More than a month on, I can barely remember any of the nearly three hours and fifteen minutes it took me to complete the Ottawa Marathon this past May. I do remember: the moment of silence for the Boston Marathon victims at the race start; the feeling of my left pinky toe swelling-up beginning at kilometer 22; feeling jealous as I passed on-lookers drinking mimosas; the folk band’s rendition of “Everybody Dance Now” at kilometer 38; the crowd’s cheering during the last three kilometers when I really just wanted to give up.
What I recall the most was not the race itself, but rather the state of utter joy-exhaustion-emotion upon its completion, and the great group of friends that waited patiently at the finish line to (literally) scoop me up and begin the celebrations.
For the most part, social life and running do not, however, go together, for at least two basic reasons. First of all, marathon training takes up a lot of time- time preparing, time running, time stretching, time recovering. Not to say anything about the time spent ravenously scavenging for food. Where to make room for all of this in an already full schedule requires creative thinking, stubbornness, and, unfortunately, relinquishing (some aspects of) social life.
Running further transformed me into a social pariah as it necessitated a seemingly all-encompassing dedication, which permeated even the most mundane aspects of everyday life. How’s the weather looking? Should I eat now or after my run? How long will it take me if I ran to my friend’s house? Such questions weren’t kept to myself, much to the frustration of my co-workers and friends (To all of you, a sincere thank you for enduring my torment!). And as much as I disliked doing it, by vocalizing my intentions, I found it easier to stick to my goals.
Lest I paint too horrible of a picture, I had a great time preparing for the marathon. I got to engage with Kunming, and other cities I traveled to during my training, in a very intimate manner that I would not have otherwise. For example, as the only runner on the road in Kunming, I became a recognizable figure to people as they regularly waited for their bus home or took a break outside their shop. Smiling was encouraged. My local fruit stand learned that I enjoyed freshly sliced papaya with a bit of lime and a chat upon finishing a run. And thankfully, my late-night dumpling lady always welcomed me, no matter my state of sweatiness.
I also found that in structuring my day around runs, I accomplished more simply because I was more time-conscious. Having all that time to myself, I was able to plan out reports, think about what emails needed to be sent, “draft” interview protocols, etc., without the distractions of the internet or phone.
My top five runs (marathon excluded, of course):
– Running through the mist of Hangzhou’s poetic West Lake at midnight. Magical!
– Going for a 20 kilometer run with my friend cheering me on as he followed by bike.
– Ten kilometer post-Olive-Garden-lunch-with-my-parents run.
– Joining the Kunming Hash Harriers in order to make running a bit more, ahem, “interesting.”
– Passing rapidly modernizing ethnic villages that line the edge of Erhai (“Ear Ocean”- a very large lake), in Dali, Yunnan Province
I know that running, let alone training for a marathon, is not for everyone. To be sure, until several years ago, I had never run over ten minutes. And on my first run since the marathon, I couldn’t help but think that I was crazy for even thinking of going beyond the Dairy Queen on the way to Mont Royal. Despite all this, I do find that having extracurricular activities benefits my mind and body, adding fresh perspectives to my work and life in general.
Many arduous challenges are likened to completing a marathon. Now that THAT’S over, I hope that crossing the PhD finish line will be all the easier. I’ll let you know.