Tag Archives: Running

Two Things I’ve Given Up

Growing up, I was highly motivated by sticker charts. Need to do something I didn’t like doing? Make a sticker chart. Counting down to something? Sticker chart. I liked the sense of accomplishment and I loved the stickers, especially the really intricate, detailed ones that you had to carefully peel off the backing paper and painstakingly adjust before sticking down because there was no peeling them back up again.

In my adult life, I’ve maintained slightly more advanced versions of sticker charts. There’s a minutes meditated counter in an app on my phone, a 1000km running challenge in a different app, and I can set my annual reading goal on yet another app. (And there are my blog statistics, but I’m going to leave that out of this discussion.)

Recently, I’ve started giving up those external motivators because it felt like the right thing to do. I spent the weekend out of town, mostly without wifi, doing yoga and eating spicy food and it gave me time to reflect. The post below explores what I have learned.

Annual Reading Goal

It’s no secret that I read a lot. I find it interesting to keep track of what I’ve read because I can look back on patterns and try to fit what I was reading into my memories of life at a certain time. Additionally, it’s helpful to look back on my book list to figure out when certain ideas changed and consider why that might have been.

For a couple years, I used Goodreads to set a reading goal and I noticed a change in my reading when I wasn’t sure whether or not I would reach it. Does this book “count” or is it really an extended essay or article? Do I start this shorter book that I’m sure to finish or do I invest myself in a long one? Do I take the longer train ride to get in a few more minutes of reading?

When I started riding my bike instead of taking the MRT and realised I was fretting a little bit, I decided a reading goal was no longer a good idea. The point is that I read what interests me, I learn and I talk to people, and I learn some more. The point is not to read a certain number of books.

Last year, I didn’t set a reading goal and found that I was much more impulsive choosing books and reading several books at once. They took however much time they took, and I found myself doing a variety of different things with my leisure time. Rather than read on the treadmill to make sure I was keeping up, I stopped on my outdoor runs to meditate by a nearby pond. Rather than sit in cafés over the weekend to read, I rode my bike, cooked dinner with a friend, and settled myself down to people-watch.

I still read something every single day, but I no longer feel guilty if that something isn’t a book that can count on my app. Rather than collect trophies, I’m trying to balance the time I spend in the book world and the time I spend in the real world. It’s a lot easier to hide in a book but I’m glad to experience the world where I am, too. There’s a lot to learn out there!

1000km Running Goal

I started running when I was in university as a way to deal with stress. Many of my friends ran and although it was a real chore for quite some time, I felt better when I exercised than when I didn’t. I’ve gone through occasionally obsessive periods in which I have to run and get really antsy when I don’t. These moments still occur (it has recently come to my attention that the itchy, visceral need to move my body right now is not normal) but I’ve calmed down a lot when it comes to running.

This shift has been gradual and likely has something to do with living in a climate where running is usually really unpleasant. Maybe all of this will change when I’m no longer living on the equator. But for several years, I participated in a 1000km challenge through an app and I steadily met the goal. I used to get a little anxious when I realised I was falling behind or when I started to count how many times I’d have to run over a particularly busy period in order to stay on track. Getting anxious over running, however, was completely counter to why I started running in the first place.

I got into rock climbing about a year and a half ago and immediately recognised that I enjoyed climbing and what it did to my body far more than I enjoyed running. Running got me outside, which is high on the list of reasons why I continue doing it, but the climbing gym (and real rocks when we can arrange it) worked my body and mind very differently than running ever had.

2019 was the first year I didn’t complete the 1000km challenge and I opted not to enter for 2020. For a long time, running was the way to feel strong physically and the way I judged my fitness and compared myself to others. Climbing, however, showed me that there’s a very different type of strength, fitness, and agility that actually suits me much better. I still dance and practice yoga regularly and that’s what my body does well.

This is not to say I’ve stopped running; I haven’t and I likely won’t. But it’s one of several active pursuits now and not the one that dictates the pace of a weekend morning or the flow of an evening. And surprisingly enough, I actually like it a whole lot more.

