Pull on your comfortable running shorts, the ones that made your mom raise an eyebrow and say, “Aren’t those a bit short?”, even though when you look in the mirror, all you can see are baggy, washed out cut-offs that do not render you as the wearer attractive in any particular light. Go through your exercise t-shirts: the Nike splurge that didn’t end up impressing you with its Dri-fit technology as much as you thought it would; the fitted tee you wear when you’ve been eating clean (i.e. not consuming two bags of chips in the span of a day) and you can wear it without having to suck in your stomach the whole time; the various oversized t-shirts proclaiming places someone (not necessarily you) have visited – Bali, New Zealand, Miami; and the t-shirts belonging to other family members that have somehow ended up in your room after a round of laundry, and which you pilfered by way of not bothering to return it back to them.
Put on your sneakers, or, if you’re like me, try and squash your feet through already tied-up shoes you were too lazy to undo and just pushed off the last time you wore them. You were probably in a rush then, high-tailing it towards the kitchen to have a hearty breakfast after the noble feat of going for a run first thing in the morning. Push each foot in, wincing and grumbling that you need a shoehorn. Then, walk around for a bit before deciding that they feel loose and subsequently untying the laces to pull them tighter and lacing them up all over again.
Awesome. Can we go now? Are you ready? No?
The thing is, throughout the time leading up to the actually jogging part, that’s when you suddenly have this idea that the smallest things, if left unaddressed, will ultimately impede your ability to go for a run. Your bangs are flopping over your eyes. You can’t find your wrist sweatband. Your iPod is low on battery. The sun’s already rising and it will be too hot for you to fit in a decent-length run. At some point, when you find yourself squinting at the horizon, trying to convince yourself that those clouds in the distance definitely look like rain clouds, you know you’re just looking for an excuse.
Come on, let’s just get up and go.
Begin by walking around the park, slowly at first, taking in the sights and sounds, such a novelty when you’re used to staring into a mirror while on a treadmill. Build up your speed; walk a little more briskly. Check that your earphones are in place; your keys are secured and won’t jangle annoyingly. Pick out a song that you like. Then, when it feels right, let’s go. Start running.
The first interval will be okay. Enjoyable, in fact. This is the part where you are not yet a hot mess, sweat is minimal, and your heart rate is just starting to build up. You are still basking in the immediate gratification of being active, your mind focusing on the “Whoo, I’m running!” feeling. You are convinced you are a useful member of society and you feel confident and light as you run along. You are a gazelle.
The second interval is where you are now properly active, you can feel your heart pumping. This is where you start to perspire a bit more, and you are annoyed you didn’t manage to find your sweatband, but it’s okay, it’s all good. You begin to feel the effort your body is putting in, and you relish in the prospect of giving yourself a proper work-out; you’re meant to feel this way.
I’m never sure how it transitions from one phase to the next, but flash forward and suddenly you feel like you’re dying. Dying to stop, anyway. Maybe it’s when you come to the section of the park with the hill, with the road spiralling upwards steeply. You are breathing heavily, and you feel a niggling pain in your right ankle. And if you weren’t a hot mess before, you definitely are one now – red face, sweat plastering your hair to your forehead, your heavy feet pounding the pavement ungracefully as you struggle along. Music no longer provides a distraction; it has subsided to an irritating buzz you barely hear behind the overpowering urge to just stop and have a breather. You are no longer a gazelle – you may very well be an armadillo, a three-toed sloth, or any animal not particularly known for its running prowess.
This is also where you are going to fight with yourself. It will be an internal tug of war as one part of your mind is screaming “WE SHALL STOP NOW”, while the other is a range of personalities that are arguing the opposite – there will be the preppy, optimistic side that cheers you on to continue for just a little longer, until you make it to that tree! Or how about to that lamp post! Or run for just another two minutes! On the other end of the spectrum will be the side that threatens you with failure, the one that proclaims that stopping now would mean disappointment and the substantiation that you are WEAKSAUCE, shame on you.
The contradicting signals will be confusing, and it’s a question of finding a balance between not giving in to your self-perceived limits, pushing to be better, and realizing when it’s time to stop. Some days, make no mistake, you’ll give up. You’ll stop long before that targeted park bench, or before your watch completes another minute, or before the song ends. Some days you stop early even when you feel like you could have actually gone on. Don’t beat yourself up about it; these things happen.
Some days, though, you’ll find the will to go hard. Even when you’re going up that bloody hill again and your calves are killing you, you’ll push on, forcing yourself to think of other things, to just jog a few extra paces. And when it’s good, there are days where you cross some invisible hurdle and it’s suddenly not so tiring anymore. You get your groove back and find you’re aware of the music blasting in your ears again; you match your pace to the beat and all of sudden it’s enjoyable once more, maybe even more so, because you know you’ve come out on the other side. You run longer than you had expected and it’s a pretty sweet feeling when you finally stop. High five. Go grab a drink and bask in the afterglow (i.e. the smug feeling) of a good run.
(Photo by Robert S. Donovan on flickr)
Atiqah is not, unfortunately, a runner – she just abuses the treadmill briefly at semi-frequent intervals. She runs vicariously through her sister, accompanying her at ungodly hours in the morning to attend organised runs and cheering when she crosses the finish line. Go kakak!