Fortress of Solitude

Like most people in education my work life is dominated by personal interactions and face-to-face contacts. It has always been my contention that the best education is, at its core, relational and as such my school life centers around building and maintaining relationships as well as instilling those relational values in others.

In this context, it is on my daily run that I escape those relationships and revel in my own Fortress of Solitude. Certainly, I am by nature an extrovert but, as is often the case with outgoing types, I have an internal introverted side that has evolved with age. In fact, in a recent re-take of the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, I came quite close to flipping from an “E”, which I’ve been my entire adult life, to an “I”. Has running made me more introverted or has my desire for more solitude made me run more?

Typically, I am the first one awake in my house. As I go through my pre-run routine I savor the quiet of the pre-dawn hours and linger over my coffee. As I step off my doorstep and begin to run the old diesel engine in my chest begins to slowly crank up and my mind begins to wander. After about 10 minutes I find myself breathing to the beat of every footfall, I am aware of the noises in the forest around me but only peripherally. Mostly, I am absorbed in the inner life of my run. Like most of us, I am often asked, “what do you think about for all that time you are running.” And, I am not being sarcastic when I answer, simply, “Nothing.”

You see, on those early morning solitary jaunts I am not really alone. Typically, bopping along the trail chasing the beam of my headlamp, I am accompanied by myriad thoughts and ideas, joys and concerns, passions and people. Some days my mind jumps around like a rabbit, while other times it settles calmly into a tortoise-like trance. My life is full, my focus is deep, and my racing mind settles into silence. In my Fortress of Solitude I find answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask and solutions to problems I didn’t know existed.

Then, running into the rising sun and returning to my doorstep an hour or so later, I am ready and willing to deal with the rest of my life and all its relationships, with the peace of mind that regularly accompanies the solitary runner I am more than content to be.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Baltimore, Maryland’s Heavy Seas Brewing Company. Their Great’ER Pumpkin Imperial Ale is aged three weeks in Bourbon barrels and served in bottles or on tap. I’ve had it on tap and I must say the 9% ABV really sneaks up on you. In fact, with a little whipped cream, this would taste more like pie than beer.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you enjoy stepping out of your daily life to spend time running by yourself?
  • What do you think about when you run?
  • … and just for fun, what’s your Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator? (Online test)
Andy Jones-Wilkins: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (27)

  • I savor the moments of running alone, but as a former teacher who walked away over a year ago. after years of running mostly solo, I am finding that I am enjoying the company of running with others and am seeking out opportunities to do so. Strange isn't it how it works sometimes for many years I wouldn't/couldn't run with others, now that I have the time to run by myself I am enjoying the company of others, like I never have :-) Makes a lot of sense doesn't it.

    What do I think of while running - a little bit of everything, but mostly I focus on being in the present, how my breathing is, monitoring my body and how the different aches and pains are today and every once in a while stopping to smell the roses.

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  • sweet

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  • i will drink to that, cheers!

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  • As a teacher & one that works with young people on the margins of education, running is my also my escape & time to take stock of the day. You give a lot as a teacher & having that time in the bush (mostly alone) is what keeps me balanced & able to sustain what I do.

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  • I, too, run to relieve the pressure and stress and enjoy running alone. It's my time to unwind and to not think about anything or anyone else. I'm in the moment and not worrying about mandated testing or why half of my students failed a test because they got bored reading it.

    Nice beer pick - I was brought a bottle of it over the weekend and looking forward to trying it. Houston has had some great pumpkin beers, but you can only get them here. I would love to try some Avery Rumpkin, Southern Tier Pumpking, and Sam Adams Fat Jack.

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  • Nothing gets me going in the morning than some quiet alone time. Like you, it typically is a morning run. However,other times I just like to go for a stroll. And I especially enjoy it even more when the weather starts to change in the fall.

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  • I, too, am a teacher, though on the Meyers-Briggs I fall strongly into the "I" category. For me, everyday at school is extremely enjoyable, but also incredibly draining, as I am putting on the "E" hat for the time I am around the students. I run after school, and it is my time to escape back into my comfort zone, reset my overwhelmed senses and overused voice back to my comfort zone, and escape back into my own thoughts for a successful transition back to my family life in the evening.

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  • Earlier this year, Anton Krupicka wrote about what goes on in his mind while running:

    “I think of nothing and everything. Usually at the same time. Which is just another way of saying that I’m not really thinking. Rather, I’m listening. To myself, in an as unintentional manner as possible.”

    Trippy, but perfect.

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  • Great piece of work AJW!!!

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  • As a psychologist, I also work with people all day, every day, and cherish the solace of solitute on the run. When I am asked "What do you think about when you run for all those hours?" I refer to it as "mental Muzak": Myriad thoughts of everything and nothing, but playing at low volume. The run itself dominates, and relegates mental life to the background. It is this meditative mindfulness of the run -- allowing all sorts of thoughts to come and go but none to stick hard or long -- that plays large in the mental value of running.

    As usual, spot on and beautifully written. +1 Andy

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  • Well said. I love running with friends and in fact, running has created friendships I never imagined I could forge. But the reason I first fell for in running was the solitude and peace it brought me away from the business of life. And it is why I still have to have those solo runs to regain some perspective and figure things out or to simply be with myself for the moment. Thank you for the post.

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  • i, too, love the solitude... and have also flipped from E to just over the I line... i love the fact that no one can "need me" during that hour or two run... and if i run early enough, even guilt doesn't enter in because my pre-dawn run competes with no one else's plans. :) Enjoy, AJW!

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  • Very nicely put. Your description of your predawn runs - fortress of solitude - resonates with me. There's something special about being out there alone, letting the narrative unfold in one's mind.

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  • as a long time introvert, w/ 2 kids, wife, job (also an educator!), etc...man that run is the only alone time I can count on! Great piece. Thanks!

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  • Very well written. I really enjoy your posts AJW. I've been sidelined for a week and reading your post gave me pangs for running. I'm usually an evening runner but of late I've been mixing it up with some morning jaunts in the dark and sometimes I turn the headlamp off and run by moonlight (on flat paths, not technical trails). Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, very enjoyable to read.

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  • one of the main reasons I run trails/mountains is for the solitude and time for reflection.

    as for what do I think about when I run... I guess most of the time it technically is nothing really but when I do have thoughts in my head they always revolve around my family (wife and almost 3yo son) and spirituality. I spend a lot of time talking with God (internal voice and even sometimes out loud). I reflect on how Blessed I am to be able to run one step let alone thousands and remember to thank God for his creation... even if its a steep incline that kicks my butt in the latter miles!

    and as far as myers briggs goes... ENFP but like you I find myself sliding toward the I side of things

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  • "... my racing mind settles into silence." Friend speaks my mind.

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  • I need at least 1 hour of running solitude to work out all the negative thoughts. The thoughts don't change, but Awareness softens the reactions. Every family fight, every past regret, every future anxiety - it all gets reframed over the course of that 1 hour break. Can't get rid of those pesky thoughts, but 1 hour of running completely takes away their power.

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  • Loved reading this:-) Thank you.

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  • My reason for running, I think, it's to understand life and the world more. To understand myself, observe myself in difficult situations. I think the more I know myself, the better I feel overall regarding life.

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