Lessons from a little running

I had a back-of-the-mind goal to run a half marathon by the end of the semester. There were many internal points against doing something like this. A small one is that a marathon distance is quite arbitrary and setting a numbers goal when that number didn’t feel personal to me goes against most of my goal-setting pillars. A big one is that I wasn’t too sure how training for and running that distance would affect my weight goals. I’ve worked hard to gain weight and there’s this correlation in my head between endurance cardio and weight loss … which I have no interest in losing. But the reason I did run that distance boils down to “running and working towards a well-defined goal is really, really fun”.

I didn’t follow any hard and fast routine (unlike my very knowledgeable roommate, and an Albertan friend. Both of whom without, I doubt I could’ve made it). But I did have a general idea that was inspired by their routines:

run 1–2 easy and long runs in a week, then increase that distance every week.

It’s a shitty, injury-prone routine in theory. But the reason I avoided injury throughout this whole escapade was likely due to a background in cross-country from high school and carry over strength from weight training.

After a semester or so of this routine, I woke up at 7:30am yesterday, warmed up, filled my mouth with a decent amount of water¹ and strode on out. After putting my feet in front of each other for just over 2 hours, I was done. The first thought after 21.55km that day and ~12 weeks of training towards that was, “What’s next?”. I was mildly disappointed that these were the types of thoughts running through my head seconds after a big personal achievement. My dehydrated mind thought about this for a while, and after drinking too much water too fast, it became obvious why.

Throughout training — and hell, throughout life — I never learned to just sit the fuck down and bask in glory. Social expectations of being a smart kid, cultural ones of an immigrant with way better opportunities, some innate ADD tendencies to jump around to the next big thing; all mixed together in a system that incentivizes ‘never settling’ made it hard to learn these things. So it seemingly boiled down to two choices:

  • accept that you’re never going to be satisfied, stop participating, and chill (I’m going to get shot for saying this, but this is how I see mindfulness and a lot of Buddhism), or,
  • say “fuck it”, flick a cigarette offscreen, and become the gurlboss that you’re destined to be.

I don’t want to get into why both of these options seemed wimpy and cliché, respectively, but I will jot down what makes sense right now.

Make an impossible goal with incremental sub-goals each of which make things slightly better for some people.

I don’t see myself as a person that can switch off from society (although this might be the play we all have to make). I also don’t see myself as doing bullshit work as a means to an end (although this would have higher upsides and is supported by thoughts like effective altruism, donating money towards existing highly effective places, etc.). I’m a continually dissatisfied² dumb ape who likes to see people doing better than they were. This seems to work, YMMV.

1: I have no clue if this is good or bad, but for long runs, I like to drink some water but keep it in my mouth for a while. It gets quite disgusting in there after 30–40 minutes but it forces me to breathe through my nose which forces me to go at a pace that is constrained by that.

2: which I see as leagues different from being discontented. To me, dissatisfaction is the reptile brain “what’s next” feeling and discontentment is the rationalized, high-brow feeling of “I am nothing in my life, I have no use”. In other words, a dissatisfied but contented person would be okay with dying right now. You can’t jump to the next thing if you’re dead but hey, it’s been a good run.

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