A short story written in 1959 and made into a feature film three years later bears the title “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.” While I admire author Alan Stillitoe’s accomplishment, I feel certain that he himself didn’t take part in the sport. If he had, he would have known that loneliness is not at all a concern.
Running can be a very social activity. Deep friendships are formed through conversations covering every topic imaginable during miles together. (See my article, “Runner’s Hi.”)
There’s also a positive flip side for days when the athlete prefers to go it alone. Solitude. Blessed solitude. Rare, welcomed, rejuvenating, even restful, solitude.
Years before I hit the streets myself, I’d ask runners “What on earth do you think about? It must be so boring!” Now I know. The privacy provides a long list of blessings.
Many of my best business ideas have popped up during runs. The needs of friends and family, which could have gone unnoticed, come to mind. Words of thanks or encouragement to be shared later, chess moves, the location of misplaced items, prayers, strategies and tactics for self development … these have all been byproducts of solo time on the road.
Then there are the lost miles, and I mean lost in a good sense. It happens when the runner becomes suddenly conscious that he or she is at mile nine, and can’t remember anything since mile five. The bliss of temporary nothingness. It’s hard to explain, but anyone who’s trained for a half marathon or longer is letting out a wistful sigh right now.
In an age when “me time” is both rare and precious, running offers a solution. Hours of intentionally chosen isolation with few distractions. Peace. The ability to focus—on my breathing, life’s blessings and challenges, or nothing at all.
Loneliness? I respectfully disagree. But the solitude of the long distance runner … oh yeah.