Running is an individual sport. I’m far from the first or the only one to describe the self as every runner’s true opponent, as I do in my book. The real limitations are not the challenges by other runners during a 5K or a marathon. Instead, they come from within. In my case: old notions of fundamental weakness stemming from a tough time as a kid and a time of illness and hospitalization as a teenager.
The struggle against those inner voices —I can’t!— is individual. Yet it does not have to be lonely.
Last Saturday’s 20 miler proved this point once again. It was not a race, but an organized long run at which the New York Flyers paced. I had never been a pace leader, but I felt it was my time, alongside the speedy and solid fellow Flyers Leslie and Gordon. There was some chatting and joking with old and new friends. But mostly I sensed a collective focus on our sub 7:30 pace, which we maintained like clockwork, with some going for a sub-6 in the final mile (which would not include yours truly, no).
Ever since I joined the Flyers in early 2009 I have been surprised, sometimes moved by the camaraderie and support of fellow runners in Central Park and beyond. Most often, it’s not through words. It’s more of an unspoken bond, which has helped me overcome some of my fears, doubts and demons.
‘Our worlds barely overlap,’ I write in my book about first meeting fellow club members, ‘but we find each other in something essential during soaking loops in the fall rains and lovely runs in the evening sun, when the silent park isolates us from the hectic outside world.’
In that same chapter I quote Christopher McDougall, whose book Born to Run ranks very high on my must-read list for runners, right alongside Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In order to run well it is important to step outside oneself, McDougall writes. And it’s easier to step outside yourself, he and I both agree, while thinking about someone else.