Just Keep Running?

It’s been less than two years since I started, but already I consider myself a runner. The label is not for running ability or racing accomplishments but rather for how drastically running is shaping my schedule, diet, and lifestyle as a whole. You might say…  it runs my life. [my pun games run wild in this post]

In the beginning, I took up running and biking primarily for the sake of my health (but also for ulterior motives). Exercise — along with responsible eating and not smoking — is essentially the modern-world panacea. Thus, for a rising med student, it would have been hypocritical and almost blasphemous to enter the healthcare without exercising myself.

However, considering it takes only 10-minute runs 3 times per week to reap health benefits, clearly I’ve veered off course [or run astray]. My current running habit is an enormous time sink. A typical daily 5-mile run takes 40 minutes, but stretching, showering, and immediately eating adds another 30 minutes. Because of my reflux (which is mostly resolved!), I don’t run within 2 hours of eating. Because of fatigue, I don’t work at top mental capacity for hours afterwards. 

There’s this “runner’s high” that most runners enjoy feel when their brains are flooded with endorphins and endocannabinoids in response to vigorous exercise, but I don’t really get one. There’s no post-run euphoria; finishing a run is invariably worse than baseline not-running. I reassure myself with post-run intellectual fulfillment, but that’s just an artifact I conjure from cognitive dissonance.

Thus, my running reduces to an exercise [running gag: puns] of delayed gratification. Running promotes circulation and prevents my blood from pooling in my legs and leaving my hands frozen and my brain sluggish. Day by day, running plus Citibiking makes me independently and rapidly mobile around NYC. For my career, it’ll train my legs to withstand standing through grueling surgeries. On the timescale of my lifetime, I know I should, so I do.

I’ve made up plenty of ground [puns here for the long run] in running ability despite being slow off the block [puns running amock]. I told myself this as motivation: “as a 6-foot-tall thin-framed mid-twenties guy; you should be faster. Get faster.” When I ran that half marathon last May in 1:49:13 (8:20 pace), I was not fast; I also threw up at the end. This week, when I ran those 13.1 miles in 1:34:ish (7:15 pace) — alone, and without a course — I was like, “okay, now that’s kinda fast. Yay.”

Still, running is hard and I am a wimp. Besides those short summers swimming during middle school, I’ve never trained as an athlete, so I don’t possess the discipline to push myself when my body’s screaming to stop. Instead, I just… stop. I hate hate hate tempo runs, so I never do tempo runs, so I don’t improve my “pushing” capacity. My running improved only in expanding my fuel reserves (longest run: 3 miles -> 17 miles) and quickening my comfortable pace (8:45 min/mi -> 7:15 min/mi). That’s why I on Tuesday could set a 10k PR, 10-mi PR, and half marathon PR all in one run, but as soon as I try pushing harder I collapse within seconds. Oh well. One step at a time [hmm, a run-of-the-mill pun].

I don’t know if I’ll ever run another race though. Most runners are pumped up from the buzzing energy of thousands of fellow runners, and they get a speed boost from their adrenaline rush. I don’t. I never have. Hundreds of runners streaming past me when I stand there, legs heavy, lungs heaving, unable to push further. The frustration my oxygen-starved brain felt when other swimmers pull ahead on the last leg [are these puns running your ear off?] of my middle school swims. Not only in athletics, my track record [just run with it] is terrible in all endeavors; countless music concerts and cubing competitions have confirmed that I crumble under pressure. It’s disheartening. (Also, races are expensive.)

Initially, I ran to improve my health, but these days it’s paradoxically hazardous to my health. I should tread lightly [now running the risk of pun fatigue] because it takes but one literal misstep to sprain an ankle or scrape a pinky, both which I have done. This winter, I sustained minor injuries to my Achilles tendon and IT band thanks to cold weather and poor planning. Thankfully, I’m back on track [I’m running a fever, and the only prescription is more puns!] and running much more warily.

So, what’s my goal? Where’s the finish line? [running on pun fumes here] Running like this is time-consuming, risky, exhausting, and not immediately enjoyable. I’ve been studying the health benefits of good eating and exercise and how to counsel patients about it, and I’ve long passed the beneficial threshold for exercise. Nonetheless, my body is now accustomed to the physical release running offers, and while I’m out running I might as well run well. My running ability is has taken huge strides [puns running out], but I’m still not fast for a 6-foot-tall thin-framed mid-twenties guy. So… get faster.




PS. if you don’t exercise the equivalent of moderate 10-minute runs 3 times per week, get started already. It really is the modern-world panacea.