The unexpected joys of training alone

Just me and my trails.

Just me and my trails.

One of the things I liked about my previous job was that its schedule allowed me to join a trail running group on Tuesday nights. At the time, I was still trying to get into decent shape and just didn’t know many people in the city where I had recently moved. A run group would help kill two birds with one stone, I thought.

I like my current job a lot better. But the hours make it to where my Tuesday nights with the run group are no more.

I tried to see if anyone in the group was available for group runs during the week or on weekends. I had a couple takers – people whose hours were as weird as mine. But in time, folks flamed out. Their schedules changed, their priorities evolved and whatnot.

So the reality is this: Most guys train alone, and most women only feel comfortable training with other women. And it’s really hard to find training partners who have a similar fitness level and work hours as me.

So this means that nearly every run that I do is a solo deal.

There are negatives to this, namely on what I miss out on. I usually run stronger when in a group or with a partner. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it’s common knowledge that you work out stronger when you’ve got a training buddy. Partners push you and hold you accountable. Discussion during a run can be a distraction away from the suffering. People can also exchange new ideas.

People are social animals. It’s one of the reasons why large groups of people will enter races together, or just enter races in general, to feel the energy of hundreds, or thousands, of people surging toward a finish line. I always run stronger in races than I do when training.

But while training, I’ve got none of that.

So I mostly run alone. And I’m OK with that.

There are a lot of reasons why. Part of it is that I enjoy the solitary time. I get to think a lot. Meditate some. Pray. Unwind. But that’s just what’s going inside my head. There’s way, way more to it than that, this thing about how comfortable I’ve become hitting the streets and the trails on my own.

For starters, the lack of human distractions means I notice much more about what’s going on around me.

My last trail run was a couple of days ago in the middle of the day. The day before I’d done a series of 800-meter intervals (by myself – no one I know is crazy enough to do them with me in the heat), and it was freakin’ hard. So the plan for the next day was a nice, easy-going route in the woods to get some miles in but take the intensity down a notch or two.

When I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, there were five or six cars there. Most folks were still at work, and those who weren’t probably didn’t think a trail run or bike ride in 99-degree temperatures was a good idea.

I warmed up slowly, running a little and hiking some before hitting the first, long stretch of the run. It was a trail following a series of powerlines, meaning that I was exposed to the sun. It would be easy to gripe about the heat, but the sensation of the sun’s intensity was invigorating. Call me weird.

And even though the heat chased away most of the people, there was plenty of life all around.

Birds were still calling out.

Cicadas played their high-pitched calls in symphony.

A couple of lizards dashed across the trail in front of me, scurrying for shade.

Squirrels and snakes rattled around in the undergrowth.

These are the things that would have been mere background noise with a partner or in a group. But on my own, they played a soundtrack to this little adventure.

I did see people, though very few. One old dude walking out of the woods at the trailhead. A much-younger, much stronger runner tearing up the trail while I plodded along. A lone cyclist banging his way through the rocks. A fella exercising his blue heeler.

I also ran up on a young couple hiking through the woods. They were probably in their early 20s or so. The girl was dressed for the weather – tank, shorts, athletic shoes. The dude, however, was in full hipster attire, donned in a T-shirt, a thin hoodie, jeans and a knit hat – you know, the kind of cap that gives many hipsters the unfortunate moniker of “sockheads.”

Did I mention it was 99 degrees?

They said hi, and I returned the greeting, all the while marveling at the young man’s wardrobe choice. Fashion trumped function, it would seem.

But just how much of this would I have missed had my attention been at least partially consumed by running partners? What details would have gone unnoticed? Who knows.

The truth is, that day’s run would have been a totally different experience with company, and maybe not as memorable. I have hundreds of runs, all solitary affairs, under my belt that are exactly the same way.

Perhaps a group run, or a run with a training partner, would have been memorable in other ways. But I doubt those memories would have been as vivid.

I miss those groups runs. But I don’t regret my solo jaunts.

Not one bit.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


2 thoughts on “The unexpected joys of training alone

  1. Good piece, as usual! Perhaps I’ve exercised with the wrong people, but I find solo workouts more rewarding, without exception. For me, running (or the elliptical, or even doing supersets) is a meditative experience and it’s more difficult to focus when there’s a crowd. (As a woman, I think that makes me an extreme outlier — you’re absolutely right about many women disliking exercising alone.)

    • Ah, a kindred spirit! I’ve enjoyed by runs and workouts with other people, but the best and most memorable workouts have been on my own. I’d say you’re less of an outlier and more of an aesthete. It’s more than just the work done, it’s about the entire experience. I totally get that.

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