run­ning marathons

Scout - - CONTENTS - RUTHIE CRIS­TO­BAL trans­forms from couch potato to marathon run­ner. Il­lus­tra­tion by JARS CRIS­TO­BAL


I was back­pack­ing across Europe, and my train had just ar­rived in Wien Haupt­bahn­hof. As I walked out of the sta­tion and into the streets of Vi­enna, the air felt charged with en­ergy. Clas­si­cal mu­sic was blast­ing from speak­ers. Spec­ta­tors were cheer­ing. Ban­ners were be­ing waved, high ves were be­ing given. here in the mid­dle of ev­ery­thing, peo­ple clad in mois­ture-wick­ing shirts and span­dex were run­ning.

With a ruck­sack slung over my shoul­ders and with­out any­thing ur­gent in my itin­er­ary, I fol­lowed the crowd and the noise. Even­tu­ally, it lead me to the nish line of the th Vi­enna City arathon in his­toric Helden­plat . here was mad­ness there, the good kind. en and women, young and old were cross­ing the nish line af­ter run­ning for a long time. hey were met by fam­ily, friends, and strangers with hugs and words of con­grat­u­la­tions. Find­ing my­self smil­ing and clap­ping and cheer­ing along, I thought, “Some­day. I will do this some­day.”

But as things of­ten go, life got in the way, and this dream was shelved. It wasn’t un­til three years later that I ac­tu­ally be­gan to run. In­spired by a friend who nished a marathon, I re­vis­ited the shelf, wiped the dust off this dream, and took lit­eral steps to turn it into re­al­ity. Af­ter do­ing some re­search on the most hu­mane way to get into run­ning, I started a pro­gram called Couch-to-5K C 5K . As its name sug­gests, the pro­gram was de­signed to take you from be­ing a couch potato to run­ning a 5K in nine weeks through struc­tured run-walk in­ter­vals.

I re­mem­ber the day af­ter that fate­ful W1D1 (that’s C 5K short­hand for Week 1 Day 1 . y boss asked me, “Why are you walk­ing funny?” de­spite my best ef­forts to pre­tend I didn’t have logs for legs. y body prob­a­bly did not un­der­stand what I tried to do with it, so it acted out. Later on, I found out sports sci­en­tists have a name for that D S, which stands for De­layed nset us­cle Sore­ness, a.k.a. the lit­eral pain in the butt.

Un­de­terred, I per­se­vered with a lit­tle help from some friends. here was Laura, the C 5K pod­cast nar­ra­tor, who told me things like, “You can do it!” and “I’m re­ally proud of you for get­ting this far!” in a Bri­tish ac­cent. here were red­di­tors from r C 5K and r run­ning who told me that to run fast, I must run slow. Para­dox­i­cal as that ad­vice may sound, fol­low­ing it helped me build the en­durance and con dence to carry on. I nished the pro­gram in 1 weeks (as I’ve said, life had a habit of get­ting in the way , cul­mi­nat­ing in my rst of cial run, a .5K around the Al­ster lake in Ham­burg.

With a bol­stered morale and a sense of ac­com­plish­ment, I started run­ning a lit­tle longer with ev­ery train­ing run, bear­ing in mind the 1 Per­cent ule. his guide­line sim­ply states that you should in­crease your ac­tiv­ity (i.e. mileage and in­ten­sity no more than 1 per week. It served as a re­minder for me to tem­per my en­thu­si­asm, and kept me off the al­lur­ing track of do­ing too much too soon. Grad­u­ally, I de­vel­oped a base which acted as spring­board for marathon train­ing.

Soon, I signed up for the Bull un­ner Dream arathon, a rst-timer-friendly marathon. Upon re­ceiv­ing word that I had a space in the start­ing line, I started train­ing for it. At that time, I was vol­un­teer­ing at an or­ganic farm in Den­mark. In be­tween feed­ing cows, chas­ing run­away piglets, and mak­ing ap­ple com­pote, I went out on runs along foot­paths in the woods be­side the farm. It was then that I dis­cov­ered the beauty of run­ning along trails, and the joy in self-pow­ered ex­plo­ration.

Each run be­came what we teach­ers call a teach­able mo­ment. One of my longer runs took me to a neigh­bor­ing town. With cra y head­winds and with­out a bot­tle of wa­ter on my per­son, run­ning schooled me on the im­por­tance of hy­dra­tion that day. Af­ford­ing me mi­cro-ad­ven­tures and geog­ra­phy lessons ev­ery time I went out, it be­came a means to be ac­quainted with a new city, a way to gain fresh per­spec­tive on things I nor­mally take for granted. Since I started do­ing it, run­ning has ed­u­cated me on the cob­ble­stone streets of Italy, the north­east coast of Den­mark, the moun­tains of anay, the pinecone forests of Baguio, the ru­ins of Cor­regi­dor, the nooks and cran­nies of UP Dil­i­man, and many other places.

A fel­low farm vol­un­teer—af­ter I told her I was train­ing for a marathon and that a marathon is .1 5 km long (Yes, a marathon only has one dis­tance. So no, it’s not pos­si­ble to run a 5K marathon. asked me, “Are you ill?! Are you cra y?!” It wasn’t the last time I heard that re­ac­tion from a non-run­ner. his gave me a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the peo­ple I’ve met along the way, on the roads and the trails. hese fel­low run­ners, they could un­der­stand and em­pathi e. Af­ter all, they know what it’s like to be in my (run­ning shoes.

