October: The Finish Line

There are three stages of humanity: (1) Hating running; (2) Running out of obligation; (3) Eating, sleeping, breathing, living running.

If I were to plot my life in terms of these three stages, it would look something like this:

Notice how the trend line rises exponentially near the end.

Conclusion: the transition from stage (2) to (3) can occur quickly, and it’s purely a mental shift. Here’s how I did it:

  • Running outside: Running on a treadmill can get quite boring and physically uncomfortable without an escape for body heat. Outside, I can soak in the fresh air, serotonin-increasing sunlight, interesting architecture, and nature scenery, from the dirt canal road along the Potomac River to the evergreen hills of the Pacific Northwest. The shape and texture of the landscape are no longer burdens. One more hill is one more opportunity to push myself physically and mentally. Running alongside other people is also extremely motivating.
  • Listening to podcasts: Ten minute debriefs of the morning news? Nope. I’m talking hour-long (or more) episodes on the stories of start ups (How I Built This with Guy Raz), brain-body optimization (The Huberman Lab), and owning my life as an Asian woman (Asian Boss Girl).
  • Creating a schedule: It’s easy for college students to lose control of any sense of routine when midterms, sickness, and parties seem to come up spontaneously. I’ve managed to keep myself grounded by waking up early every morning with the knowledge that I will be running (or recovering from running) soon. In fact, I wake up excited to get moving. By prioritizing running as a constant in my life, the rest of my day naturally falls into place.
  • Learning in addition to doing: To run well, you must know your body well. To know your body well, you must learn about the science behind optimizing exercise and nutrition. I’ve learned a lot about sports nutrition and recovery, from optimal temperatures for stimulating endurance, to the proper macronutrient balance for replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscle tissue. It’s fascinating to see just how smart the body is, but also how our habits and behaviors affect our mood and physical health.

Of course, there’s also runner’s high (the first two miles are usually brutal for me, but by the third I’m cruising along) and other long-term benefits of running that even non-runners have heard of from their runner friends.

The first time I ran 11.5 miles was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I rambled in my phone’s Notes app:

my running journey
in middle school i was a lot more active and i remember my mile run was ~7:20, which wasn’t the fastest but was definitely not slow. starting in high school my endurance gradually declined and i couldn’t complete the mile run without walking. im 11th grade when i stopped doing drill, my parents would tell me to run on the treadmill to at least exercise a bit. 
for a year i would only run 1-2 miles, but then when covid began i had more time and less space to be active, so i tried harder and gradually made it to 3 miles. i stayed around 3-4 miles for a year. but then this summer a few friends (s/o to jenna, olivia, and ashley) also began running and i was motivated to push myself further. i took my running outside, where i could enjoy fresh air and nature without being bored. running became a way to be energized instead of a chore. 
i never thought i could run 6 miles, but then i did—and then by the end of august i could do 10! albeit, i was exhausted af and could hardly move the rest of the day. then somehow today i did 11.5 and i feel like i could run even longer, i’m also not that tired!!
this might not be super far for some long distance runners but i would’ve NEVER thought i could do this just 2 months ago. 

Flash forward two weeks, and I had already finished my first half marathon, accomplishing my sub-2 hour goal time. Just a few days prior, the weather forecast had predicted that it would be raining. But the day of, the skies cleared up, the temperature was an optimal 66 degrees, and as we ran, foliage fluttered from the autumn trees in an almost celebratory manner.

Out of the two (yes, you read that right) runners in the Females 19 & Under category, I placed first and got an athletic headband as a prize. As cliché as it sounds, finishing the half marathon at a satisfactory pace isn’t what I cherish most. It’s finding the community and the culture of running–whether that be meeting new friends, bonding with old friends over our newfound shared hobby, or hearing my friends make progress in their own running journeys. We share our favorite podcasts, shoe purchases, recovery snacks, and trails. It’s laughing at my past misbelief that I could never run more than five miles. I’ve already come so far, but the trail never ends.

Yes, running indeed is a cult, but we welcome everyone to join!

Usually I would have a monthly favorites section, but only one thing comes to mind: Squid Game. This is reminder #293298 to watch it if you have not already.

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