Solitude amongst friends

We surround ourselves with friends in our day to day lives – at work, at home, out and about.  However, I have never surrounded myself with friends when it came to exercise, sport or running.

To me, running is and has always been a solo sport.  I have always trained alone for a number of reasons – because it was a way to clear my head, because I didn’t have any friends that could keep up with me, or because for the past two years I was always training for an event and had a training plan to stick to.  My Thursday night hill repeats were not overly appealing to anyone else (whether they were training for an event or otherwise) nor were my 25km Saturday runs, with 3x5km sets at faster than race pace, or my 100 minutes of aqua jogging in place of a long run when I was injured.

As a result of this, I naturally became an isolated runner.  I would put on my music, zone out and knuckle down, pumping out the Ks.  My only ‘social’ form of running was HealthFit’s Run Group twice a week, where we did drills, sprints and other forms of speed work.  However, I would turn up, run, joke around with some of the others, and then leave.  When you run alone for so long, it is very easy to become isolated in your world of running and not take opportunities to run with others. To even think that there is an ability to share your running (and your love of running) with others.

My first 'WoRM' group run

This past year though, given I am not confined by any training plan and have more often than not gone for a run just because I want to run, I have discovered the social aspect of running.  While running itself should always be a competition against yourself, not others, I found that I got lost in that self-centered focus and forgot that others existed.  That they existed and they could assist me in my own running.  I have explored new trails, met new people and been inspired by others along the way.  I crashed a stranger’s birthday run one Saturday morning and joined everyone for coffee and cake afterwards.  I met incredibly friendly people who were more than happy to share their love of running with me and share that morning’s adventure with a complete stranger.

We ran through Otari-Wilton Bush, up through Karori Cemetery, all the way up to the Skyline with the most breathtaking views.  I nearly got rushed at by a cow and got roughed up by some wild gorse but it was so worth it.

WoRM Run PanoramaI aimed to write a blog post about that run (and failed to, evidently) and have been searching for new inspiration to write about the fantastic community of runners that Wellington has.  And how difficult it has been for me to really get amongst it.  Yesterday, though, was perfect inspiration.  Several of us have started a Sunday afternoon running habit – and it has been fantastic.  Last week was Otari-Wilton, this past week was 2km repeats at Karori Park.  We are all similar(ish) speeds and incredibly competitive, so while you are pushing your own limits and racing against yourself and your abilities, we can rely on each other in a sense to push ourselves harder.  Chase each other, try to keep up, and make sure that we are keeping up a constant pace.  Not let ourselves slack off (except at the end when we had all had enough!).

The fact was that we were out there, individually running 2km at our own pace against our own physical and mental limits, but at the same time we were out there as a group, running as a unit and supporting each other.  It was partway through my 3rd rep that it hit me ‘Why have I been missing out on this? Have I been too resistant? Or has it just taken me that long to find my running family?’.

To top it all off, two others came out with us to Karori Park and it was the chance for one of those runners, Lee, to go on her first run in three months.  Following a broken metatarsal and a lot of dedication to her rehabilitation plan, she was finally allowed to go for a run.  She seemed nervous but after she set off she really got into it.  We were resting in between reps and could just see her coming around the bend, looking incredibly happy, running with fantastic form, like she was gliding over the track.  To be there and witness her running for the first time in so long was incredible and I felt touched to be able to be part of that exciting experience for her.  It reminded me of this following quote, because it is so easy to get lost in the focus of hitting your set times and keeping consistent with your interval reps, and to forget how beautiful it is just to run.

fa3c8c06b3b869bef9d1811b15e9c4cfSeeing Lee run, and finishing those tough 2km reps with Hamish and Charlie made me realise how much I had been missing out on through being a solo isolated runner.  It made those 2km reps easier and doable.  I had no question in my mind that I was able to do them, and that it would be easy to do them.  I have always viewed other runners as a form of competition, people I have to beat and be better than.  But I am learning to embrace other runners as inspiration, motivation and a challenge.  To not compete against others but to embrace and enjoy my solo sport with them.  Not only does it make the solitude of running more interesting, but I think it will make me a better runner overall.  I just wish I had discovered this running community, and my running family, sooner.

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