I completed my only 2023 resolution this last week by finally running my first 10km in my life.
It had seemed like an unattainable goal: I was struggling even to finish 5km, much less 10. I learnt by experimentation that it made a considerable difference if I started slowly to warm up during the first km or so, and if I deliberately kept my heart rate around 120+bpm instead of instinctively picking up the pace. I could go on for a very long while at this slow pace, and if I tired it was my legs, not my cardiovascular system. I used to be so unfit that even brisk walking for more than 10 minutes would tire me out, so to be able to sustain a slow jog at longer distances is a huge deal to me. I gauged my fitness by how much I struggle to complete my targeted distance. When I first began running this round, I was struggling all the way from the beginning till the end for the entire 5km. Now I could probably run up till 7 easily before my feet starts to fatigue.
I slowly went from 5 to 5.5 to 6 to 6.5 to 7 to 7.7 to 8.5 to 9, then to 10. I was stuck at 5-6 for the first couple of months but I reached this threshold where my aerobic fitness seemed to make a quantum leap, so at 6.5 I started adding around 10% mileage each week. I started running around October 2022, so it took me roughly 6 months to go from 5km to 10. People train for full marathons in half the time, so my progress is considered relatively slow.
But for most of my life I avoided walking for even for 10 minutes, as a child I hated physical fitness lessons, climbing stairs used to be such a nightmare because it would always render me breathless. So yes it feels good to be fitter in my 40s compared to all of my youth.
I would probably not be on this journey if I wasn’t attempting to improve my mitochondrial health in order to heal from my migraines. This started off as purely utilitarian – I thought I would just do it like a chore just like how eating low carb feels like a chore to me: a chore being something I have to do instead of what I truly want to do. But unexpectedly I fell in love. Now I probably have an unhealthy relationship with running, because I get disappointed when I am not running, and I am always trying to run even when my body is exhibiting dodgy signals.
I now understand why people say they run for mental health. Is it the endorphins, the increased oxygen, the sense of completion? Or do I like giving myself utterly into an experience?
I know this is probably the nth time I am writing about running. But I think this is a precious slice of my life to capture. I don’t really know when this will be taken away from me. I’m afraid that a bout of covid could annihilate my aerobic capacity. Or who knows what sort of strange illnesses I may develop? I don’t have a good history with my health. Every day feels precarious to me.
We cannot help but be coloured by our life experiences. I am never at peace because I am always expecting something terrible to happen. And yet this attitude brings me a different kind of peace because I am always trying to live my life to the fullest, as much as my capacity can allow.
I now realise that attempting to live life to the fullest is actually a lot more challenging than it sounds. It takes a certain courage, to be capable of always weighing the present against the future, to be able to discern what is reckless versus choosing the present, should I have empathy for my future self versus my present self, am I being hedonistic or am I taking care of my inner needs? It is a constant calculation at any given moment. That is if I even remember to make that calculation, because it is just so easy to go into a drone-like existence based out of a regular fixed routine. I try to circumvent this by journalling every morning – it makes me think about how I want to spend my day. I don’t always succeed in trying to live with more awareness, but it is still nice to at least give some thought to it.
It is a similar calculation I make for running. Each day when I make the choice to run, I ask myself if I am harming or improving my body? I would like to run everyday but I am still not there yet. I just ran 3 days in a row this last week and I fell a little bit ill. It is still difficult for me to know when I truly need a break.
At the end of the day, it is all about building that relationship with my self and my body. To manage all the different tensions and desires I have. I am terrible at this. Yet to feel that conflict and challenge I realise, is a sign that I am in the process of learning. I have always wondered why I never seem to take the easy way out, or why does life consistently feel so uncomfortable? It is an ongoing paradox because I am ambivalent about the value of my life and yet there is this invisible desire to explore the depths of my self. Who am I, and who will I become?
Because of my chronic illness I had to rely a lot on having a stable predictable routine. It was really helpful earlier on, because my younger self did not know how to live in a routine or build consistent habits. But it has somewhat built an internal prison for me. I could have continued to walk the same amount of distance every day just for the sake of maintaining my health, to incorporate an exercise that has a high potential of triggering my illness was a risk. Now I am glad I took it.
I did probably have more migraines, but I also discovered that it was possible to push my limits. Previously just going out for a few days in a row would be enough to trigger a serious migraine, now I am able to run around 30km a week. I have fallen sick during times when my body wasn’t in a very good state to run, which I am still have trouble recognising the signs.
I know I need more flexibility in my exercise routines. So last week I did a photowalk on one of my rest days and yoga on another. It is not easy to decide to take a break. Even in exercise I am having trouble pursuing wholeness. I am feeling the conflict, which means I sense that I could do better and I am attempting to break out of my self-made mould.
It would probably be better for my runs if I work on other forms of training. I am not training for a marathon or any form of race, so there is not much point in accumulating too much mileage. If health and fitness is my goal then I have to learn how to work out my entire body instead of just my legs and cardiovascular fitness. I just forget to see the whole picture.
I guess if I could decide to start running one day, I could potentially start on anything. Maybe knowing how to overcome inertia and start something is a muscle I can train too.