Run­ning Your Race in an Ever Chang­ing Place

Special Focus - - Contents - Abi­gail Joy Wheeler

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.

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