Alone Together

AJWs TaproomOne of the great paradoxes of long distance running comes from the context in which we run. Generally, running is a solitary activity that allows us to look inward and find a sense of ourselves, our bodies, our hearts, and our minds in the midst of that solitude. However, running is also something that binds us to a strong community and creates connections and relationships that can be some of the most meaningful in our lives. It is quite interesting to me to observe that in the midst of such a profoundly solitary pursuit truly life changing bonds are made.

I am sure all of us have, at one time or another, found solace in a long solo run. I know for me that when I am struggling with a problem or an issue in my life getting out on my own for a long, hard effort is essential to sorting things out and finding answers to questions I was unwilling or afraid to ask. Running lays me bare and breaks things down simply and starkly. If it was not something I could do alone, it may not be as poignant or as effective.

Additionally, I know that there are many among us who have rolled over in bed to hit the snooze button one more time at 5:40 a.m. only to realize that our regular Tuesday running partners will be waiting at the trailhead in 20 minutes. The mere presence of those partners, the health of those relationships, are grounded in the shared suffering of that Tuesday morning tempo run or that Thursday track workout or that weekend long run. I have heard stories, in fact, of countless people who have shared the trail or the road with the same group of people on the same day of the week for years and years.

In the context of this great paradox, it is also clear to me that both the community and the solitude provide purpose and meaning to the seemingly mundane endeavor of running. In essence, the meaning and purpose derived from what we do drives us, motivates us, and completes us.

If you’re like me you are all too often asked, why do you run? For me, the answers invariably run the spectrum from the glib (because I can) to the practical (because it makes me skinny) to the profound (because it gets me in touch with the essence of my inner soul). But, in the end, I always come back to an answer that is unique to the particular circumstance of each experience. It is this uniqueness, this freshness and clarity, that adds weight to each run. And, since each running experience is, in the Big Picture, communal and isolated, then each time we get out there it truly could, and perhaps even should, guide us in the rest of our lives.

Bottoms Up!

Ps. You can now request a free AJW’s Taproom bumper sticker (4″ x 4″).

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Founders Double Trouble IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their Double Trouble Imperial IPA is a smooth drinking beer that defies its 9.4% ABV. In addition, while hopheads will certainly gravitate toward this selection, it’s really an everyman’s beer that is good alone or with a group. :)

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • How do solo and shared runs each fit into your running world?
  • Does either aspect dominate the mental side of your running existence?
  • Does that mirror your introvert/extrovert breakdown in other situations? If not, why do you think that’s the case?

[Editor’s Note: AJW was kind enough to let us move his weekly Taproom article up a day as we complete a massive non-iRunFar project. AJW’s Taproom will move back to Friday next week.]

There are 8 comments

  1. OOJ

    Another AJW paradox!

    To be honest, I relish my solo running — maybe it's because I spent 8-10hr a day talking to people; often times I need that "alone time". Moreover, often times it's much easier to run solo when you're tired — it's easier to do one's own thing instead of having to adapt to another's (or a group's) route, pace, conversation, etc.

    Ultimately, the most memorable runs are the "big runs" with good friends, whether it's the shared majesty, or misery – or both. My big fall run from Squaw to MB "the hard way" with Jake ( turned out to be a pretty special experience to have shared with him — and all the proof I needed that he's gonna be a terrific pacer for WS '11. And terrific friend. :)

  2. amg

    I much prefer solo runs – probably because with 3 little kids at home it can be nice to escape the mayhem from time to time and just be alone. I really dislike running with a big group – probably the introvert in me – one running partner to help with motivation is enough for me! That said, I'm not a competition runner so I don't really have a sense of the comradery that many of you have.

  3. Anonymous

    The next best thing to talking to you on the phone (since I could never run beside you being a non runner and your aging mother) I can read your great thoughts on your love affair with the sport. Thanks Andy

  4. AJW

    FYI, that last anonymous poster was my mom. She's awesome. And, a published author, been on Oprah, and loves my dad. Just google Joan Anderson.

  5. Jeff Faulkner

    Andy, I guess I've been a solitary runner for my entire running career (all of 6 years now). I have run on and off with my eldest son, but he's moved on from dear old dad. My baby girl runs with me ever so infrequently, and I do treasure those outings. But I have to say the camaraderie of other trail runners at the "big" race of the year is amazing. I look forward to this above all else when anticipating race day.

    Makes me wonder, if I had a pack of buds to run with where would my running be today? How often would life get in the way of a run if I had my best buds waiting for me at the trail head?

    I never considered the paradox until today…

  6. brant

    Just like ooj. I spend ten to eleven hours a day talking to people. To get out on the trails with no one but myself is nice, hearing nothing but the sounds of my feet, thoughts and breathing is relaxing to me. On rare occassions I wish I had a running partner but at the same time glad I don't.

  7. worm

    great thought provoking post. sadly, my running is primarily a solo adventure with my comaraderie only coming about on race days.

    not for lack of trying to find community, but even those I know who run are astounded that I run as often and as far as I do. a common comment when asking if one wants to join me for a run is, "no. have fun with that."

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