Two years ago when I wanted to lose the last of my baby weight from having my second child, I decided to start running. The funny thing is that I had always hated running. I hated it! I couldn’t run for more than maybe two minutes without wanting to keel over and die. So the fact that I chose this exercise was very unusual. However, over a time period of about six months, I gradually got better and better at running. It was a miracle! I have several close friends that have been runners all their lives and finally, now that I could run a distance of at least three miles without stopping, they were constantly inviting me to run with them. I have accepted only a few times out of a sense of obligation, but most of the time, I always give some reason why I can’t join them. I just have never been comfortable running with a friend and here are a few of the reasons why:
The first reason is that I never feel that I am allowing my friends to run at their true desired pace. Let’s face it; all my running friends are way faster than me. We have run 5K races together many times and they always beat me by at least 4 minutes, so I know I am a slow poke. This fact only leads me to constantly obsess during my run whether or not my pace is slowing them down, annoying them, or if they are wishing they never invited me. Plus, I never feel that I can take breaks like I am used to. When I run alone, I can stop or rest whenever I want to. If I happen to get a really bad side cramp one day for no reason, I simply stop and walk it out. But I always feel compelled to never stop when I am running with my friends, which many times can be quite painful. I like the feeling of being completely in control of my actions when I run. If I want to break into a full out sprint just because I feel like I have extra energy at the moment, then I can. If I want to run a completely different route than I usually do and decide it on the spur of the moment, I can. When I run with a friend I don’t feel like myself but rather I am trying hard to be someone they approve of.
The second reason I prefer running alone is because I can listen to music on my mP3 player and get totally lost in my own thoughts. I think the reason that I never liked running all through my childhood and young adult years was because I didn’t have the ability to listen to music while doing it. The only thing really available when I was a kid like an MP3 player was a Walkman cassette player and then later, a portable CD player, neither of which I could afford or were very practical for use while running. I absolutely do anything and everything I can while listening to music; chores, work, exercise, etc. So while the thought of running and sweating my guts out for a solid thirty minutes outside in the heat may not be the most incredibly appealing idea to me, getting to listen to my favorite songs for thirty minutes does provide motivation. I also find that getting lost in my thoughts while running is a very good form of meditation. I have often gone running when I have a perplexing personal problem or a pressing worry that weighs on my mind and I always seem to be able to think clearly and release a ton of stress when I am completely alone to just think. If I were running with a friend I would feel obligated to talk about superficial things and try to pass the time. Running alone with music is very therapeutic.
Another reason I like to run alone is much more practical. If I were running with a friend I would not be able to listen to music at the same time, which would mean that I would need to keep a conversation going while running. I have not yet mastered the art of not breathing like I am about to go into cardiac arrest, so I can’t even really talk while running anyway! Me trying to talk while running would simply be me nodding or saying ‘yeah’ to whatever was being said to me. I would not be contributing to the conversation in any meaningful way.
Finally, when you run alone, you are free to go whenever it is a good time for you. There is no need to coordinate your schedule with someone else, pick a meeting place or plan around babysitters or naptimes. Nine times out of ten, I don’t decide to go running more than 20 minutes before I start my route. I just never know when I will find a window of opportunity that suits me and my schedule, so when one appears, I have to get up and go. This quality doesn’t make me a very good running partner, so it’s a good thing I prefer to go solo.
Running is not for everyone, and running with a partner is not for everyone either. If you are a social person that rarely does anything by yourself, the chances are you will gravitate towards wanting to run with a friend. It can provide you with good conversation, accountability to someone else and the motivation to continue exercising. However, if you are like me and you use exercise as a form of meditation, stress relief and freedom, hitting the trail by yourself might be the much better option.