What I think about when I think about running

— 8 minute read

I had wanted to write something down a few weeks ago, and never did because the timing was never right. I didn't have the time when I had the idea, and I didn't think of writing when I had the time.

And so slowly it faded away, as ideas do. Mid-shower today, I was suddenly hit with a recollection that there was an interesting thought that I had but I couldn't remember what it was. As I rinsed the suds off I was overwhelmed by a sense of regret that I had let down an idea and now it was off somewhere else knocking on someone else's head, and it served me right for never giving it the attention it deserved.

But, happily, as I ran through events of the past weeks trying to recall what it could have been, it came back to me. Hello Idea, thanks for sticking around and now I can sit down and spend a bit of time with you and expressing you, for the benefit of Future Me.

Some context.

Sometime mid January this year I decided to take up running. This was not associated with a new year resolution, and how it came about was an article on The Guardian recommending using apps for fitness (which I reflexively scoffed at). Nevertheless one of the apps for Couch to 5K did stick to my mind and I downloaded it to check out the features, for fun.

I recognise a sequence of feelings in myself. There is a click, when something switches from "nah I'll never do it" to "actually - what if". From a stable, unmovable rock on flat land to a rock teetering at the edge of a cliff, on the brink of falling. I circle the rock, looking at different angles and thinking about consequences, considering whether to give it a tiny nudge. I speak to Leo, whose response as usual is "do as you wish", which is of no real help, so I go back and ruminate some more.

Then there is another click. I poke the rock and down it goes. We're on.

So I subscribed to the 10km version of the app, paying RM100 for 3 months. The entire programme is 14 weeks. I started from Week 5 under Leo's counsel, who finally took some interest in the enterprise once I paid up and had skin in the game. I had never really run, but was not a couch potato either, so starting from Week 1 might be too easy.

The programme is premised on three runs a week, which was what was intimidating to me from the start - I wasn't sure how it could fit into my exercise routine and work schedule, and didn't want to stress myself out unnecessarily. Still, it was definitely doable if I made it a priority and planned for it. To alleviate the pressure I decided to see it week by week, without making it a Big Deal.

We are now at Week 10, Day 3, which means I had run for about 6 weeks in a row until an unrelated injury interrupted the flow. More about the injury later. I repeat, I had run for about 6 weeks in a row, 3 times a week. That is 17 workouts, adding up to more than 80km of distance.

Distance running has never been my thing. From when I was little it was quite clear that I had no stamina to speak of. Sprinting was fine, I had long legs which worked to my advantage, but it was a regular occurrence that I would double over during basketball sessions or any sort of prolonged exertion, feeling dizzy or needing to puke.

If people identify as runners, I identify as a non-runner. Which is why this is a Big Deal. I have surprised myself, in the transition from someone who completely cannot run to someone who can. We are in uncharted territory here. It is as exhilarating as it is confusing.

And so I have been telling everyone who will listen about how proud I am of myself, and how this is so weird and wonderful. To a pair of particularly sympathetic ears a couple of weeks ago, I told her that running is a creative act to me. It is like putting paint on a canvas, some do it because we are not sure what will come out, and we want to see the outcome of our creation. Similar idea, I have never been a running kind of person, but I am now creating this person who runs. Who is she? What can she be?

There is a poem by Emily Dickinson, "The Going from a World We Know" that has stuck to my mind:

"The going from a world we know
To one a wonder still
Is like the child's adversity
Whose vista is a hill,
Behind the hill is sorcery
And everything unknown,
But will the secret compensate
For climbing it alone?"

When I finish my 10km training at Week 14, I will know how it feels like to be someone who can run for an hour without stopping. Consider this half-way up the hill, with a rewarding halfway vista.

How does the world look like to someone who has run a half-marathon (21km)? Is it worth the view? They say that there will be weight loss, but also loss of strength. The training looks gruelling and sports injuries probable. It also looks to be a foolhardy thing to do, given all the plans I have coming up this year. But yet, is it worth the view?

So far this curiosity has been the main driver to my waking up one hour earlier on alternate days, showing up run after run. Step by step, up the hill so that at some point I can get a glimpse of the sorcery and everything unknown.

In any case, this was the idea that I recalled during the shower - running as a creative act. If creative acts are for us to find out what we're capable of bringing to the world, this is definitely a rare opportunity to find out parts of me previously undiscovered, and room to create who I can become. Particularly rare in mid life when habits are set and fewer fucks are available to be given.

I might discover that I am capable of a half marathon, or I might discover that I am not. It is fifty-fifty at this point. Can I do it? Can I not? Do I care enough to find out?

So, I was on a roll with all this running business until I hit a snag. During bootcamp last week I hurt my neck and my arm, when I stupidly did some overhead movements with weights that were too heavy. My entire exercise routine was put on hold while I figured things out with the physiotherapist. No pushing and pressing movements, no running.

I know this blog is slowly becoming a chronicle of all my sports injuries but I assure you that most of the time my head is screwed on tight, my limbs intact, and I move relatively pain free. It's just something about needing to whine and to make sense of the injustice of more sports equals more sports injuries, that I dust off my long-neglected blog and lament to my heart's content.

And I also wanted to make a note that for the week that I was not able to move I was also having a miserable time. A stressful event had triggered a domino effect of anxieties piling upon anxieties, and I found myself unable to get a grip and pull myself out of a spiral of fear, anger and sadness. The event itself wasn't such a big deal, but the aftermath was debilitating.

It is during these times that I regret not having a regular meditation practice, to fortify myself against my brain's loop of negative thoughts. Exercising would have helped, but I wasn't in the right conditions to do any. It feels like my mental health immune system tanked (was also undergoing PMS at that point) and I fell sick for a week.

After a week of fatigue and mind fog I am now feeling more like myself.

Tomorrow I will try to run again, a light one as recommended by my physio, but if I feel better we can probably pick up next week from Week 10 Day 3 and march forward to Week 14. Onwards and upwards!