In recent weeks, I have been on two runs which, I suspect, having stood the test of time, will prove their indelibility. During one, I trotted along the local rail trail – clear, flat, wide, but still cocooned in trees with animals scurrying here and there – before plunging into a wooded section of singletrack trail whose curves followed those of the creek nearby. It was moody, with marbled overcast skies looming. Though I’d been having a bit of pain in my foot, it gradually cleared as the miles ticked away, and I felt suddenly compelled to pause my watch and sit by the bank as the brown-black November water slipped past and birds chirped and flitted in the bare canopy. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of being in perfect sync with the world. The second, on Thanksgiving Day, was a group run with my cousin and some of his running buddies from work. As the sun came up, it found us pounding over the frosted, firm ground of a hilly trail loop. We bellowed out clouds in the cold air and joked around when we’d caught our breath. Though I was by no means at the lead of the pack, I could be sure to find the leaders always waiting up at the top of the next steep climb, tugging me up with verbal ropes of encouragement. They were friendly and welcoming – I’ve yet to meet a trail runner who isn’t – and we finished with beers in the parking lot, immersed in camaraderie, thankful for this sport and for each other.
You could call me an introvert, though I hesitate to use that term. Particularly in the last decade or so, as people have flocked to oversimplified labels on social media for community, connection, and identity, a false binary has emerged between introversion and extroversion. For the sake of viral potential, memes are manufactured which purport to portray special characteristics of one camp or the other. Yet, despite their presentation as secret slips passed from one comment chain or news feed to the next – “pssst, you skip parties to read sometimes too?? No way!” – these memes and other similar content are describing behavior that is anodyne, homogeneous, and highly relatable. Everybody skips parties to read (or just chill out) sometimes. But, as individuals eagerly sort themselves into one bin or the other, stereotypes are entrenched, which only strengthens the introversion/extroversion binary, erasing any measure of nuance.
Some, to their credit, have attempted to steer the ship back on course by introducing the concept of “charging your battery.” Introverts and extroverts, the explanation goes, can certainly break out of their molds, but their batteries – their emotional stamina – will be drained as a result. Introverts recharge their battery through solitude, and extroverts by being with or around others. The battery theory has taken hold, and for good reason. It is intuitive, packs an explanatory punch, and allows for greater complexity than the typical introvert/extrovert binary. Still, it contains one obvious, major flaw: humans have two batteries, not one.
As a kid, AA and AAA batteries were essential hardware to be kept on hand at all times. If the Tonka truck’s red lights flickered, the Millenium Falcon voice lines unwound – “Use the foorrccee Luuuuuuuukkkkkeeeeee…” – or, horror of horrors, the Dreamcast controller stopped controlling, I’d scurry to the battery drawer and pray to land on the good side of its vicissitudes. Out of batteries, out of luck.
What my recent runs by the creek and with friends on Thanksgiving taught me is that, fortunately for us, we are not like Dreamcast controllers. Each of us is powered by two batteries – one that charges in solitude, and one by being around others. Describing oneself as an “introvert” or an “extrovert” is simply a way of observing the rate at which those batteries drain. For example, in my case as an introvert, the solitude battery will drain more quickly, and, therefore, need to be recharged more frequently. More often than not, I will opt to run alone to maintain that charge. But the social battery drains too, and it is just as essential. Time spent with others is also energizing for the introvert, but that boost will last for a longer period of time. So they may only need to run with others or go out for dinner with a friend, etc., once or twice a week, whereas they will become enervated if they don’t spend time in solitude every day.
In both instances, by the creek and on Thanksgiving, something essential inside of me was refreshed. Trail running, and, to an extent, the running community more broadly, is special in that it exists simultaneously and harmoniously at both ends of the spectrum. It is both a totally solitary endeavor, a pursuit of self-discovery and personal journey, as well as a coming together, a community of growth, support, and celebration for one another. That, I believe, is what draws so many people to it. However you prefer to spend your runs, there is a place for you, and it need not be labeled. Running is a perfect response to the reductive binary of introvert/extrovert, as restrained by our current language. An eclectic paradox which you can plug into and charge your batteries in any way you please. And what a beautiful paradox it is.