Editor’s note: Below is one of our favorite columns, written a couple years ago by Sierra. Some circumstances have changed for her. For instance, her referred to fiancé, Dillon, is now her husband, and with a baby due this spring, her ever growing baby bump is always along for the ride on her runs and walks. But all her sentiments for why she loves going it alone still ring true.
Some of my very favorite things include traveling to new places, hearing my fiancé Dillon’s happy voice, giggle-inducing people, that first cheesy, saucy and world shifting slice of pizza when starving, meal planning, essentially anything cat related, and running alone. While exploring unknown trails and pondering life lessons with a good friend is also fulfilling, nothing compares to a good solitary run. Here are a few of my “why’s” for anyone who struggles to get moving without their preferred training partner.
Own Space/Own Pace: I like to run alone for the peace of it. Going earlier in the morning or during cold, rainy days helps me achieve an alternate world where I am one of the few people in it. No distractions. Occasionally creating your own space to run leaves you free to go the pace and distance you feel like. This is beneficial if you are training for something specific, like a new marathon personal record. Maybe one day you decide a half mile in that you need to call it, but the next day you feel rejuvenated and hit all your workout splits perfectly. Always running with a faster partner could leave you struggling to recover and at greater risk for injury. Running alone helps you develop the crucial skill of listening to your body.
Mental Strength: If the idea of running a hard workout alone seems unbearable, maybe you should try it. Having a team or friend to carry, push, and inspire you is certainly helpful, but completing something challenging on your own holds its own power. I did a lot of my workouts for my first marathon alone. Sometimes I warmed up and went home (listen to your body/heart). Sometimes I straight up crushed it, and these days were big confidence boosters – “If I can do that alone, then I can definitely hit my goal!” Sometimes I struggled, but got it done, and these were the workouts that meant something. This is how you practice pushing through walls when you find yourself in the dead zone or “no man’s land” during a race setting. If you can push when no one else is there to see if you let up, you can conquer.
Nirvana: A true runner’s high is an incredible experience. I’m not talking about the energy buzz you get when you finish a run or other workout. I’m talking about those rare moments when true ecstasy fills every fiber of your being. For me it’s similar to “flow”, a term from sport psychology, where an athlete becomes one with the task at hand, everything is effortless, and they are “in the zone”, but with more emotion. It’s fleeting, and hard to recreate. I can envision a specific section of the Interurban Trail where I have experienced runner’s high a couple of times. I’m in the middle of a 8-12 mile run and I come upon an island view to the right and, at this moment, a few rays of sunshine streaming through the trees. I’m going at a slightly quicker pace than typical for me, and all of the sudden I am overcome with this intense mix of joy and love and hope and peace and electric energy that makes me feel like I could solve all of the world’s problems and, that maybe, I already have the answers. It’s such an overwhelmingly emotional and spiritual experience that I’m not only on the verge of laughing, but crying at the same time. If you’ve never experienced this, you might think I’m out of my mind. If you have, you understand. If you want to, it’s one of those things I believe you can only experience when running alone.
Daydream Believing: While running, I have qualified for the Olympics, discovered the cure to cancer, written an award winning novel, won singing competitions, and discovered a hidden talent for salsa dancing while traveling to a foreign honeymoon destination. In real life, I am tone deaf, probably not going to the Olympics, and fail miserably to remember more than two contiguous steps in a fitness class let alone a dance class where you have to do it all to a beat. However, when I’m running, anything can happen. Envisioning yourself reaching your goals also makes you more likely to achieve them. If you can see it, you can be it.
Venting/Problem Solving: Dillon and I are building a house. Sometimes it’s stressful and makes us both irritable. Maybe we get in an argument about what kind of door to put where, and I say “I don’t care that much. Let’s just keep it the way it is then. I need to go for my run.” Then I leave and start running, not feeling so good. It’s hard to be frustrated and run at the same time because you need to also breathe to run. The first mile, my brain vents and lays out all of my feelings. Breathe. The next mile, I am anxious and hope that I didn’t hurt his feelings too badly. Breathe. The following mile, I think about how grateful I am to even have the opportunity to build on his generous parents’ property. Breathe. The fourth mile I’m convinced that even if he tells me the only possible door that can work for our house is a gigantic stop sign shaped, camouflage decorated, singular entrance door then I will be so excited for it and our life together. Breathe. The final mile, because I’m “Daydream Believing” (see above) a mysterious older man pops out from his beautiful, million dollar home on the trailhead and says “I see you running by every day, and I sure wish I could still run. I’m moving to Arizona, but let me sell you my home for $500.” After the run, I return to my sweet smiling Dillon who has made me breakfast, we apologize, and all is right again.
“What if I don’t feel safe running alone?”
When I was just starting to run, my mom wouldn’t let me go by myself. I was embarrassed and irritated when she would follow me inches behind in the car as I ran half mile sections back and forth in front of the house. Her fears weren’t completely irrational and, looking back now, I am grateful she cared. A girl was murdered a month after I was born, running with her dog on the same roads that I was now out running with my own dog 16 years later. I’ve also sillily called my fiance while running on a trail alone, panicked that I may have seen a cougar and asked him to come get me. It is the unfortunate truth that many of us don’t have the privilege to run outside our homes without having to entertain the possibility of attack or harassment from other people. And even though most animals are more fearful of us than we are of them, it is still good to be aware of our surroundings.
Don’t do anything you feel uncomfortable with, and keep some safety tips in mind.
1) Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Some Garmin watches also have live tracking that you can share with specific people to let them know where you are. They also have “incident detection” where if you fall on a run or bike ride, a text message will be sent to your “person” and they can see where you are and call you.
2) Run with a phone. SPIbelts are streamlined, don’t bounce, and help you carry your phone for that just-in-case incident. Many tights and shorts also have handy cell phone pockets now.
3) Pick populated trails. If you aren’t sure just yet about exploring secluded trails on your own, pick a popular route that you can still technically run alone, but many people are out and about to help if needed.
4) Switch up your route and carry your keys/pepper spray, and consider taking a self defense class. I love running at the same time most days, but changing time of day or routes will keep a potential predator from learning your habits. Carrying keys or pepper spray when you are more secluded can also help you protect yourself.
5) If you like to run with music, keep the volume low, leave one ear out, or try bone conduction headphones from Shokz. This will help you stay more aware of your surroundings.
6) Hop on a treadmill! While not as exhilarating, perhaps, as the great outdoors, you can still reap many of these running alone benefits by taking that “you time” and running on a treadmill if you have access to one.
Hope you all catch a bit of that runner’s high on your next outing!
Happy solo running,