April 12, 2016

The Art of the Solo Long Run

This isn't like fine art, people. There are no happy bright colors or freeing paint splatters or exacting pointilism. I'm talking about the art of not crying into your third granola bar of the run, the art of not stabbing your emergency pocketknife through your eyeball on your fifth circle along the same boring road, and the art of being happy that no one was around to witness how you slipped on the flat gravel road and excessively rolled around in red dirt and then lay there for a few minutes absorbing your own awkwardness. This will not end pretty. Most likely you will avoid making eye contact with people for a few days after because you know what happened out there, and maybe the others will be able to guess.

For the sake of not driving my family crazy during my Vermont 100 (race coming up in July!) training, I decided to try and clear one weekday of work (between the hours of school drop-off and pick-up -- we have no public school busses here) for my long run. This replaces my usual Saturday long run. You know, Saturday long run with cheerful friends + bum around feeling only slightly coherent the rest of the day + eating all the food + begging for foot rubs and back walks from small children. Mondays have been the only day that have worked out so far, but it's nice to get the biggest run over with on a Monday and feel like the rest of the week is a quick-ish slide down from there.

But guess what. Mondays are the worst of all the days to recruit friends to run with you during the day. Because jobs. And surgeries (please bless that my Monday running friend recovers quickly!). So this week I had to run alone.

I know some of you don't care about running alone and even like being solo out there. And I like alone time every now and then too. But honestly if it wasn't for friends, I would have quit this sport a long time ago. Long runs are basically designed to give you a captive audience for your life rants and observations. Oh, and to prepare for races or something. But mostly to talk to friends, right?

Are you also a group run lover? Do you also dread slogging on trails or roads for five hours (or even five minutes) by yourself? Well, then this post is for you.

We're practicing looking at the positive side of solo running, for a few minutes. Then let's go back to hating it, which is only natural.

1. Take as many selfies as you want without shame. The shame will come later when you post them on a blog like this, but during the run, you can take as many selfie do-overs as you want, without all the pressure of getting it right the first time because no one else cares about that future Instagram post as much as you.

Take this picture for example. This was probably from a take three. Even with your closest running friends, two takes is the max. Three takes can only happen on a solo run. Ever.

If you do three takes, and this is all you get. Move on. It's just not meant to be.

Also, selfies are just rest stops. Get tired? Take a selfie. You don't have friends there telling you to stop at the top of a hill, so they can "tie their shoe." That's code for "hills are evil, and we should stop and rest at the top of all of them." 

2. Make friends with animals. You're alone now. And I mean that in the saddest way possible. There are snakes and spiders and unknown animals rustling in the leaves. I like to think that those unidentified rustling sounds are always the most venomous snakes scared of how much butt I am kicking on my run, so they are required by the laws of don't-freak-the-human-out nature to slither away. 

Talking to the animals is acceptable. Out loud, obviously. Thank them for keeping your park's food chain in order. Or for cleaning up -- that's you, goats. 


3. Use it as planning time. When I am bored on a run, I will sometimes use Siri to make notes and write down ideas. But Siri messes stuff up. So usually instead of a cool note like, "implement the foolproof plan for making a million dollars," Siri writes "plant the flower melon dolls." So I take that back about writing notes. With Siri at least. But make all the mental notes you want. But then immediately forget them, because that's how long runs work.

But sometimes someone will ask you for information while you are on a run. Like a friend messages and says, hey is there a trail race coming up? And then an hour later you run by this sign and take a picture. Because at least Siri can't mess that up.


4. Take new trails. For Red Mountain Park, there are lots of old mines that I usually skip because it only adds .05 miles and is not a great turn-around point. But when you're by yourself, you don't care about turn-around points. You just want to see proof that other humans do or have ever existed. 

Once upon a time, not so long ago. (Bon Jovi, street cred 101)

You also feel free to take less convenient trails, thinking to yourself, hey, let's switch things up -- this could only turn out great. And it looks like a trail, and you have even taken it before, maybe a year or two ago. 

It does seem like there should be a trail there, right?!

But then THEN THEN, you get into the middle of it and can't even figure out which way is up or down or sideways because what looked like soft, feathery grass from a distance is actually gnarly briars and maybe small trolls with daggers that are determined to claw the top layer off of your thighs (thank you, knee high socks for protecting the lower bits). I went from worrying about snakes hiding in the thick grass to wondered if I would ever see my family again. We had just read Shackleton's Endurance for book club, and after twenty minutes, I was beginning to panic and crave pemmican.

The devil is not in the details, the devil is in those thorns.

But when you make it out alive and bleeding, you feel more grateful to be making that 100th loop on the established trails. 

5. You go on your terms. When you run with a group or at a race, most runners feel required to use a socially acceptable level of modesty when it comes to human waste. I personally like to wear shorts that you can pull to the side when you need to pee. Even then, you have to wait for a good time, or a good tree or giant rock. But even that careful strategy can sometimes end poorly with a bad angle. A little uneven ground, and you might as well have just peed your pants. 

But you're alone for what feels like miles all around? Drop all the drawers. For as long as you want. Relax, take your time. This is actually the highlight of the solo run: zero-pressure waste brakes.

Pick any spot. No hiding required because you are alone, alone, alone ...

Oh, and that only works on trail runs. Not a good strategy in your neighborhood. 

6. Embrace distractions. So everyone knows that podcasts (my favorite), music (my favorite), and audio books (my favorite) are great distractions, but what about making up scenarios for things you encounter on the run?

Say you come across a spooky house in the woods.

Creepy house in the woods. 

The game is to decide what would be scarier.

Scariest scenario?

A. Looking in the front door and finding a bunch of old, dirty headless dolls lined up on a bed on the back wall of the house. And the bed has fresh white sheets, tucked in neatly. 

B. Seeing your own self standing in the window staring back at you. 

C. A bloody leg dangling out the front door and a slow scraping sound.

D. Walking through that giant patch of poison ivy to check out any of the above scenarios. 

I'm gonna go B., but that has always freaked me out to imagine myself somewhere creepy staring back at myself. Never smiling of course. But D. is a close second.

________________________________________

And before you know it, the brightness will turn to darkness.

Start of the run

End of the run.

Actually, reverse that. Then reverse that reversal. 

Because I think that is what it means to train for 100 miles. Expect everything, and don't expect anything. And embrace everything. But also nothing. If that makes sense to you, then you have probably run a lot of hours alone and are somehow happier because of it. 

But give me back my friends, please!