For many people, running is a strictly solo activity. Logging miles unaccompanied allows them the opportunity to escape the stresses of everyday life, puzzle out problems at home or work, or simply carve out some “me” time. I will admit that I, however, had an underlying fear of the solo run.
Without my fellow runners, I struggled with pace and the internal voices that harped at me to stop and walk. Instead of finding inner peace, I had a cacophony of complaints swirling through my head. My calves protested, my breathing felt all wrong, I went out too fast, and gave up far too easily. Group runs helped keep the nagging self-doubts at bay, and took my mind off the fact that running was not as graceful or effortless as it appears in Nike ads.
Because I began my running training through No Boundaries, I seldom found myself needing to run alone. I had a ready crop of fellow newbie runners to pair up with. Many of these folks felt the same trepidation as I did, too intimidated to remove the runner ‘training wheels’ and head out for runs on our own. While I love the company of my running peeps, I knew that if running was going to be the lifelong habit I wanted it to be, I was going to need to conquer my fear of solo running.
This fact was hammered home during my early races. I made the classic runner mistake of going out far too fast, running out of gas long before the finish line. In October 2012, I ran the Scare Away Brain Cancer 5k. It was my second race after completing 5k training, a flat, fast course with a smaller crowd. I remember passing the first mile as the announcer shouted out times and thinking, “Oh my, that’s too fast for me.” No sooner had the thought passed my brain when my lungs and legs piped up and agreed. In less than a half mile I was walking. I ran/walked the rest of the race, angry at myself and missing the feeling of fun and accomplishment that I had hoped for. I had psyched myself out, letting “I can’t” get the upper hand.
Fortunately, in my next race my boyfriend ran beside me, helping with pacing and talking me past my anxiety. I ran slower, but never stopped to walk. I had proven I could do it physically; I just needed to find a way to believe in myself, to relax, and find the key I needed to push myself mentally instead of depending on others.
The strategy I needed to run alone materialized by keeping in mind an old gag, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I stopped fixating on total mileage, or my apprehension that I couldn’t make that distance. Instead, I would focus on a nearby landmark and think, “I’ll just keep going to there, that’s not far.” Passing each milestone, I would throw out another. I began to relax, and feel more confident in my ability.
When the inner voice called out, “This is hard! It hurts! Stop and walk!” I would push on, calmly thinking I could run just a bit further, and then see how I felt. I’d inevitably regroup, start feeling good again, and my mind would move on to something else. I decided to think less about bad moments, and instead visualize the finish line, or the top of a steep hill. I imagine how good I will feel if I push myself a little, and make it without stopping. I learned to trust that I could.
Ironically, once I became more confident in running solo I became less upset about taking occasional walk breaks during my long runs, yet found I seldom needed them. As I became a stronger runner mentally, I developed into a better runner physically.
Christine DeHond is a relative newcomer to running, with a half-marathon, the Utica Boilermaker, and several other races under her belt. A Buffalo native, she has lived in Rochester since 1989 and currently works in Calibration Quotations at Transcat. She mentors beginning runners in the New Balance/Fleet Feet No Boundaries program and is always looking for new routes, new running friends, and the top of the hill.