The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

You’ll need to forgive me for pinching the title of a classic book, but it so aptly describes what I am about to share.

On this day 10 years ago I completed the London Moonwalk challenge (absolutely nothing to do with Michael Jackson btw)

The challenge was power walking the route of the London Marathon throughout the night wearing pimped up bras in support of breast cancer.

Back in those days I loved setting myself tough physical challenges, it was a good excuse for keeping fit and also for focussing the attention away from the sometimes unbearable loneliness that I felt.

So, after 6 months of training, I set off alone to join thousands of other women all as crazy as me, wanting to raise awareness and pay homage to loved ones we had lost through breast cancer.

It was going to be a long night, we all had to arrive before 7pm even though we weren’t setting off until after 11pm, something about getting the hundreds of thousands of women registered in time.

By 10pm I was tired, it was my bedtime after all (oh and I was suffering from chronic endometriosis at the time, one of the side effects being frequent bouts of chronic fatigue) and someone had completely missed the point about having an afternoon sleep as they would be walking all through the night. Doh!

Armed with pockets full of dextrose tablets, I set off full of determination and focus.

My target was to complete the 26 miles in 6 hours. It was entirely doable from my perspective, as my average speed in the gym for power walking was 6km per hour.

But hang on road walking was different and there were hundreds, no thousands of women in front of me, treating it like a gentle stroll in the park.

I managed to negotiate my way past them, weaving in and out, in my determination to be up ahead.

Every now and then someone would make a comment about slowing down, I’d never be able to keep up the pace for the whole distance.

They clearly didn’t know who they were talking to.

I kept my head down and just ploughed on, eventually finishing the crossing line, 18 minutes after my target time. There were a number of people making the sorts of noises that sounded like congratulations and wow was that really the 1st time you have done anything like this? You must be so pleased with your overall time.

Were they really talking to me?

Me?

Pleased?

With being 18 minutes over my target time?

From where I was standing that was nothing to be pleased about.

It smacked of failure.

Sure, I completed the course, without any sleep for over 24 hours.

And even way ahead of many other women.

But I didn’t reach my target time.

And in my eyes, that wasn’t good enough and it sure as hell wasn’t anything to brag about.

So, I went home feeling like a total loser.

But it wasn’t really the fact that I completed the course in 6 hours 18 minutes that made me feel like a loser.

It was more to do with being there on my own, no one waving me off, no one cheering me as I crossed the finish line (except for the lovely volunteers of course) and no one to greet me as I got home tired and exhausted.

It was the loneliness that made me feel like a loser.

How at the age of 41 did I get to be so lonely?

When I look back at the 41-year-old me, I hardly recognise her.

My life has changed in so many different ways.

I am surrounded by loving supportive friends, I have a husband who wouldn’t dream of not supporting my crazy ideas and challenges.

But it’s not like they came in to my life and then I wasn’t sad and lonely anymore.

No, I had to do the work on myself first, I had to find that way out of sadness and loneliness for myself.

I had to complete one of the hardest, most gruelling challenges I have ever set myself.

I had to learn to love myself for exactly who I was.

I had to learn to celebrate my wins in life, big and small, even if they didn’t quite meet with my unrelenting high standards.

And I had to learn to let go and trust.

It was then that I found myself surround by loving supportive friends, who by the way had mostly been there all along, I just hadn’t been able to let them in.