I’ve always been primarily a lone runner. When I started running that was because I didn’t know anyone else who ran, but even though I’ve been an Ealing Eagle for four years, I still do most of my running on my own. That’s partly because I like to run first thing in the morning and it’s hard to find people who want to set off at 6:30am; partly because running is my headspace and I really enjoy the solitude and opportunity to just be, to experience what Mark Rowlands calls the ‘freedom of spending time with the mind’; and partly because in a marathon you need to draw on your own resources to keep going, particularly in the Palestine marathon which I’ve trained for for the last three years, and so it makes sense to me to get used to that in preparation. I’ve really appreciated the running I have done with other people, especially long runs leading up to marathons, but my default type of running is solitary.
So in this enforced season of running differently, I’m rediscovering the joy of running with other people. A few weeks ago I did parkrun with my friend Tracey who had treatment for cancer last year and who is a wonderful, hopeful embodiment of the life that will return. Last Saturday I went to Wormwood Scrubs to do parkrun with Azariah, and have been asking myself all week why I’ve lived in London for 20 years and yet have never been there before. As we ran, Azariah came out with the African saying ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’ which seemed very apt. And then there’s my chemo run companions who make the journey to Charing Cross light and life-giving, when the thought of it is the exact opposite. I genuinely couldn’t do those runs without them.
Truth be told, I can be quite a solitary person a lot of the time, someone who is self-sufficient, who sorts things out for herself and tends not to ask for help. I made a conscious decision at the start of all this, to accept every comment, message or offer in the spirit in which it was intended and to welcome people into this strange space with me, rather than attempting to do it alone. Presence is a very powerful thing, to be with someone without needing to fix them or change things, to help them explore their reality without telling them what to do or how to do it, to go at their pace, not yours. Presence doesn’t even have to be physical; there are people who I know are with me even though I haven’t seen them since this began. Not everyone can offer it, and I get that, but I am touched by those who do and it’s made me realise again that I am loved more than I ever knew.