I hate running. I’ve tried over the last couple of decades to cultivate a love for it, because everyone tells me how good it is for you, but it’s never worked…
Training at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand with world-class coaches, I have reluctantly come to realize the importance of running. It is necessary for survival: being able to get away from danger quickly is an important skill to have. I also knew it would improve my performance in the sports that I enjoyed, like Muay Thai. And it would help to better condition my poor, asthmatic lungs.
My first foray into serious running was during university. My cousin Nelson ran marathons and did triathlons at the time, while also captaining a dragon boat team and an ultimate frisbee team. I wanted to be badass like him.
With his coaching, I began doing long runs. I started with 5-kilometre and 10-kilometre runs, and then I did two half-marathons over my summer breaks. I finally felt ready for a full marathon, and I planned to do it the summer after I graduated. Throughout my last year of university, I incorporated weekly runs into my busy schedule of working part-time and studying full-time. My school didn’t have a real track, so my “training regimen” consisted of me running around campus until my legs felt ready to fall off.
I was also running at a time before Spotify was a thing and before the invention of smartphones that could play music, so I would carry a Discman with me for my night runs (for those of you who are too young to know what a Discman is, click here). Running was still wholly unenjoyable, and music was a necessity to make it somewhat bearable. Professors, late-night library-goers, and frat boys would watch in bewilderment as I slowly lapped the campus twenty times, holding my Discman as flat as possible to keep the CD from skipping.
It’s the day of my marathon. Nelson meets me at the event around 6 am. All around us, lean, stony-faced athletes perform various warm-up rituals, lunging and twisting in preparation for what is to come.
“You ready?” he asks me.
“No…” I cry, starting to panic. I didn’t train hard enough. I should have taken my practice runs more seriously. I had never actually run for more than four hours during training, so I had no idea whether I’d even be able to complete a marathon.
I down a bottle of water, and we slow-jog around the area to warm up.
Runners are now congregating at the starting line. The serious contenders for a medal are up at the front, the Running Room members and semi-regular marathoners are in the middle, and those wearing a facial expression of sheer terror head to the back.
“Alright, I’m going home,” Nelson informs me.
“What??? You’re not gonna stay?”
“No. Dude, I told you, I have a herniated disc. I’m in pain, I need to go back to sleep!”
I had forgotten about his most recent injury. But part of me still wants him to be there, cheering me on as I slowly die.
“Chris, you’re ready! Just remember to breathe. And follow one of the pacer bunnies.”
I nod, and my injured cousin takes off, leaving me in a sea of semi-professional athletes and their respective cheer squads.
The starting gun goes off, and a deafening noise erupts from the onlookers. There are so many runners, and I am so far back, that it takes over 12 minutes for me to even reach the starting line.
What happened after that was hours of what can only be described as torture in its purest form, the steady deterioration of my mental and physical will to live. The night before the race, I had decided not to run with my trusty but cumbersome Discman. I figured that the adrenaline from racing with thousands of other marathoners, along with the cheering of the crowd, would be enough to keep me entertained. It wasn’t.
I never realized that it was possible to be in agonizing pain while also being bored out of my mind. It IS in fact possible. This marathon taught me new things about my own emotional capacity.
In later conversations with runner friends, the phenomenon of the “runner’s high” always came up. I had never understood what this was.
“You’ve never gotten the runner’s high?” one friend asked me, incredulous.
“You mean that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re dying from heat stroke or an early-onset heart attack?”
“No! It’s a feeling of total euphoria… you’re not anxious, not stressed…”
“Like, because you’re about to pass out from dehydration and hunger, and you’ve given up on living?”
“No! You feel it in your whole body…”
“You mean, because your breakfast hasn’t been properly digested, and you’re not sure which end it’s gonna come out of?”
