One of the reasons I love running is that it’s there for life. While all sports have their benefits to young athletes in school, running is one of the few that you can truly weave into your lifestyle forever, team or no team. But although it’s true that you can always run by yourself, it can be hard to stick to it and train smart, especially if you spent your entire middle school, high school, and college experience as part of a running team.
A team, especially a college team, provides so much reliable structure and support; your teammates and coaches become family. You know your practice schedule, your lifting schedule. You go to meals and races and parties with your teammates. Your coach tells you when to push and when to take it easy. The athletic trainers are a free resource, helping you navigate every ache and pain. Then you graduate, there are lots of training options, but how do you deal with the loss of that support system?
Once you’re on your own, the freedom to run or not run lies solely with you as an individual. And it’s the same with the freedom to race or not race, the freedom to do the core work or not, the freedom to skip a workout because it’s raining.
That’s a lot of choice, and while choice can be great, it can also be paralyzing.
For me, the struggle was real. I had always run as part of a team. I had maybe done one or two runs a month solo since I started taking running seriously in 7th grade and here I was, a 22-year old college grad with no good running buddies nearby.
Going from running as my social time to running as my me-time felt awkward. And at first doing workouts by myself felt ridiculous; why should I keep sprinting around a track if there wasn’t someone in front of me to chase down or a coach yelling out splits at every turn?
I ache for the camaraderie that always felt so natural on my cross-country and track teams growing up. I miss knowing exactly who I should be chasing from the other team in a race and I miss gauging my success on effort and place. I miss having a coach hold a stopwatch while I haul ass around the track. I miss dragging my sweaty body out of the grass to wander down to the dining hall with my friends.
But there’s a silver lining; I think I’ve found a way.
I have come to embrace running as my solo time. I love the sunrise runs by myself, when I get to think about the cool things my middle school students are going to say that day. I love having friends who talk about things other than black toenails and BodyGlide. I’ve become obsessed with picking the perfect races for me, and I’ve gotten to know myself so much better as a runner. I know when I can push and when I need a break, and that intuitive sense of who I am as an athlete only came after I lost the structure of my competitive teams.
I feel so lucky that I picked a sport I can do forever, with or without a true team. And hey, I’m optimistic! I bet I’ll someday find that perfect running buddy, or two, who will put up with me whining about a sport that I voluntarily choose to take part in day after day after day.
Until then, I’ll keep group-texting my high school and college teammates while I lace up my shoes solo. If you’re in the same boat, or will be soon, or have been for a while, know that running will probably never be the same as it was in your college days. But also know that that’s okay, because you’re not quite the same as you were in your college days, either. The best part about being a runner is that it can be whatever you need it to be. Running will grow with you if you let it, and it will help you grow too as you find your way in the grownup world.