Friday, May 23, 2014

Running Thoughts: Why I Run

I've only been running seriously for about two months, but I have asked myself this question quite a few times and surprisingly the answer has changed a few times over such a short period.

Many people draw parallels between marathon running and life, and overall I agree with them.  We are here for the long haul, and a lot of things we go through while running long distance provide as good metaphors for things we go through in life.  Although I sometimes see the parallel, I'm not very keen on obsessively drawing detailed analysis on how running symbolizes life.  I guess when a big moment hit I would think about it a bit more, but I draw lessons about life on life itself already, to me running is just for fun.

Fun was and remains to be my main priority when it comes to running.  Fun and safety.  Safety came later when I experienced my first pain and injury and read so many accounts from avid runner/bloggers on the injures they have experienced.  I found it utterly ridiculous that such a natural exercise can cause so many injuries to the human body, and I feel that a lot of them are unnecessary and can be avoided.  But that's another story.  However, I have since paid particular attention to keep myself away from injury, which made me tread into unchartered territories such as deliberately taking time off from running (as opposed to procrastinating), venturing into the vast and complicated world of running shoes (as opposite to selecting the first pair of cheap shoes I see), and choosing distance over speed.  So far I'm happy to say, I'm injury free.  I don't run for the battle wounds, I run to be healthy.  I don't think it's too much to ask for.

But back to the fun part.  The more I run and the more I read about other people who run, the more I encounter people showing off their marathon finishing times and their rapid progress in speed.  I find it repulsive.  I think part of it is because I'm jealous and insecure since I'm still slow and unfit.  Maybe in the future when I can run better I will become those I now find obnoxious.  I find it repulsive because right now I find these numbers arbitrary and meaningless, like body weight.  It's one thing to be enthusiastic about your running goals, or your goal weight, it's quite another to be obsessed over the superficial goal posts that simplify the deeper, more complex achievements one should be striving for.

I go out and run because I like it.  I like to go when it's sunny out, I like to go during the day.  I like to plan routes on google maps and imagine running on the road.  I like to bring my camera and take actual pictures of the mental images I take in.  I like to run in a simple short-sleeve T-shirt and capris and not worry about the cold or the changing weather.  I like to have unlimited time for my run and not to worry about what I have to do afterwards or about if it's getting dark soon.  I like to run on an empty but not deserted road so I feel safe but private, and therefore completely comfortable with my flawed body.  I like to run somewhere I've never been before but at the same time not to be scared about the unknown.  I like the excited feeling I get when waking up on the weekend or when leaving work in the afternoon and find a perfect running weather.  I like the slightly nervous feeling when I'm about to leave home for a run.  I like downhills.  I like short, sharp uphills that I can get through without losing all my breath.  I like the polite and friendly waves that fellow runners and other people give me when I pass them.  I like my appetite for healthy and lighter food after my runs.  I like the fact that I have so far been continuously losing weight since I started running.  I like my new shoes and all my newly acquired running accessories.  I like to read about running.  I like to spend hours surfing the blogosphere and read other people's running tales.  I like inspiring stories from ordinary people who become marathon runners.  I like the being-in-the-moment feeling I have when running; I'm slow but I'm completely at peace.

I run because I want to, not because I have to.  And I just wrote a giant paragraph on why I want to run.  I have imagined running a marathon many times in my daydream, and I have very clear goals on the type of races I want to do in the future.  But I have never been obsessed with how fast I want to go, or what time I would finish a race (other than "oh my god if I have to finish within the limit of x hours this is how fast I have to go").  I believe that speed will come naturally when other elements are in alignment.  I believe that when I feel the need for speed I will have the desire to want to work on it.

So why the sudden enthusiasm on running?  For as long as I could remember I've always hated running more than any other form of exercise or sport.  Mostly because I'm no good at it and everyone else is better than me.  I think this is still true.  We typically think of running as "run as fast as you can for as long as you can", and as you can see from my detest of speed and time I still fail miserably in that department.  And when we apply the "run as fast as you can for as long as you can" mentality about running, I would think that most people hate running as well.  It's so discouraging to sprint for a short distance and run out of breath.  I've always hated it and I still do.

