First, let me say this: Many people enjoy running with people. In fact, the herd of women decked out in matching windbreakers who scamper down my street Sunday morning might as well be at brunch: they laugh, they gossip. They just happen to be running while they do it.
For me, running with others is my own private hell. Don't get me wrong; I like (some) people, and I'm a social person - but there is a time and a place to be solo. When you're sweaty, wheezing and moving as fast as you possibly can is one of those times.
I've attempted two Running Room clinics. I have dropped out both times (shocking, I know.) I enrolled because I wanted to learn running techniques, not make friends with strangers.
But the first session I attended, the instructor had us answer personal questions ("Have you had success in online dating?") on mock race bibs in order to "break the ice" and "get the conversations going" while we ran. It was like an ugly combination of frosh week and step class: experiences I'd never wish on anyone.
It wasn't long before I was trailing behind a troop of happy women thrice my age who were literally runningcircles around me, chanting "scoop! scoop!" I felt inferior - and in no hurry to learn about a stranger's love life.
It wasn't until the first time I ran alone on a crisp fall day - stopping when I felt like it, snapping pictures on the route as I pleased - that I actually discovered the joy of running. It was just me and Jay-Z, watching the storefronts pass and finding our groove. "On to the next one," he demanded, and I obliged.
Running has become an escape for me. See you later friends, work, family, responsibility. Back in an hour (or 20 minutes). I don't wish to catch up, receive an over-the-top "you can do it!" (because really, how do you know?) or feel judged (whether it's valid or not).
I've tried to hide my feelings on the subject, but my caring friends and family are in hot pursuit. "We should go running after work," or "Hey, I'll sign up for that 5K and we can cross the finish line together!" or "Why don't we talk it over on a nice little jog this morning?" No, no and no.
My roommate runs as if she's being chased. On our one and only jaunt, I told her to "Go on without me" like a defeated soldier, after 15 minutes. Jogs with my father, wise man that he is, usually end up in leisurely strolls and lively debates about Twitter, the infield fly rule, or the legitimacy of pulp in orange juice. Great fun, but it's no workout (sorry, Dad.)
In an effort to feel the importance of a running buddy, I decided to leave mine at home this week. Jay-Z and I parted ways, and I was on my own for 5K without my iPod.
I surprised myself, and was able to complete the entire run without stopping. I listened to my feet hit the pavement, made a mental grocery list and decided on dinner. But it was lonely out there. I wasn't peppy and no one was propelling me forward. It just wasn't fun.
So I get it: every runner needs their own source of entertainment, a way of distracting themselves. For you it might be catching up with a friend. For me, it's blissful solitude with a little Jay-Z. It's the easiest way for me to run this town, forever young, in an empire state of mind and forget about my 99 problems.