Saturday, July 03, 2010
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
"The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," as a short story published in 1959 and again as a film in 1962, has undoubtedly cemented the image of the distance runner as a solitary soul in pursuit of his sport, consumed by thoughts unknown to the rest of the world.
He could as well be envisioning himself racing for the gold to the cheers of a thousand people on the stadium stands. Or perhaps moving like a deer effortlessly through the foliage and over twisted roots on a mountain trail. He alone knows. He alone runs.
Those who wield gutted rackets share a laugh or two with each other as they pair off, exchanging volleys on the court. Friends who run dribbling and passing the ball tease and call out jokes while sweating it out in a game. And cyclists share stories and not a few laughs on a group ride. There is truly more joy and fun in all these it seems than in long distance running.
But as I ran this morning on my 8k loop, I asked myself - is the distance runner really lonely in his solitary pursuit of his sport? Or is it just an image seen by those who do not see beyond the single, sweating, solitary figure chasing that invisible something in the wind?
I have almost always run alone, and I suppose most other runners do. I have ran in a group a number of times, enjoying the banter over a variety of distances and weather. We even ran in a downpour once. But I am mostly the lone wolf, burning the roads and the trails by my lonesome. There was joy in my runs with my friends, the same joy i found in my solitary runs.
Running isn't a happy endeavor. It wasn't meant to be. The heart beats fast, the lungs burn, the legs and feet ache after a while from the constant pounding, the arms grow tired too. But in my running I rediscover what I can do, I am reawakened to my capabilities, I experience freedom.
While running in the woods by his lonesome in the film, the rebellious main character Collin Smith is seen with an unquestionable aura of joy. Like an unshackled deer fully one with nature and the very essence of his being, he runs with jubilant abandon.
Colin was a solitary soul doing what he loves to do best, and he was far from lonely in his endeavour, just like any long runner distance runner.