Loneliness is an emotion which I have ignored. I’ve refused to believe that I deal with it. But over the course of the last few weeks, I have been struck with the unexpected confirmation that loneliness is a strong driving factor in my life.
Due to the fault of no one and without realizing what was happening, I have become lonely. I have become comfortable with the constant companion which is loneliness. In some ways, this is good for a writer. I am capable of sitting in my thoughts and mulling them over without feeling drawn to distract myself with other activities or people. I am reminded of a quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”
In many ways, the loneliness makes sense for a long distance runner. For a while now I have attempted to understand why exactly I chose to run. The closest explanation I have come to reasons it as some sort of kismet. I dreamt of adventure and the barrier to entry in running was quite low compared to others. Running allows the uninitiated to arrive on mountain peaks and get lost in dense woodland zones and receive the peak emotional bliss typically reserved for climbers and mystics. So loneliness never struck me as a reason. I never thought of this hidden, blocked out emotion as a reason for why I ran. Perhaps I recognized that it lingered in the outskirts of my mind, but I never felt it drove me to accomplish or achieve anything.
But then, of course, I think about what has offered me the most fulfillment in running. And, by and large, it has been when my goals have been achieved side-by-side with others. The antithesis of loneliness. This is a reason why I find social media, when it comes to running, so dangerous and powerful: the modicum of pleasure I receive when a Strava activity receives kudos is strong enough to convince me that I am not lonely, but it only acts as a band-aid. I’ve been feeling empty for a while with my running, and it likely has to do with my lack of sharing physical experiences. I have let the false sense of connectedness replace the real camaraderie that I receive when physically sharing an experience with another.
When I think about my favorite moments in running, I think about my first stage race. I don’t think about in what place or in what time I finished. I think about the lifelong friend I made after running with him for almost the totality of the 155 miles. Amazing how close you can become to someone while sharing those miles. I experienced intense hunger, cramps, complete muscle breakdown, anger, and occasional joy (usually at the end of a day) and yet I never felt one thing: loneliness. Never.
I think about meeting up with another friend and traveling through Patagonia with him. Choosing crazy runs---for me at the time---and bouncing up and down mountains while winds buffeted us at unnatural speeds. Feeling lost in the middle of the snow while not being dressed properly. I felt as if my hands were going to freeze off. But again, there was no such thing as loneliness that existed.
I’m not saying that I chose running to confront loneliness. I don’t think I consciously or unconsciously did that. I chose running because of the possible adventure and the desire to push myself to the limits and quite frankly beyond the limits of anything I had ever experienced before. And yet, through running I have slowly realized that I have a more intimate relationship with loneliness than I ever realized before. I won’t say that there was a certain point at mile 90-whatever when I had a “come to Jesus” moment and realized this. It has been an evolution of my self knowledge that would have possibly taken years longer to realize: largely because of the inordinate amount of time that I have spent alone over the past 2 years. And largely because of the non-traditional way of making friends that comes with the sport.
All that to say that I am blessed to be a part of this sport. I currently have a new team in SWAP with my coach David Roche. I am surrounded by a ton of wonderful runners in Boulder. I am beginning to realize what is important. Cheers to learning more through running in 2018. I’m thankful that the sport has already taught me so much.