The thing that surprised me most about training for a marathon was the loneliness. When I signed up for my first marathon two years ago, I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. I knew the next few months would be full of self-doubt, a stricter workout schedule, and frantic Google research on if beer counts as a recovery drink. However, I was not prepared for how lonely the preparation period, not to mention the marathon itself, would be.
In college, I was very aware of the fact that the women’s cross country team was regarded as a gang of crazies. What’s more, I was prideful of our reputation. I once ran 8 miles on an indoor track at 10 pm on a Friday night because a track meet had been rained out, and I’d rather run than head to a party. The key, though, was that I didn’t do any of this training alone. I ran those 8 miles alongside one of my best friends, and my girl gang was always there to commiserate with during early morning workouts.
It wasn’t until I began training for the first marathon that I realized how lonely it can be to work towards a goal without a gang of fellow runners to cheer me on. Weekly long runs that only fit into my weekend schedule meant repeatedly missing nights out with my friends in favor of solo, sober Netflix in bed. Plus, preparing to face a new challenge brought on a wave of anxiety and self-doubt that I had to face alone — after all, you can only complain to your friends about mystery aches in your foot for so long. Finally, the marathon itself (especially my first, the Mad River Marathon in Vermont) is incredibly individual. All my former experiences with road races had involved running with a team and had been marked with a general ‘laissez-faire’ sentiment. For my first marathon, I was alone, and I was trying my hardest to score a good time. And it was the loneliest race in the world. The Mad River Marathon includes a half-marathon and a relay race, all of which are run simultaneously. So, even though I was surrounded by runners at the start line, I was alone on a hill in Vermont my mile 18. And, when you’re alone on a road and in pain, it’s hard not to want to give up.
Today, nearly two years and several marathons later, I’ve learned that the answer to loneliness is to stay focused. As an adult, there are far fewer people on the sidelines to cheer you on towards your goals: parents have taken several steps back, significant others just want you to be happy, and only a handful of us have teammates or coaches. So, to combat that voice in my head that tells me to stop trying so hard, I make sure to remember how I felt when I decided to challenge myself, and envision how it will feel to cross that finish line. It may sound truly psycho, but that focus is the best company on the days when I’m all alone, running track repeats at 6 am on a Monday.