I have a problem. It’s one I’ve faced many times before for different reasons. When I was working on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska for a summer between semesters, I found myself running 8+ miles daily and avoiding unhealthy food at all costs; this included beer and salty snacks. As far as the other staff at the fishing lodge were concerned, I was a social leper. I ran by myself, ate by myself, slept by myself (well, that’s not so unusual), and didn’t have too much time to socialize outside of work.
Running, for me, has always been a sport for loners. Oh sure, we can join in races and enjoy the camaraderie of athletes at our side, but unless we have training buddies who can match us step-for-step, right on our pace, we’ll either be hurting from running too slowly in an attempt to engage in conversation or too quickly as we ruin our training trying to keep up with someone at a different stage.
And in that gap lies the rub. Sure, high school and university track teams are usually in good enough shape so their members don’t have to overtrain or undertrain to be social, but the rest of us runners have more factors with which to contend: work, life, travel, eating habits, to name a few. We don’t always have a practice set aside like those kids in which we know exactly how far and how strong we need to run to meet our goals. And so, we often go at it alone.
I’ve often spoken on this blog about wanting to meet someone well-traveled and interested in running. The latter is not so much because I expect her to be able to keep up with my pace, but rather because I want her understanding as to what it means to be a runner. The thrill of the chase. The need for speed. The love of gripping the surface as we streak across the city.
Running in and of itself may not be conducive to socializing, but being a runner certainly is, in the same way I expect my future significant other to understand me better. Runners love to talk about places they’ve run, things they’ve eaten after a long run, and, in my case, running in different countries. It’s an excellent niche. In Austin, nearly everyone I know runs in some fashion, but when I’m abroad or in a “lazier” US city (i.e. not San Francisco, Austin, or Boston), running connects people on a deeper level than being an American ever could. Barefoot running doubly so.
Whether it’s being fit or eating healthy, such activities hurt our social lives to a degree. Let me clarify: I like to hang out with a variety of people, and I don’t want them to feel insulted if I don’t join them for a drink or order at a restaurant because I can’t throw off my diet. Both running and a healthy diet produce the same effect: being a loner.
Eating by its nature is a social activity. We use it in this modern world around dating, weekend gatherings, weddings, nearly everything that binds us. Why? Because everyone has to eat, so we might as well do it together and enjoy each other’s company.
But what if different people want to eat different things? What if there’s a vegan who doesn’t want to see his friends bite into a hamburger, or… I don’t know… someone trying to lose weight who can’t be tempted into joining a backyard BBQ because he thinks he might not have the willpower to resist wolfing down some of that delicious beef?
Yes, that someone is me. As I try to slim down and step up my training, I find myself more isolated from the human race. There are plenty of people online with whom I can chat without fear of offending the social nicety of not eating, but mostly, I’ve had to stay in my apartment and cook for myself so I can ensure I can stay on track with this plan.
I’ve taken two of what could be some of the most social activities – exercise and eating – and turned them into times for self-reflection and loneliness. It’s not as though we’re complete outcasts by staying fit and eating right, but I don’t think anyone can deny we significantly limit our social circles. You just find you have less reason to enjoy the company of someone who inhales donuts or would rather watch TV than go for a night swim.
Or maybe I’m just shallow. What do you think?