Tomorrow, I will attempt to finish my second ever half marathon. I’m signed up to run the Holy Half – a 13.1 mile stretch that includes two laps around Notre Dame’s campus.
I feel confident enough – I’ve done my training. I’ve got plenty of layers for the cold, and my usual pre-run breakfast – two bananas, coffee with honey and half-n-half, and a Gatorade mixed berry flavored water (which I will drink half before the race and the rest after). My phone alarm is set for 6:15 a.m., and the alarm clock in my hotel room for 6:30.
The drive here was a little over four hours. It was gray day with patches of rain, but I didn’t mind. I hit the road with a large hazelnut latte and the audio book “Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel downloaded from my Audible app. The book is about a man who lived for 27 years in solitude deep in the woods of Maine. He was arrested in 2013 after being caught stealing supplies from a campsite. Throughout his time living as a hermit (a label he doesn’t like, and never thought himself to be), he stole food from campers, along with other supplies like batteries and razor blades and soap. He liked video games and books, and was an avid reader. One of my favorite passages is when he tells the author, “I don’t like people who like Jack Kerouac.”
All those years in the woods, and he didn’t write anything down. When asked why he didn’t keep a journal, his response was: “When was a journal ever honest?” It was the perfect book to listen to as I drove by myself to South Bend at the very top of Indiana.
At 9:00 a.m. I will be among 1700 runners, but running by myself. And then, after the race and hopefully after a shower if I can get back to my hotel before my check-out time, I will drive back home alone. I like road trips by myself. I like being alone. I think it’s an only-child thing. I have siblings, but the first one didn’t show up until I was nine years old. I imagine I was already well-baked into my ways by then.
The book talks about people who have a higher propensity to live in solitude – that there’s a chemical make-up resulting in people either needing to be around other people or needing to be left alone. The author even talks about his own tendencies to be somewhat of a loner – living the life of a writer, a career carried out most often alone. In the same sentence he mentioned his favorite exercise being long distance solo runs by himself.
Sounds familiar, I thought, realizing why I was so thoroughly enjoying a book about a recluse.
When I was young – maybe eight, ten – I used to pretend my full-size bed was a adrift at sea. I would make myself a snack plate, or grab a bag of chips, and have whatever book I was reading, my diary, sometimes crayons and paper to draw with, and I would see how long I could stay on my bed pretending I was drifting away all by my lonesome. One of my favorite birthday gifts ever was a round raft the size of an eight-top table that came with an anchor. Nearly every year from the time I was seven until after college, I was usually at the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama with my family – not just my immediate family, but aunts, uncles and cousins. The summer I got the raft, I spent every single day of vacation on it – floating for hours with my book and my yellow Sony Walkman, literally adrift at sea. It was heaven.
Tonight, I’m not adrift – but I am alone. I went to a restaurant alone. I roamed around one of the biggest Barnes & Nobles I’ve ever been in alone. And right now, I am alone in my hotel room, typing away on my laptop, and getting anxious about the race. But beneath the race anxiety is an excitement – I will have a solid two-plus hours, just me, in my own head…and that is more thrilling than any fear I have about finishing a 13-mile run.