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February 23, 2016 Comments (11) Featured, inspiration

The Art of Going Solo

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I don’t lack for running partners. As one of the lead members of the TAUR organization I’m pretty recognizable on the trails. My circle of running friends and acquaintances has grown to a number greater than I can count. And yet, often times I still find myself running alone. Whether due to conflicting schedules or a desire to have some time to myself, recently I’ve found that I have done most of my runs solo.

I don’t mind, I never have. I value the solitude that running alone offers. With just the sound of my feet as they move across the dirt and over rocks, I find the time I spend in my own head relaxing and meditative. I can run for hours alone in the mountains without music or any other type of distraction. Connecting with nature and my surroundings is what draws me there in the first place, so I value the time I have in building that relationship stronger.

The author running local trails along the Wasatch Front, UT

The author running local trails along the Wasatch Front, UT

Running alone can be a bit of an art form, however. Not everyone can or is comfortable doing it. For many who do it is a result of having no other option because they don’t have running partners. Others choose not to, simply because they fear the trails or what’s around them. That lack of understanding creates apprehension and a fear that results in avoiding running trails. Hopefully, the following tips will help you overcome your own fears and allow you to enjoy being where your heart truly lies, on the trails.

1. Turn down the noise – there is nothing wrong with running to music or an electronic book. It’s a good way to distract from the punishment you are putting on your body. However, that noise can also mask other sounds, such as wildlife, mountain bikers, or even other runners coming from behind. Getting startled by someone or something (or even the thought of having someone back there) creates a fear that lingers on future runs. If you want to listen to music, fine, but turn it down or take out one of your ear buds. It doesn’t need to be blaring when you are on the trails, the noise in your ears isn’t competing with anything else, except your own focus.

2. Be happy in your own head – when on trails you are truly alone. There are no cars, pedestrians, or other traffic to keep you company. And music, even when running alone on trails, will only keep you distracted so long. Learn to enjoy the time you have in your own head. Allow your mind to wonder or turn it off all together. Today’s society has created an environment where most people don’t know how to be alone (being alone in your house watching TV doesn’t count). Most people don’t know themselves and aren’t comfortable in their own mind. Learn to love that solitude and the opportunity it provides for you to get to know yourself better. My wife often asks me what I think about when I run for hours alone in the mountains without music. I never have an answer for her because I never really remember. Usually, a thousand different things go through my mind during that time, most of which isn’t significant enough to remember. But I value all of it and am grateful for the relationship I have with myself. Find that for yourself and you’ll discover a peacefulness you never knew you could have.

3. Understand nature – as previously mentioned, fear of the unknown is probably the most common reason for people to avoid trail running. Take the time to get to know where you’re running. If there are predatory animals, learn about them. Know their behavior patterns and how to react to them if you encounter one on the trail. What most people don’t know is that wildlife behavior is more often than not, predictable and somewhat controllable. Even the minimalist amount of research will better prepare you for the unknown and help you build confidence in your new found passion. If other factors present the greater risk know how to deal with those. Whether those are associated to weather, trail conditions, or just a bunch of weirdos squatting in the woods, know where you’re going and be prepared to deal with those situations.

4. Be prepared – the Boy Scouts have had this motto since they started more than 100 years ago. No other saying applies more aptly than to trail and ultra running. First, tell people where you are going and how long to expect you to be gone. Second, use technology. If you have cell coverage, take your phone. If not, try purchasing a SPOT tracker or other GPS trackable device. While pricey, they are a guaranteed way for your family and friends to know where you are at all times. Third, take bear spray or mace. Both come in easy-to-carry containers and will deter pretty much anything that crosses your path. NOTE: bear spray is 98% effective against bears and other wildlife. Guns are only 60%. Food for thought.

5. Keep your head up – the biggest risk you run when running on trails isn’t being eaten by a mountain lion or snatched up by some psycho, it’s falling down and getting hurt with no one there to help you get to safety. Chances of dying due to exposure outweigh those of dying by wildlife by more than 10 times (chances of dying by exposure are still only 1 in 3.8 million). Keep your head up when you run, not down at your feet. Keeping your eyes focused 10-12 feet ahead of you on the trail decreases the risk of tripping. Even if you aren’t looking at your feet, they will know where to land. Knowing what’s coming gives your body more time to react and thus reducing the risk.

