2022/08/27 – Today I am turning 28 (sounds like old errr) but running has kept me feeling young and passionate – that’s what today’s post is about (obviously). I want to reflect on my personal running journey and share some thoughts on this – maybe even better if this post can encourage you to go out and run – that would be awesome!
Where it all started
I attended my high shool friend’s wedding earlier this month and many of them who knew me from high school were surprised to see me in my current shape. I used to be a lazy and fatty boy in my teenage time – Guangzhou was too hot for outdoor exercises and I didn’t like competitive sports, the most common of which back at that time was basketball.
I started some running during my college time in Lanzhou, not very seriously though. The weather was so much better – dry air and cool temperature, when I went out for exercises and sweat would dry out quickly and didn’t feel as humid and stressed as in Guangzhou.
But it was until I got into grad school then I started to take running seriously and it became a necessary part of my life. My grad school experience actually began with a collaborative visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in Boulder, Colorado. (Well, Boulder is an all-time Mecca for runners, but TBH, I didn’t know this the time I visited) The climate science research was a 9-5 job with 1hour lunch break where people would get to the cafeteria and chat about their daily work. It was a bit tedious to me – of course, no one at 22 year old grad student would be happy and passionate about “what people bring for lunch everyday”, for example. Then after work, my colleagues would go back home with families – leaving me have not to much to do.
Then one day I walked by the Boulder Running Company by Pearl street after work – many people were gathering there for a group run. People of all ages – most of them were older than me, came for a run, either 5k for a shorter run or 8k for a longer run, at the Boulder creek, a nice scenery trail. After the run, there would be free pizza and drinks (beers at some occasions, but not always). Runner would stayed for the evening, sharing their running and work, etc. It was all felt like a “happy hour” to runners. I was immediately attracted by the energetic and happy vibe from the running group and decided to join them as well.
The Boulder Running Company group introduced me to a fun, and actually quite serious, running experience. Serious, I meant that the runners come from ages and expert level, many of them were elite runners, considering Boulder’s rich history of training America’s Olympic Athletes. Talking to them after each week’s run was fun and eye-opened to me, they would share with me running tips, their experiences, and how to stay active while injury-free, an suffering but inevitable lesson each runner has to learn. It was a great start point for me in my running life. OMG I can’t wait to start my next job in Boulder next Jan, training for the Boston Qualify in the Runners’ Mecca – that’s my big goal in next year.
It’s all about yourself
Then the next stop of my journey brought me to Saskatoon, Canada, where I worked on my Ph.D. in the University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon is not a big outdoor town – flat and spreadout – and much of the time in a year the city is covered in snow (from Oct to early May). So I could only found indoor track for running in winters and really seized good opportunity to run outdoors for summer.
To be honest, the grad school research part in Saskatoon is worse, if you compared it with in Boulder. It’s still a 9-5 work, but more stressed in winter as of less sunlight and extreme cold, less fun and things to do in other times. So, I started to feel some degree of depression and lack of motivation in my first two years in Saskatoon.
Then I came across this animation, Running with the Wind (in Japanese is 風が強く吹いている) that had boosted me with strong discipline and motivation that kept me running and studying through my Ph.D. It is about a relay race for college runners in Japan, held every year on Jan 2-3, called the Hakone Ekiden. It was a 200 km out-and-back race between Tokyo and Hakone, a hotspring town near Mount Fuji. Each team consists of 10 runners and one for each 20k distance. Only the top 20 college teams were qualified for the race. So the story was about how 10 runners in college started their training, lived in the same dorm, and developed friendships and characters. If you are interested in running or Japanese animation, I will definitely recommend this one to you – one of my top picks in recent years.
I particularly remembered one dialogue from the animation, between the two main characters:
“Haiji – Kakeru, do you know what’s the most important character in running?
Kakeru – It’s being fast, of course.
Haiji – No, it’s not about how fast you run, but its about being strong.
Kakeru was confused – why the hell running is about being strong, every one knows that it’s running fast that matters in a race, that’s how others rank your time.
