And so I ran

Did I tell you that, back in October, I decided that I was going to train for and run in a 10K race?

No, of course I didn’t.

As a matter of fact, I hardly told anyone. I was afraid that I’d give up and fail and make a fool of myself.

I’ve always hated running. It’s monotonous. It’s boring. I know people who run or do sports for the explicit purpose of losing weight or being healthy. But I go play hockey, and cycle and climb, because it’s fun. If I’m conscious about my health, I wouldn’t have a drawer full of junk food at the office. So I guess I’m lucky with what I consider a good time.

So I never ran and have always had poor endurance and cardiovascular fitness. People find that hard to believe – until I tell them I’m actually a goalie in hockey and in the games that I get any action (which is about half of the time), I spend my time lunging and diving and being hit – that’s about the closing thing to any running I get. Yes, so I never ran.

Not too long ago, I found out that one of my (really fit) hockey mates was doing a series of swim + run races over the summer and runs in 10K races. Like I child, I thought I wanted to be fit and cool like her and plainly decided that I’m going to try and see if I could. Forget swimming, but I think I just might manage running.

So I found a random 12-week 10K beginners’ training plan online and put feet to ground.

It was hard but the first 2-3 weeks were ok. The plan calls for three runs a week and I manage by coming home from work, dropping my bag, changing my clothes and heading out immediately again before my stomach and the dinner table beckons me to stay put.

The physical aspect wasn’t easy, but easy enough to force myself through. But mentally…I find running to be more of a mental challenge. Because it’s always dark, there’s little to see, and my route short, so I do at least three laps, which is like boredom multiplied by three.

Lots of people run on my route actually, but they offer little encouragement. Those who are slow obviously feels it to be a suffer-fest and their faces show it. Those who are obviously fit and proper blaze by me.

Although I don’t like the actual act of running, I’m always exhilirated at the end of each run. Possibly because SufferFest is finally over, but more likely that each run was a mental battle won. I did it! I hate running but I ran! Despite the struggle, I always feel better after running.

By the fifth week, running has become a chore. It’s become an extension of my job. Work-home-run-eat. If I don’t do a run, I feel guilty. I follow the plan to the dot. Increasing speed. Increasing time ran. Doing speed work. Every run is a struggle against the minutes ticking away on my watch. Every run is a mental battle to not just stop and go home. I mean, what’s the point of running a 10K? Who’s going to care? What am I trying to prove?

I’ve always had knee pain, but now they’ve gotten worst. Then I hurt my calf and sprained my ankle hiking. I’m not sure I even care about the after-run high anymore, but I couldn’t bare the thought of stopping at Week 6 because that means I’ll lose the fitness I’ve so patiently built up. So I tried to keep running, but my calf hurt too much and I gave up.

I’ve been off for two weeks now, and have more or less healed. I had a look at my training plan today. Ugh.

I sat in my room and read a few pages of a book I’ve just borrowed this moring: Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and then realised that maybe what I need is a run that is not training. I need a run that is just running for the sake of running. I need a run that is different and fun and happy.

It’s a Sunday afternoon and the air is clear, the sky is blue, the sun bright and high. Instead of doing my laps, I decided to try an entirely new route. I didn’t care about my time or my pace. I just ran. It was bright and I enjoyed having the sun on my skin.

Being on different streets and roads, my mind was forced to engage with the surrounding environment and was pre-occupied with making sure I was going the right way and checking out places I’ve never been to before and buildings I’ve never seen up close. I stopped at traffic lights, giving me a chance to check out my ankles, catch my breath and remind myself to take it easy. I ran over a bridge spanning the river, looked out to sea and saw a plane coming in to land at the airport beyond. I ran pass kids riding bicycles. I ran along cars and buses and past couples strolling hand in hand.

And you know what? It was effortless. It felt breezy. It was fun. I liked it. Instead of just feeling good after my run, I felt good during my run as well. As a bonus, when I got to my targeted destination, I discovered a busy Sunday market of arts and crafts and a beach festival! I had a stroll around, sat down in the sun for a drink and snack, and hopped on a bus home with a grin on my face. (Not so for my fellow passengers on the cramped bus though – I smelled like a hog.)

After my shower, I thought I’ll go onto to Map My Run and check out exactly how far I’ve run in those 33 mins. In the weeks up to my stopping running, I managed to run a difficult 5K in a little over 30mins.

Today?

I ran over 8K effortless. :)

(When I thought about doing that run a while ago, Map My Run told me it’s 5K, so that’s why I went for it, confident with the knowledge that I’m able to run continuously for 5K and survive. Only later did I realise it actually said 5 miles and that I actually ran over 8K! Amazing how trickery of the mind works!)

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