We all have them. Runs when what we want and what we get are so different that we can’t hold it together. Runs when nothing goes right, nothing feels good, and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.
I should have known not to expect too much from this one. I hadn’t been able to run on the weekend, so this was a mid-day, mid-week, 12-mile, solo make-up run. To make things worse, it was two loops, never the best solution for me.
What made it so ugly? It wasn’t the course. I was running my favorite path along the Chicago lakefront, with views of the empty Belmont harbor and geese on the Lincoln Park lagoon. The path isn’t crowded in the winter, so there was a quiet peace that disappears with the coming of spring and summer.
It wasn’t the day. The weather was fine-cold, with only a little wind. The sky was a beautiful winter blue and the lake was vibrant. The city stood tall and stark against a backdrop of high clouds.
What made it ugly was me. I was angry that I had to run at that time of day, in the middle of the week. I was angry that there wasn’t a magic way to log the miles without putting in the time. Nothing about the way I approached the run was good, and nothing about being on the run was going to make it any better.
Looking back I can see I expected too much from that run. I wanted it to build up my mileage base and tear down my emotional walls. I expected my feet to carry me past where my heart was willing to go. I expected the run to set my spirit free while I held my soul hostage to the darkness of my mood. It didn’t happen.
The early miles were filled with the kind of hope that often marks my runs. I was a little stiff at first, but I’m often a little stiff. I was grumpy, but my grumpiness often gives way to pleasure as the miles pass. With each foot strike I waited for the magic moment when I would forget everything except the run, the moment when I would be inside of the movement and outside of my self. It never happened.
Starting the second loop was a concession, not a decision. All I really wanted was to stop, feel sorry for myself, and head home. I searched the path for other runners with whom I could share my self-pity. I tried to make eye contact so that I could pass my gloom on to someone else.
I realized I was angry with the runners who were enjoying themselves. I was annoyed that they were taking in the beauty of the day and frustrated by their lack of awareness of how much I was struggling. I was actually shocked at how completely unaware of my plight they seemed to be.
When the run ended, mercifully a mile short of my intended distance, I began the walk home, head down. Once my run was over, I wanted no part of the community of runners still on the path. I wanted no part of their joy, no piece of their satisfaction. I wanted only to wallow in my own pain.
I realized then that, for all the time we spend running with others, it’s still easy for us to isolate ourselves from the very people who can help us the most. Running is a solitary activity, but it needn’t be an activity of solitude. We may all run alone, but we need never run lonely.
There’s no way of knowing what another runner is feeling. There’s no telling what they’re running to or from. There’s no way of knowing what they want or are hoping to find in the day’s run. But one thing is certain. They, like we, are runners. And the process of putting one foot in front of the other binds us together.
Every run is a lesson. My ugly run taught me that the battle is still against myself, against the part of me that keeps me separate from people, not just runners. And, it taught me that too often the distance that separates me from others can’t be measured in miles.
Waddle on, friends.