out. As with any exercise, the more I used my ‘motivation muscle’ the easier it became.
At first I had no gadgets to track me. I would go out over a set route and think I had been running for an eternity, when in reality I was usually gone about 20 minutes. Living in an age where there are constant distractions 20 minutes alone can be hard. What was really difficult was dealing with the negative thoughts that cropped up on the longer harder runs. By the end of my first 2 hour run, my whole world seemed to consist of pain. Not having anyone or anything to distract me just made it worse. When I realised that running alone bore some similarities to meditation things became easier. I found using a technique of acknowledging the hurts and hardships and then moving on, refocusing on breathing or my feet moving stopped the worst of it. I started to enjoy the space running alone gave me, working out race strategies, pacing plans and training goals in my head. As time wore on and my runs became longer, I thought of witty comments I would make on facebook, and now I think of blogs and tweets amongst other things. It is not often we have time to just think, and running has certainly provided me cover for many an ‘idle’ hours pondering.
The last point about running solo is that it gives you a chance to run for yourself. When you run with others you gain camaraderie and all the joy of a shared experience, plus a mutual motivation factor. Alone you have none of that, but you can focus on your own training needs. This week I ran Parkrun at a 12:40 min mile pace, the reason? I have been introduced to heart rate zone training, and that is the pace dictated by my zone 2 heart rate. I can see that there are going to be many solo miles ahead of me. It is not fair to ask others I train with regularly to slow down to this pace, so I will not be asking them. It is my training plan and I have to be motivated to do this alone. It is the same with my track work at the moment, ‘Billy no Mates’ round and round running Yasso’s, something I have chosen to do in an attempt to eventually get that magic sub4 marathon.
I love my running friends, and I love running with them. On long slow runs we have such a laugh, and we goad and inspire each other to better and better things. If asked I will help any of them in any way I can, but there are some occasions when I need to be out alone. Whether I am just exercising my ‘motivational muscle’, learning to deal with my own demons and company ( I can be a right pain in the arse I have been reliably informed ), or just focusing on my own training needs, there will always be space for some time spent running solo.