Battle Buddy Series – A Prayer for the Lonely

A Prayer for the Lonely

by Darian McIntosh

Dear runners, as we continue on this journey together, I have not been so misguided as to forget that we are in a pandemic. Here I am spouting on about the benefits of having a battle buddy by your side while protocol dictates we keep 6 feet away from each other at all times. Easier said than done, right?

Before we begin, let’s recap from A Prayer for the Complacent, part 2 of my series. I tell the tale of the last marathon I ever ran in 1996. 

Did you catch that?   

Yes, you read that right. 1996. Nearly 25 years ago.

Now, I have asked myself the same question you may be currently asking yourself.

What could an almost 47-year old stay-at-home mom, who gained 30 pounds since the pandemic began, possibly have to say that is helpful to marathon runners? 

When deciding what advice I could give to anyone running a race, I usually like to start with the psyche and find out the many reasons why a person may want to do whatever it is they want to do. Now, that I do have some personal experience with. Certainly not on a professional level but I, like many of us, have always wanted to know why.

There are so many podcasts and documentaries out there on serial killers. Why? Because we want to understand how anyone could be so horrible. What happened in their childhood to make them this way?

There are so many different kinds of scientists who study daily and perform experiments in an effort to learn about everything the eye can see and beyond. They have since the dawn of man. Why? Because without them, we wouldn’t understand anything about the universe and all of the contents within. We are fascinated.

To learn the reasons why a person wants to do something physically taxing to their body in a test of endurance could help us better understand why community is so important. And why, listening to the rantings of a person who has little to no endurance may not be such a bad idea, after all. Allow me to explain….

Should you be a person who, shortly after birth, displayed a natural litheness and superior gait to those of your peers, who never had a body fat count above 8%, religiously eats a variety of colorful vegetables while consuming 8 glasses of water a day and is the poster child on your doctor’s office wall…well, I would have to say to you WELL DONE! Please don’t listen to me. Keep up the great work, you are amazing. BTW…do you have a blog I could follow?

Most of us are not quite at that level. If you are one of the individuals who has chosen to run a race, I am betting you have various reasons why and your own level of readiness.

To many people, running a full marathon sounds near impossible. Some of us want to know if we can achieve the impossible. We want to know how far we can push our limits. Race-running is as much a test of mental endurance as it is a testament to the physical. Perhaps even more so.

Factor in a full-blown pandemic to alter everything we know about how to achieve the impossible dream and now you have an entirely different kind of test of mental endurance: LONELINESS

If this new epidemic has taught us anything, it is that we are ALL battling demons. EVERY LAST ONE OF US.  

Writing our Story

For every epic saga that contains an oh-so-relatable superhero, there are similar stories that contain the anti-hero. The one that doesn’t have it all figured out. The one who might do things a bit unconventional but is doing his or her best to be a little better than they were the day before. If storytelling is the thread that weaves together the bonds within societies, then it is important to always allow for different perspectives. Therefore, both versions of the hero are equally important. 

Now, how does this relate to training for a marathon during one of the most difficult periods in recent history? Well, for one, community looks a whole lot different than it used to. If you are not one of the fortunate ones that happen to have someone willing to train and run a marathon with you within your closest circle of family and friends, finding your battle buddy is already infinitely harder. Unless you like to always train harder than you ever have before with your mask on and staying 6 feet apart. I didn’t think so.

Most of us have never been through a pandemic of this magnitude in our lifetimes. What we are all discovering is that it has forced us to redefine how we do most things. 

 Connectivity and community are the lifeblood of any society

While we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief for the internet, it does not replace what we ultimately all need and that is the universal need to bond. My son is a self-proclaimed hermit who chose to move out and get an apartment on his own. Even he has been suffering from too much of a good thing. I don’t care if you identify as introverted or extroverted, we all have our “people”; people that we depend on to get us through the good and the bad. Cut off that life support, depression and anxiety are all that’s left.

As vaccinations and new regulations slowly start to allow for more gatherings of large groups, it is wonderful to know that human ingenuity still exists. With the existence of new apps, we continue to be able to connect in fun and inventive ways. Runners can now create their own route. They can even make art with it. To see what I mean, look at these examples: 

Most importantly, we can still connect. We are not limited to the constraints of what our own minds can imagine but collectively, we are nearly limitless. Finding that battle buddy may have changed by definition but it is easier than ever before to find like-minded individuals to which we can bridge that gap.

This is why I believe storytellers are an integral part of any society, especially in times like these. Stories are the heart song to the human experience and are truly what makes the world go ‘round. Isolation is a prison cell for the lonely mind. As I am sure most of us have experienced at some point, we get stuck into immobility when we think no one is experiencing the same heavy heart. 

Let’s do a little redefining of our own. If we take a popular proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” and put a modern-day spin on it, the child could be symbolic of something we need to take delicate care of, such as our overall mental well-being. It takes a village of all kinds and from all walks of life to encourage each other and show others that none of us are in this alone. If you haven’t been paying attention to much of anything I have said, pay attention to this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

If it takes a 29-year old, world-class marathon champion to speak your love language and give you the step-by-step basics of “How to Run a Marathon”, know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

If inspiration comes from the story of a 78-year old breast cancer survivor who is running her first race after changing her entire health regime, know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Or if inspiration happens to come from reading “words of wisdom” (air quotes intentional) from an out-of-shape 46, going-on 47, stay-at-home mom, and former marathon runner (nowhere near champion), know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Going back to what I said earlier, the conventional hero and the unconventional anti-hero are both necessary stories to tell. Because you never know what will speak to the person going through their own personal hell and we have got to be here for each other.

This pandemic has changed everything. Good can come out of bad experiences. Perhaps the spike in depression and anxiety has the power to bring about the necessary change to our mental health system by never leaving our “battle-buddies” behind. It is so easy to ignore what we can’t see but so many are suffering.

And you know what? I am feeling the stirrings for a new normal in my own life brought about by inspiration from a community of dedicated endurance athletes that I have never met. It’s good to know that I am not alone.

#3: Find your Village.

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