Haiji – Of course, being able to run fast is important in a race, but it’s not everything. If it is only about fast, we don’t need running. Taking trains from Tokyo to Hakone is much easier, faster, and more comfort. We could just take trains, instead of running.
But running is about being strong – strong in a consistent and confident way. We know it’s a long way to Hakone, and the way there won’t be easy. We need to go out running on good days, but also on rainy days, hot days, windy days and even when we are feeling bad and not in the mood. We might encounter pain, sufferings, and even injuries – but at the same time we are confident and sure that we are going to be fine and come back stronger. It’s about getting stronger and beating up yourself from yesterday, and keep transcending to a better self – that’s strong I am talking about.“
That conversation definitely blowed my mind (and of course Kakeru’s mind). For me, running in Boulder was the good time to me, at the same time running in Saskatoon is also a necessary training that builds up my endurance, consistency, and confidence, which are all required to become a stronger runner.
While not saying speed and time are not important – it is important only in one race – but our life are so much bigger than running races. What we need here is to change our perspective to a life-long training and development angle – we will need the real “grit” that is building from running that keep us motivated and going on and on.
And all about everyone else
Some one would say – running to transcending yourself sounds great, but it’s still boring at some time and would need some motivation to keep going. Now, that’s true in some degree too. Here I want to also introduce another aspect of running – as a community sport, you can find so many grassroot running organization. And by community, yes, they are free, and that’s what I like about it.
Last year in summer, after the two-year work-from-home period of the pandemic, my body hurt so much, my neck and my back. I was so out of shape again and was eager to get back to exercise again. I started doing some swimming as it helped with relaxing the muscles and joints. That’s where I met my coach Harvey, at the Saskatoon Harry Bailey swimming pool.
Harvey told me he worked in Brainsport, a local running shop, and had organized a running group for some weekly trainning. By the end of the swimming routes, he asked me if I want to join. I said – of course.
I met up with this group on Sunday morning 9 am, most of them are young teenagers (local high school students) and their parents. I still couldn’t find runner at my similar age, errr. But anyway, actually running with my younger friends kept me feeling young too.
We had this weekly Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday run with the group, from last Sep to this Apr, in the Saskatoon Field house indoor track. After Apr this year, we started to do some outdoor running, one of my favorite is the Parkrun.
The Parkrun is a self-organized running event started from the UK, and is now spreading across the globe. (If you want to join a running community, I will definitely introduce you to the Parkrun, and check out their website to find the closest event – Unbelievably, there is one Parkrun in Saskatoon!)
The Amazing part of Parkrun is that it is the same route, 5-km, and same time, Saturday morning 9 am, every week. This the consistent part of building up good running habits and a lifestyle.
Another amazing thing about Parkrun is that the event is organized by our local volunteers and it is completely free. By community, I mean two things – one is the support and one is volunteer.
When you are standing at the Parkrun start line, you will see many runners from different ages, different gears, and styles – some will even come with a baby stroller and run even faster than me… Also don’t underestimate old runners, they may well have been retired athletes and they are still fast.
But anyway, what I mean support is at the start line, people begin to greet each other, known or unknown, “how are you doing?”, “what’s your pace today?”, “I have been training too hard”, “you can come after me – I can break the head wind”. By the end of the finish line, you will also see people congratulating each other, “you did great job today” “that was fast” “could have done it better if my held my pace the first 2k” “you can work on your endurance”. Just very naturally, these conversations happen between runners and good intentions and training tips and cares share across the cheering vibe.
What’s also amazing about the Parkrun is that it is totally organized by volunteers. So every week people sign up on an online sheet and they are assigned with different roles, such as pre-event setup, recording time, tail-walking to make sure everyone is safe. Every week about 3-5 people will sign up – it’s fun just to run 5k with Parkrun and it’s even more fun to help organize the event. What a great help to put things together and get people coming out and run – that’s what I feel like about community.
Finally, thank you for listening to me sharing my running story. I am really enjoying myself at the moment – I will be training for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct 16 this year. Another 7 weeks to go and I am keep building up the mileage. I do enjoy my journey as a runner and traveler – that’s what I am feeling the best part of being graduate and running in Canada story. Thanks for reading.