Today I jogged a 10k. It was kinda a bummer, because I was looking forward to racing, but apparently I overstressed my body the last few weeks, and ended up coming down with a cold. Since it's not worth getting really sick just to race (while already sick), I decided to go to the race and just chill. It's kinda crazy to think that a year ago, there would have been no way I'd be able to just go out and run a 10k without really thinking too much about it, let alone jog one in under an hour (with a cold). Sometimes it's nice to put the ego aside and just enjoy the weather and companionship of running alongside a whole bunch of strangers. Plus, I got to collect a new bridge!
Yet while I was running, it struck me that a lot of the people seemed to be having an absolutely miserable time. The 10k merged with the full marathon after about 1km, and it was as if we merged with a mob of zombies. People looked like they were dying on their feet. Many people were not even really "running" anymore, but were doing something more akin to shuffling. Some people groaned (I laughed to myself, thinking of the opening to Shaun of the Dead). One very intense-looking girl passed me, grunting loudly ala Monica Seles with each and every step - there were still at least five miles to go, so not sure how well that one worked out for her. Other people looked like they just wanted to give up on the side of the road and die.
Anyway, obviously it was a race, which is when people push their bodies to the limit, but I often see this too at the gym on the treadmills, and while jogging outside - so many people look like they're in serious physical pain and mental anguish when they're running! That used to be me, too - since I had no aerobic base, every time I'd run, it was a fight against stitches, burning lungs, etc. Honestly, it really sucked! And as a result, I gave up running every time I started.
This time around, I've discovered that running can be pretty fun, enjoyable, and pain-free. I totally look forward to long, slow runs now. Partially because my aerobic capacity has improved to the point where I actually can run slowly without stressing my body too much, but also because it's meditative. I get to leave my phone at home, no distractions, no music, nothing, just me and whatever landscape I happen to be passing through. I've even gotten into the habit of "collecting" the cities that I visit by going on runs while traveling (which incidentally is also a great way to combat jetlag). I had a fantastic run up the Thames to Big Ben back in December, a dangerously long tropical run in Taipei a couple months ago where I was led astray by a betelnut-chewing old man, and a jaunt around the Imperial Palace with 1,000 of my closest friends in Tokyo. Running turned into something that I enjoyed doing completely apart from any focus on the results, or "in exchange" for doing something unhealthy (you know a lot of you do that), and as a result, now I spend more time basking in these low-key runs. And having spent enough time doing that, I can also enjoy my occasional harder runs with speed work thrown in, because it's fun to go fast after spending so much time going slow, but more importantly because it doesn't feel like I'm killing my body (except for this week with the cold, where I clearly overdid something).
For the vast majority of people, running is not supposed to suck. Unless you're actually training for elite events, running should be a reasonably enjoyable activity. There's something to be said for just running all out until your body has given all it has, and I've totally been there too, but if all your workouts are like that, then all you're doing is teaching your body that running equals pain, and unless you're a masochist, your body will eventually win (and running will lose).
So, chill. =) Slow down, get some sun, breathe in some fresh air, and marvel at the fact that you can traverse across the landscape of our world like no other animal on earth.