In a sec­tion en­ti­tled Weirdos, Freaks, and Break­ing the Mold in their book Run­ning the Edge, Adam Goucher and im Cata­lano wrote, “Some peo­ple would claim that they would need to have a cou­ple of screws loose to even try dis­tance run­ning (and per­haps they are right , but what an out­sider might con­sider a weak­ness is ac­tu­ally one of the run­ner’s great­est strengths. Run­ners give each other per­mis­sion to be them­selves. Ul­ti­mately, no one is as nor­mal as he or she seems, but run­ners don’t have to hide it.”

his is what run­ning es­sen­tially does for those who do it it al­lows us to be our­selves, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, to be­come bet­ter ver­sions of our­selves. It helps pre­vent sick­ness caused by ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tions, seden­tary work lives, and less-than-healthy di­ets. It qui­ets the nat­ter­ing brain for a while, and calms down in­ner demons. (It is cheaper than ther­apy and drugs, too. hanks to the en­dor­phins it re­leases, it makes us feel good, which hope­fully trans­lates to mak­ing us more bal­anced and agree­able. It al­lows us to med­i­tate through move­ment, and pro­vides time to re ect about our lives.

Run­ning al­lows us to see what we are ca­pa­ble of, and in some in­stances, to defy our own ex­pec­ta­tions. Whether we’re gun­ning for a spot in the podium, a new per­sonal record or aim­ing to run just a lit­tle faster, longer, and with bet­ter form than yes­ter­day, run­ning gives us the space to tran­scend our phys­i­cal and men­tal bound­aries. In his mem­oir Run or Die, Kil­ian Jor­net, ar­guably the best moun­tain run­ner of our gen­er­a­tion, won­ders if part of why we run is “to nd out whether we can over­come our fears, that the tape we smash when we cross the line isn’t only the one the vol­un­teers are hold­ing, but also the one we have set in our minds.” He con­tin­ues, “Isn’t victory be­ing able to push our bod­ies and minds to their lim­its and, in do­ing so, dis­cov­er­ing that they have led us to nd our­selves anew and to cre­ate new dreams?”

Grow­ing up, I was nei­ther too keen on phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, nor was I ath­letic. I have never been part of a sports team. y hob­bies—read­ing, play­ing mu­sic, watch­ing lms—were more in­door in na­ture; they cul­ti­vated the mind, but put the body in the side­lines. Af­ter years of not both­er­ing much about my body, run­ning reac­quainted me with it. o this day, it gives me cogni ance for my body and the things it can do. hrough it, I con­tinue to learn to dis­tin­guish be­tween good ache and bad pain, the re­wards of pow­er­ing through the for­mer and the dan­ger of push­ing through the lat­ter. o bor­row the words of An­ton Krupicka, a moun­tain run­ner, our bod­ies truly are so much stronger than we give our­selves credit for.

Run­ning is so sim­ple and un­adorned. One foot in front of the other: left, right, left, right, left, right. It prob­a­bly couldn’t get sim­pler than that. Yet this repet­i­tive mo­tion makes us aware of the sen­sa­tions of be­ing alive. When our lungs thirst for oxy­gen and our hearts pump blood harder, when we feel the burn in our mus­cles and the sweat drips off our fore­heads, we are re­minded that we are priv­i­leged to be do­ing this. hat we are for­tu­nate to be alive. In the here. In the now.

hese were the things I told my­self dur­ing the low points of the marathon I ran. hese are the things I tell my­self dur­ing the low points of any run. See, run­ning long dis­tances is an apt metaphor for life. he be­gin­ning is usu­ally the dif cult bit—the birthing pain, the warm­ing up. Af­ter some time, we nd our rhythm and set­tle in a pace our breath­ing could sus­tain. Ev­ery so of­ten, there are the highs that make the run and our lives glo­ri­ous. hen at some point, we hit the prover­bial wall. Our en­er­gies run dry. We feel like if we have to take an­other step, we’d die. We ques­tion our mo­tives and the san­ity of what we’re do­ing. But then, there is a phe­nom­e­non called the sec­ond wind. It is akin to a new lease in life. We tell the lit­tle voice in our heads that says we can’t to shut up. We dig deep to nd the strength to sol­dier on, so we could nish what we started.

Run­ning, ul­ti­mately, is a soli­tary ac­tiv­ity. (On hind­sight, it was prob­a­bly what drew me to it in the rst place, hav­ing long identi ed my­self as an in­tro­vert. he lone­li­ness of the long-dis­tance run­ner does ex­ist. But in a race or any run­ning event, our soli­tudes come to­gether. If Christo­pher cCand­less was right in say­ing that hap­pi­ness is only real when shared, then the nish line of a marathon is one of the hap­pi­est places to be in. It is where our tri­umphs con­verge. It is where we cel­e­brate our shared ex­pe­ri­ence and marvel at the strength of the hu­man spirit.

On the morn­ing of Fe­bru­ary , 1 , I ar­rived at the nish line of my rst marathon, the very same spot where it started. he poet . S. El­liot wrote, “And the end of all our ex­plor­ing / Will be to ar­rive where we started / And know the place for the rst time.” rue, it looked dif­fer­ent from when I be­gan run­ning the mid­night be­fore. Or was it I who was dif­fer­ent?

Once, while watch­ing run­ning-re­lated videos to get me un­stuck from a rut, I came across one where Kil­ian vis­ited Scott Jurek, an­other leg­endary ul­tra­ma­rathoner (and one I had the chance to meet last year. He signed my copy of his book Eat and Run with, “Do things al­ways.” In a scene, Scott leafed through a book en­ti­tled Ul­tra­ma­rathon by James Shapiro. As the cam­era fo­cused on a page, I was taught yet an­other im­por­tant les­son in run­ning and in life, that is: “ o go on. When ev­ery­thing else wants to stop.”

So, go on. Go.

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