Ups and downs, highs and lows…that’s what makes living interesting. When going gets tough, we all need certain activities to help us cope, relax, and distract our minds from the negativity. Some cook, some play video games, some travel. And during good times, we crave for new goals to prevent ourselves from falling into complacency. Some initiate new projects at work, some learn new languages, some enter singing contests.
We all do some things to unwind and some things for challenges, yet often times it’s one single thing that acts as the solution for both categories. A friend of mine began guitar lessons as a challenge three years ago, and now playing the guitar has become his comfort hobby in times of boredom, anger, grief, happiness…whatever. It’s his go-to “thing”.
For me, running is that activity that I do amid all types of emotional states.
“You are one run away from better mood,” an unknown wise person once said, and I can’t agree with it more. I have never gone on a run, and then afterwards regretted that I went on that run. A total addiction to the runner’s high.
I was a racket and team sports guy growing up, focusing on activities that maximized my hand-eye coordination. I hated pure endurance sports, particularly running, mostly because I sucked. An experiment conducted during an anthropology lab in college concluded that I had the lung capacity of a smoker even though I didn’t smoke. So it’s amusing to me that running has become my therapy. I even think the most creatively, logically and passionately when I’m pounding the road and trails.
The process of putting one foot in front of the other, hearing my footfalls and breathing, is reliable. After logging countless mileages, I have a good understanding of my body and running capability, yet through the simple process, I can continue to redefine what this capability means. I know running will make me healthier, feel younger, more confident and more comfortable with myself, and all these improvements will spill over to other aspects of my life. It’s trustworthy and comforting.
An ex-boss once joked that if I had redirected all the effort I had put on running to my career, I would now be much higher up in the corporate ladder. Maybe true, but all the promotion and money in the world can’t buy me this sense of peace and fulfillment.
Ironically, running is also the thing that stresses me out the most and strikes fear in my heart and mind. It keeps me sharp and disciplined (work out hard, eat right, don’t drink), especially prior to big runs and after setting personal missions.
“Do I want this?”, “Do I have it today?”, “Am I starting off too fast?”, “Am I going too slow?”, “Did I put in enough mileage last month?”, “Did I eat enough?”… These internal dialogues (sometimes very brief during a run and sometimes torturously long and keeps me awake at night) frequently creep into my head. Yet while uncomfortable and stressful, these moments are what running is about for me. It can’t be fun and games all the time, and just like any meaningful challenges, running creates opportunities to get serious and find out what I’m made of.
My versatile thing
The running ecosystem is what makes this sport such a flexible activity.
For example, during a marathon, if you want to take it easy for the day and enjoy the scenery, no one will think you are slacking off or make fun of your slower pace. On the other hand, if a new PR is what you are shooting for, no one will say that you’re trying too hard or showing off.
And it’s due to this judgement-free environment that running has developed into a sport for participants of all athletic range to compete and support each other.
Just chill or bring on some pain. That’s running, my versatile thing.