I got a late start to running. I did not start until I was a freshman in college when I was trying (unsuccessfully) to stave off the Freshman 15 and to find a substitute for competitive tennis. I did not get into it enthusiastically. I had always hated running. My tennis coaches used to berate me almost every training session for not being quick on my feet and for having a bad attitude when we had to do running drills.
Yet at the University of Chicago, I found myself trudging out to the beautiful Lakefront every other day through Chicago’s infamous wind, rain, sleet, and snow. Even then, it was more about being fit and relieving stress than actually racing and posting times.
It was not until the summer between my second and third year that I began doing cross-country workout with teammates on the cross country and track team. From tempo runs to speed workouts to long runs, I learned how to increase my stamina and speed the healthy way. Besides minor injuries such as minor shin splits and sprained ankle, I used running as a guiding star to become healthy and strong physically. Mentally, however, I was still not prepared and that made me inconsistent. On good days when I felt light, I could hammer out 10 miles without stopping against the wind while listening to Taylor Swift and Mika (guilty pleasures). On bad days though, I could barely do 2 miles without pausing. My running buddies told me that it was all mental; on bad days, I simply did not have the mental will to push myself. I agreed. One thing I learned from tennis is that sports are 70% mental and 30% fitness. I did not have the focus and toughness
When I moved to Nairobi, Kenya a year later, I was determined to make running a priority while still maintaining injury-free. After all, I was in a land of Olympic long-distance running. I was even more determined after taking two hiking trips to Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi where Kenyan runners train. Training in urban Nairobi has given me two advantages: 1) it is high in altitude (1.1 miles above sea-level) and 2) the air is dusty and polluted from diesel fumes. The first day I ran in Nairobi, I was so overwhelmed that I only did a miler on Ngong Rd. before heading back. 7 months later, I ran the Nairobi Marathon under four hours.
I am still nowhere near my personal best. Even though the Marathon was exhausting, I definitely did not push my limit- I was back on the road four days later, doing my daily sunrise runs.
Yesterday, I read the book Born to Run by Chris McDougall about ultramarathoners and the view that humans are born to run. With a minimalist diet and equipment and right exercise, humans can run super long distance with no injuries. I was so inspired by the book. I cemented my goal to become a better athlete and runner. Because when I am a better runner, I am also a better person and worker. I become more patient and tolerant and my efficiency shoots through the roof, especially in the first two hours of post-workout.
Running has become my passion and has made me much more disciplined. If McDougall is right in his anthropological and historical examination of the effects of running, we are indeed born to run, and running may just be the solution to some of the human bodies’ ailments and societal problems.
I’m running a trail half-marathon in San Francisco this December. My goal is to set a personal best for half and along the way beat the record time of the race.