A well that never runs dry

To me, running is like a deep well. It’s a source that I can tap on, over and over. As long as I take care not to drink too fast, it isn’t going to run dry anytime soon. It fills me up and replenishes me, and I feel whole again after I sip from it.

Early in the mornings, I fight the urge to continue snuggling under my warm sheets. When I finally step out of my apartment onto the quiet streets, it feels like I have the entire world to myself. Everyone else is still deep in sleep, holding tightly onto their last hour of shut-eye. 

I start off at a gentle pace, winding through peaceful residential neighborhoods and arriving at the trails of a nearby park before the incessant buzz of car engines has a chance to surround me.

It’s a rare peaceful time, a moment I cherish deeply. I may struggle to catch my breath as I tackle steep sections or increase my pace, but beneath the pain is an understated joy that’s as pure as the unsullied morning.

After a hard day at work, I’m exhausted. My mind is swirling, it’s getting late, and the streets are busy with peak-hour traffic. It’s tough to summon up even the will to change into my running shorts.

But I try to, because I know it’ll get better as soon as I start. True enough, as I power through the hills and miles, all my problems seem increasingly insignificant and trivial. I disengage completely, unable to think about anything except the pain that floods my body. I want to stop, but I also want to keep going. 

At this point, my mind is singularly focused on the pain, but it’s also as clear as the surface of a deep well. I no longer have the capacity to think about the problems that were swirling in my head only minutes ago. Surprisingly, this is when answers to them start emerging. They were there all along, if only I cared to stop and drink from my well.

Running my first marathon

Since around the age of 14, I’ve been running regularly. Most weeks, I’d go on a couple of runs, for about 30 minutes each time. Occasionally I’d go for a longer run, but it never amounted to more than 10K. To me, running was primarily a way to stay fit. Beyond that, there was no reason to push myself to run farther or faster.

Until I decided to run my first marathon this year.

When my friends and co-workers found out, they were curious to know why I decided to do it. In response, I’d shrug it off with a joke along the lines of “I looked at the prices of the Pittsburgh Marathon and Half-Marathon. Turns out the marathon was only $10 more but twice the distance”.

The truth is, the idea of running a marathon was planted in my head when I visited New York City in November last year, on what turned out to be the weekend of the 2016 New York City Marathon. Walking along W 59th St, I took in the sight of what must’ve been tens of thousands of people lining the south edge of Central Park cheering on thousands of runners.  

It was a festive affair. People held signs to support their family and friends, and there were bands playing. It was a beautiful fall day, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. I’d previously had the impression that marathons were serious endeavors filled with intense athletes – and of course, that’s still true, but most of the runners I saw didn’t look like they were going to be sponsored by Nike or Adidas anytime soon. They looked like ordinary people, people who could be my neighbors or colleagues. Or me. Inspired, I thought to myself, “if so many people can run a marathon, so can I. I just need to try.”

Fast forward 6 months. I woke up the morning of the Pittsburgh Marathon feeling nervous but also tremendously excited. When I got to the start line, I noticed that an overwhelming majority of the runners around me had number tags that were a different color from mine. It was only then that I realized that despite the name marathon, most participants were taking actually part in the half-marathon or relay. This feeling of perhaps having bitten off more than I could chew was again reinforced towards the middle of the race, when all the half-marathon runners turned off towards their finish line and the crowd thinned noticeably.

In the end, I completed my first marathon in 3 hours, 48 minutes and 9 seconds. I smiled as I crossed the finish line. Just as I’d experienced from watching the New York City Marathon, I had a great time running the Pittsburgh Marathon. I enjoyed running through all the remarkably diverse neighborhoods of my city, and chuckling to myself as I read witty signs held by supportive spectators. But most of all, I loved the feeling of pushing myself and finishing something difficult. Afterwards, I remarked to a close friend that it seemed that the pain to fun ratio was about 3 to 10. I couldn't walk properly for a few days afterwards, but they were some of the happiest few days of my life.

And almost immediately, I started entertaining thoughts about running another marathon.  

I’ve only just started on my running journey, but it’s already brought me a lot of joy and taught me valuable lessons. In this blog, I hope to chronicle some of my interesting runs and reflect on what I’ve learned through running.