The more time spent running trails alone the more you’ll realize that the biggest risk you have to fear is that created within your own mind. With experience comes confidence. Start out slow, be safe, take precautions, and you’ll find you have a long-term love affair with running solo in nature.

Share your thoughts and experiences in our Comments section. Maybe you have ideas that haven’t been shared in this article.

Matt Williams running through Zion National Park

Matt Williams running through Zion National Park

11 Responses to The Art of Going Solo

  1. […] The art of running solo. […]

  2. Bridget says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I run 99.9% alone on pretty empty trails depending on the time of the year and have had people tell me what I do is dangerous and reckless. But I feel running alone on trails can be safer than running with a group on a busy street– I’ve had more close encounters with cars and neighborhood dogs than wild animals.

    I agree with your safety tips for trail running solo, but I’d add letting family/friends know where you’re going and when you’ll plan to be back before you head out, bringing along a little extra water and food/gu than you think you’ll need, and carrying a basic first aid kit. There is so much beauty to admire and animal/nature noises to listen to on a trail run, that I never get bored running by myself and can save the music/podcasts for road running.

  3. Shanna says:

    I run alone on trails more often than not and I love it…during daylight hours. I am trying to conquer my fear of running at night or in the early morning in the dark alone. I am worried about predatory animals and humans because I can’t see them. I know these are fears I have created in my own mind. I carry pepper spray, a cell phone, hydration/fuel, and someone always knows where I am and when to expect me home. Any tips on how to overcome solo night running fears?

    • Craig says:

      Shanna, I run on trails 99% of the time and I’m still trying to overcome my fears of running in the dark. I still struggle with it. It’s what I get for having an over-active imagination.

  4. I do most of my runs alone and really do enjoy the solitude and peaceful paths that lead me wherever I am exploring. I think one thing that is lost sometimes is that by paying attention and removing the distraction you also find those perfect settings you might otherwise miss. The perfect way light is hitting the lake, or the fog is rolling out, or seeing a storm roll in, the elusive deer hiding, whatever.

  5. Raina says:

    Running alone can be so rewarding and it’s the only way to go sometimes.

    My biggest fear is injuring myself miles from the car with no chance of somebody coming by for hours, maybe days. When a solo trail run takes me to a spot like that, I always make sure to be prepared with plenty to drink a space blanket and a whistle.

    I didn’t know about the SPOT device~ I’m going to have to look into that.

  6. MICHELE says:

    I go for holiday in a place where bears live and i did many solo runs early in the morning without seeing a single bear. I am sure that bears and wolves have much better things to do rather than being seen by potentially dangerous humans. when I run solo in a narrow path i feel like a bear myself 🙂

  7. Yes yes! I find that running solo is my greatest source of CALM. It’s my time to clear my head and come back to myself…time to think even…be part of nature…a moving meditation. Stillness in motion…motion in stillness. Although I’m all about having a friend to join me from time to time, SOLO is my favorite. In Bend, OR , we have many trails that make you feel like you are far from civilization but yet not so far from others at all. In Asheville, NC, I ran in a few forests that left me feeling a little more nervous but still happy to be out there running free!

  8. Christian says:

    Thanks for this article! My runs are usually solo as well and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For me, its not as much about getting into my own head. It’s more about becoming hyper aware of my surroundings; that is outside my head. Solo runs let me see the trail and landscapes without the distractions of social interactions. And night runs give me a clearer sense of being alone when only a beam of light and the reflective eyes of various animals keep me company.

  9. Michele says:

    I stumbled upon this article 36 hrs before my first 55K race, and one that I am going alone, out of state, and very different surrounding!! Reading you article eases my worry and I will try and look forward to enjoy the solo trail running 🙂

    • Craig says:

      Michele, glad the article helped. Based on the timing of your comment and the distance at the race, can I assume you were at the Antelope Canyon 55k? I was there running the 50 miler. Maybe we crossed paths.

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