The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

By Brett Hutchins

It is the inescapable truth that lock down has meant everyday loneliness for far too many people. Even in a world proliferated by Zoom and TEAMS (where we are potentially ‘connected’) the subjective negative feelings and the space within and without remains empty. I can’t deny I have felt it.

I’ve always thought I desired to be truly connected. But to whom, or what has now more than ever become a recurring question. During the last year I have realized my idea of ‘connection’ (a view I held even as a child) may seem somewhat unusual or evening a failing to some and may have led to self-doubt and ultimately depression. If I am striving to be less lonely and more connected then why have I craved solitude and why has that led to feeling like I have somehow ‘failed’?

Western society has a predilection towards taking away spaces of solitude. If we are in the room with others, we are socially obligated to make small talk. Which personally, I honestly can’t abide. But if we are with others there is an assumption we are less ‘lonely’.

It could be argued that there is a cultural bias against introverts; our school and workplaces are designed for extroverts, who need a lot of social stimulation. Group assignments and collaboration are important skills that should be encouraged – as a teacher I know more than most this skill has been neglected of late.

But it appears society has a bias against people who enjoy solitude. Think about the term “lone wolf” — it inherently has a negative connotation. But some people prefer to watch movies alone, eat alone, or simply be alone for a period of time. Some people need to be alone.

In believe it’s possible to experience solitude while we are in a room with other human beings. For this to occur however, ironically, the connection between the individuals must be strong.

The common conception is that when someone spends time in solitude, away from others they may experience changes to their self-concept. This can also help a person to form or discover their identity without any outside distractions. Solitude also provides time for contemplation, growth in personal spirituality, and self-examination. Spending time in solitude therefore is not spending time alone.

Solitude allows us to be free from the influences. However, as humans, it’s natural for us to think about how we are perceived by others. Solitude allows us to find our true values – not those imposed upon us. Solitude gives us the chance to look at the big picture and, when surrounded by a beautiful trail, our place within it. Solitude allowed us to realize that social expectations (and social media) often invite loneliness in. Solitude allows us to get in touch with the most important mind of all — our own.

I have a 30 mile solo run planned for next weekend. I have no expectations regarding pace, I’m not racing anybody else. I’m not racing at all. It will probably be physically exhausting but when it’s done I will feel refreshed and renewed.

Friends have recently said that coming out of lock down is something that causes them to feel anxious. Why? Because they will once again feel the pressures of society to go to that gathering, attend the BBQ, or party, or after work drink…. The list goes on.

Thanks but think I’ll go hit the trail.

The Loneliness of the long distance runner, 1959, has a by-line that seems rather apt.

“you can play it by rules… or you can play it by ear – what counts is that you play it right for you…”