I didn’t get it. Needless to say, I didn’t get a runner’s high during my marathon. I did follow a pacer bunny – an extraordinary athlete, adorned with pink bunny ears, who has such insane body control that, if followed, can get you across the finish line in the exact time listed on their back. I was aiming for four and a half hours, a ridiculous feat for a non-athlete running her first marathon. Over time, I left this bunny for progressively slower and slower bunnies (4:45; 5:00…).
I pass the finish line well over five hours later to absolutely no fanfare. Around me, teams of runners are hugging each other, and some people are crying.
I’m too dehydrated to cry – there’s no water left in my body.
I drink two litres of water in one go, stuff a banana into my face, and pack my backpack full of the bagels sitting by the finish line. They’re gourmet bagels, and I need to get my money’s worth after the immense suffering I just experienced.
I jumped on the bus and didn’t look back. That was the last time I did a race.
It’s been more than a decade since that awful day. I had decided to make running a more regular part of my life while training at Tiger. I did a weekly class in Speed, Acceleration and Quickness. I also decided I would do the Big Buddha run once a month.
The Big Buddha run is a 4.5-kilometre run straight up a hill, ending near an enormous statue of Buddha. It’s exactly as horrendous as it sounds.
Last summer, I participated once in this form of torture posing as a “class”. My time was awful – 55 minutes. It was about 38 or 39 degrees on the day I did it, and I was over-trained. I was doing 3-4 classes a day, and not resting, hydrating, or eating enough. Somewhere between 55 and 60 minutes, the Tiger truck will head down the hill to pick up the remaining runners. I was spared this shameful ritual, however, by coming in second-last and just making the cut-off before I was deemed too unfit to finish.
This year, the first time I did the Big Buddha run, I finished with a time of just under 35 minutes. I had managed to shave off 20 minutes from my terrible attempt last summer!
I was shaking, sweating, and slowly asphyxiating – but I was also elated! Had I discovered a profound love of running, lying dormant all these years? Would I finally experience this elusive runner’s high?
It’s the end of April. I’m leaving Tiger for good next week, but I need to get in one last Big Buddha run. Each month, I’ve consistently been able to beat my time by about a minute. I want to finish at around 30 minutes today.
I came with a friend, but within 30 seconds, he – and anyone else even remotely athletic – peaces out, charging up the first hill and disappearing from sight.
My asthma feels worse than normal. I’m sucking in huge gulps of air, but still feel oxygen-deprived. A few times during the run, I cough up giant balls of phlegm.
Sandz, one of the coaches, flies by on his motorcycle.
“Come on, Christine, you’re almost there!” he yells encouragingly.
I’ve taken classes with Sandz before, and he has told me I’m “almost there” when I have 26 more minutes of cardio to do; 40 more burpees to do; 110 more sit-ups to do. I know I’m not “almost there”.
A pick-up truck full of Thai schoolchildren passes me, and the students in the back stare unabashedly at the red-faced, soaking wet, human monstrosity in front of them. I am tempted to grab the back handle and jump into the truck for a bit. Nobody would even know…
I’m on the last hill now, so I sprint the last 50 metres. Over half of our group has already completed the run, and nobody pays attention as I charge past the finish line, coughing up bile.
Tommy, the coach waiting at the top, yells out my time, but I don’t hear it. I start choking, my lungs not able to draw in enough air. My muscles are on fire, unresponsive and filled with lactic acid.
I lie on the floor like a dead animal for several minutes and eventually hobble over to the truck to get my water bottle. I chug the whole thing and go back to my fetal position on the ground.
“Hey, Tommy,” I call out. “What was my time?”
He checks his watch. “35 minutes, 59 seconds!”
What??? After seven months of intense training, weekly speed drills, and monthly Big Buddha runs, I came in slower than my worst time this entire year! A feeling of total despair creeps over me. All this suffering for nothing! I’m actually getting worse at running…
I fell ill that same afternoon. I was shaky and could barely move. I lay in bed all day for a week, watching Die Hard for the 80,000th time and eating chicken soup. I wasn’t able to train, and I lost my voice, as well as five pounds.
I hate running.
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