When I first started running I was fueled by a strong desire to just get out and run.  This fuel came very mysteriously, and I'm still trying to figure out how exactly it came.  All I can conclude so far is that this great fire of desire was ignited by a number of small sources that when came together, created this great ball of energy that was then continuously fueled by my desire to read about running when not running myself.  And these small initiating events are thus:

  • A few people I met in an online chatroom unrelated to running or exercising were talking about running.  At the time I still held a deep hatred for running and was happily obsessing over yoga, and felt very left out when others get excited about something I don't like.  At first I held distain toward these people; they seem like masochists to me for loving something so horribly painful and tortuous. But they kept at it.  They kept talking about it and kept running.  And at some point I must have been curious about the attraction of running.
  • My real life friend who first got me into yoga was one day talking about how she was training for a mini-triathlon she is doing this summer.  Half-jokingly she said she is going to persuade me into doing it with her.  I said a firm "no" but got very nervous, since she has successfully gotten me into doing hiking, running (yes we once did a miserable loop around a local trail and I still don't understand why she remembered the incident fondly like some happy memory), cross-country skiing, skating on an open lake, and the latest, yoga.  I know that I don't swim (read: don't show up in public in my swimsuit) or bike, and when she was talking about this mini-triathon I was planning on how not to embarrass myself in public and the easiest first step would be to practice running.
  • Literately the next day after the mini-trialthon conversation I got an email from someone in our department about a 5K to raise money for the cystic fibrosis foundation that was at the time, 12 weeks away.  I think that solidified my previous fleeting desire to give running one more try, and finally made me step on a treadmill again.  I still regret not running that 5K after all, which was last weekend.  But I'm thankful for its contribution to get me start running.
So that's how I started.  I don't remember the exact date anymore but I can clearly remember the Sunday I began running.  It was late March.  My parents had come to visit me that weekend.  We had a happy time together but I couldn't wait for them to leave on Sunday.  As soon as they drove off I changed and headed for the gym.  I think I only did about a mile and half that day.  I distinctly remember I was running at 5 miles/hr and ran for about 0.7 miles before slowing to a walk, and I was so discouraged.  No matter how out of shape I was before I could always go for at least a mile before getting too bored or too tired.  I remembered making up for this failure by going on the elliptical for another while before calling it a day.  It wasn't a great first day but I went back the next day and the day after that.  For the first two weeks of my running I didn't record my progress in any way, so before my Nike+ sensor arrived I only have my vague memory of going to the gym and agonizing over the crowded fitness room to prove that I was running.  And my runs were never long.  Half an hour of torture on the treadmill seemed a lot to me at the time.  

My biggest inspiration at the time was Naoko Takagi's Running alone series of comics.  She's a professional illustrator who published a number of comic books on different aspects of life.  Her Running Alone series documented her journey from an out-of-shape tatami potato to completing her first marathon and then some.  Her story is inspirational because she's so ordinary and relatable.  She had no talent in running, and she did not sacrifice her life to achieve some marathon dream.  She was frustrated at her sedentary lifestyle, inspired by the 2008 Tokyo marathon and started to run, incorporated running in her life and completed her first marathon at the end of that year.  She was an above average runner but not extraordinary, she was determined but didn't change her life to revolve around running, she was happy.  She enjoyed every aspect of running.  And she inspired many others to give it a try.  

When I first started I had the 5K in my mind as a goal.  I didn't want to be extraordinary, I just wanted to finish a 5K.  Although I missed the event that originally got me started I still completed my first 5K 8 weeks after I started running.  I wasn't fast and I was one of the last to finish, but I finished and I was happy.  Now my goal is a half marathon in October, and "why I run" becomes a more complex answer that require more careful planning to fulfill.  When you are running 30 minutes a day on the treadmill indoors it's easy; how many ways can you fail and seriously injure yourself?  But now that I'm doing outdoor runs of 5 or 7 miles on almost-summer days, there are many ways it can go wrong and many things I have to plan ahead and learn.  I started with fun, now I have safety.  I want to run until I'm 80 or older so I can't risk wrecking my body for some short-term thrill or my ignorance.  Maybe in a few months how I regard "why I run" will change again, and when the time comes I will bore you again with another thought post.

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