Running Your Race in an Ever Changing Place
I’m often asked why I chose to live in Wuhan, and I usually answer, “Actually, Wuhan chose me.” During a threemonth stay in China in 2014 as a student intern, I fell in love with China. In a short time, I became fascinated with China, its people, and its rich culture.
To me, China was a place of paradoxes I could never quite understand. I wanted to know and experience more, and so, upon finishing my degree in 2015, my journey took me from a small town in central California to a strange city in central China with a promise that every day would be exciting and new, or at least that every day would not be the same.
I came to Wuhan to manage a small coffee roasting company. Up until that point, my life had been comprised of short seasons of sprints. I wasn’t prepared for a long season of hard, mundane, tedious work. My boss warned me to pace myself, but I couldn’t slow down. Yet, as I observed his life, I noticed that he approached everyday as an opportunity for perfecting rhythms with persistence, taking daily steps towards long term goals.
After six months, I was worn out by my sprinting and decided to make a move to teaching. It was here in this space where his lessons finally sunk in, as I began my own season of training.
The new year of 2016 marked the start of my transition, and my new year’s resolutions were to focus on improving my health and my Chinese. I set two tangible goals for myself— the first was to run a half-marathon and the second was to begin taking the HSK exams.
I began my training by running 5–10km twice a week and taking Chinese lessons once a week in addition to my daily homework exercises. In December of last year, I passed my first HSK Level 3 exam with a high score, and in June, I will take the Level 4 exam.
Though I thought I originally set realistic goals for myself and faithfully worked towards them,
it took longer than I anticipated to see them actualized. A year and two months later, however, I am well on my way to completing these goals. But what’s even more valuable than accomplishing the goals I set are the rhythms and disciplines of training that I have developed in the process.
On Sunday, April 9th, I participated in my first half-marathon in the beautiful, fast-paced and widereaching city I have called home for nearly two years. After a season of persistence, the day finally came to test the diligence of my training. My body was ready, my mind was ready, but my knees were stiff and filled with pain. Still, I knew I could run my own race at a steady pace.
With one of my Chinese friends at my side, we braved the rainy day. Wuhan’s fast pace often tricks you into sprinting from the beginning. But if you want to make it through this city and live to see more, especially as a foreigner, you need to pace yourself. You need to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the run.
There were people cheering and shouting “Come on!” “加油 !” There were opportunities for photos. There were even signs to encourage us in our run. My favorite slogans were, “跑 出不一样” meaning, “Everyone’s running is not the same,” or “Make your own style,” or to use some American slang—“You do you, boo” and “做自己的领跑者” or “Be the leader of your own race.”
When we reached 19km, we had paced ourselves well. It was now time to pick up the speed, despite the pain that I felt in my knees. I leaned into those things that I had slowed down to appreciate along the way and used them to propel me into my last two kilometers.
Something came over me, and suddenly I was ready to finish in a steady sprint, to push myself beyond what I thought I could do.
My friend and I picked up the pace together. As we reached the last bridge, I increased my speed up the incline. She called after me to slow down, but there was no stopping me. I called back to tell her it was okay, and that she could run slowly at her own pace.
I leaned into my prayers and in those next 10 minutes, I ran harder than I ever have before—declaring my freedom and overcoming my fears, insecurities, and doubts.
Coming down that bridge was the most exhilarating feeling I have ever experienced. But the run wasn’t over yet. The final five minutes were a continuation of fighting through the pain and finishing well, with strength and dignity.
I finally crossed that glorious finish line in 2 hours and 20 minutes, beating my goal by 10 minutes. Through the experience, I learned that if you start the race sprinting, you’ll quickly get worn out. But if you start slowly, run your own race and appreciate the journey along the way, you’ll be able to finish strong.
I recently committed to staying another two years in Wuhan. This race gave me a chance to slow down and appreciate how much I have accomplished and, more importantly, how much I have grown during my time in China. It marked a significant moment in my story, and while this was the story of my race, everyone has their own story, their own motivations, their own outcomes, and their own takeaways.
That’s what’s so beautiful about marathons— They bring people together from all across the world and from all walks of life, to one place, in one city, on one day, to experience something extraordinary together.