As a long distance runner who often runs solo one question I often get asked is, ‘Don’t you get bored?’ While I’d be lying if I said I never got bored, it’s more the exception than the rule. What I’ve learned during my seven year foray into Ultrarunning is that I personally possess two traits that make Ultrarunning, especially in the mountains, a good fit. The first is I have a strong ability to disassociate from situations, think ‘zoning out’, and secondly I’m an Introvert. DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert in either field, the text below merely represents my opinions based upon my own reading, observation and personal understanding of these topics.
The first topic is still something that is not too well understood, but was highlighted by a study performed by Dr Aharon Shulimson using QEEG to look at the brain wave patterns of Ultrarunners who had finished 100mile races. In Ultrarunning Magazine (“This is Your Brain on the Wasatch 100”) Dr Shulimson published his preliminary findings that all of the Ultrarunners he tested showed increased Theta and/or increased Beta brain wave activity above the ‘normal’ population. In total, one possible significance of this data is that many of us have a higher than normal ability to ‘zone out’ or to spend our many miles on the trail just lost in our own thoughts. These results are just preliminary, and while they don’t prove whether this phenomenon was the chicken or the egg, it’s definitely a beneficial trait for those of us who compete in 50mile and 100mile events. Now for part 2…..
Hello my name is Eric; I enjoy long walks (runs) on the beach, watching sunrise, star gazing and long solo runs in the mountains, basically what I’m saying is that I am an introvert. Many of you may be familiar with the terms introvert and extrovert, many of you may even have a very strong understanding of what those two terms mean and how they interact, but for the sake of discussion I’ll start from scratch. An introvert is one who gathers energy from individual and reflective time, while an extrovert is one who gathers energy from social interaction and from external stimulation. An introvert is NOT inherently antisocial, shy or quiet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t introverts who are, it’s just not the rule. Introversion-Extroversion is also not a black and white distinction, but rather a whole gray scale in between. Some have a stronger need for social interaction or quiet time to recharge, while others need more of a mix of the two to feel balanced, I fall somewhere near 70%/30% Introvert. As you can imagine, long solo miles on the trails and in the mountains better serve an introvert’s needs than an extrovert’s, advantage us.
You may ask, “but Eric, you’re fairly social and friendly, shouldn’t that tire you out?”, and the answer is yes it does, but I’m also fortunate enough to have a job where I get to work alone much of the day and I spend quite a bit of my running/training time solo recharging. It’s not that us introverts don’t enjoy social interaction, it just requires more energy from us. So the next time you see me at a social event sneak off to the side to observe the crowd, give me a moment to relax and recharge, I promise everything is ok.
Part of the misunderstanding and condemnation of introverts comes from an American society based around the thought that constant action, speaking your mind and being a ‘go getter’ are sought after traits. While the quiet and more thoughtful personality types are deemed weaker and often don’t get their voices heard (general stereotypes, thus not always true). An introvert doesn’t have fewer ideas or less conviction, they just contemplate and evaluate each thought more thoroughly before speaking, hence why many of us don’t do well with the conventional ‘small talk’, especially in large groups. Now if there is a topic an introvert is very passionate about we can talk your ear off, but that’s only because the ideas are often already well formulated and contemplated. Even the most introverted person can appear extroverted at times, but in the end they’ll need that individual reflective time to recharge their batteries.
I’m not saying don’t talk to me or other introverts, just to be aware that when I say I want to stay home and watch a movie by myself or I need to go for a run solo, its not you, it really is ME. Every introvert and extrovert finds their own ways to recharge, just be conscious that different personality types require differing levels of interaction. Whether they are your regular running partner or your significant other, an introvert will need some time to themselves, just give them a hug and let them do their thing. If you’re interested in reading more about the topic there are a couple of fantastic books out; “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney and “Quite” by Susan Cain. Or if you’re interested in finding out your Meyers-Briggs personality type, here is one of many free tests you can take (I’m an INTJ). Of course I’m always happy to share my thoughts and insight over a beer or on a run, as long as I get some time to recharge. Special thanks to Misti for sharing her thoughts and insight on these topics. I’m also excited to announce that in 2014 I’ll be continuing my sponsorships with Hind and Vfuel! Run fast, run healthy, but mostly run happy.