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with stickers. But there’s a lot wrong when the pursuit of a sticker detracts from the original purpose of an action. I’ve grown a lot more adept at figuring out what I need and I’ve grown more confident choosing X over Y. Just because I usually do things one way doesn’t mean that’s the only way, and just because something used to be my primary driver doesn’t mean it will always be.

Over the last little while, I’ve learned to balance. I’ve learned to maintain routines that fit and adapt those that do not. I’ve learned to be more spontaneous and less concerned with maintaining something that, for all intents and purposes, I was maintaining mostly out of habit.

And I’ve also learned that there’s comfort in pattern and sometimes, when I’m feeling out of sorts, the best thing to do is to return to those patterns and reset.

It’s nice to take a moment to breathe, isn’t it?

Lessons from a Friend

I was really frustrated when I left work today. As often when that happens, I came home and threw myself into a run. A fast one. Since moving to a new neighborhood and devising a circuit that I really like I’ve also developed a habit of stopping in a lovely little park about halfway through and sitting for ten minutes of meditation. When I lived by the beach I would often pause to stare at the water and sometimes I try to be intentionally mindful while running but purposely stopping my watch for ten minutes is a new one.

Today it was hard to focus on my breathing, or the sound of the waterfall in the pond, or the birds that make their homes in the trees. But I tried.

One of the things I learned to do through meditation is to recognize the thoughts I’m having and focus on having the thought. Okay, here’s a thought. Now back to the breath. Etc. But one thought in particular stood out sharply today and I kept it in my mind for the rest of my run.

Today I thought about a friend from the first few months of living in Malaysia, and I thought about when I learned in December of last year that he had passed away in July. He was only a few years older than me. His wife, who I had only met twice and did not know well, wrote to me. She reintroduced herself, gave me a bit of background on her husband’s life since I’d last seen them, and apologized for breaking the news. In turn, I contacted the entire group of people we’d worked with and every single person wrote back.

What struck me today was not sadness for my friend who died too soon; rather, it was determination. Determination to remember the model he was for me in terms of doing what he thought was right. I didn’t always agree with his choices but never had to guess where they came from. He was a person who meant what he said and did what he promised. He stood for fairness and justice and was easily the friendliest person I’ve ever known. He knew everyone and everyone knew him; he expected nothing from others except the kindness and respect that he gave everyone.

Sometimes good people die too soon.

Along with his joviality, this friend taught me. I worked with him like I’ve rarely worked with anyone and I hadn’t known that model before. Recently I started working like that again and the vividness of those first memories has never, ever left me.

This friend was also a fighter. When something wasn’t right, he tried to fix it. He stood up when others around him remained seated. He made a fuss when there was a good reason for it and never, ever left doubt about who he was and what he stood for.


Is it strange to say I miss him? We hadn’t spoken in at least two years before I heard from his wife.

Is it strange that as soon as I got home I reached out to a friend I’ve long owed a phone call and to another I’ve been trying to reach?

This is where frustration at work led me: To a friend from a former life who was good and kind and honest. Who loved living and the world around him. Who did what he thought was right. Who stood up and stomped his feet and demanded action.

I remembered important things today. Thank you, my friend.

The view from the first place I met this friend. – Seremban, Malaysia, September 2014

A Meditation While Running

I have a love/hate relationship with running.

I love that it makes me feel strong and powerful. I love to feel my body moving, heart beating, lungs working. I love being out in the world and taking in whatever is around me. I love the well-deserved soreness in my legs, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of doing something good for myself. I love feeling that yes, I can do this, and many other things, too.

But I hate running on the days my legs won’t move and lungs scratch and scream. I hate the fatigue that sometimes comes on all too early, leaving me frustrated and disappointed. I hate pushing myself through thick, humid air that leaves me dripping before I’ve really started, or the bitter cold that gets into my throat and leaves me coughing, or the dampness that gets into my chest and leaves me aching.

All of this is running. And all of this is more than running.

This is what is means to experience the moments of our lives, the sensations that wash over us ceaselessly.


I’ve always loved to feel my body moving, working.

I was a very small child in a pink tutu since before I can remember, but I do remember the first time I felt the swooping rhythm that is carving on skis. I don’t remember the first time a yoga teacher guided me into a pose, but the strongest I’ve ever felt was after a year of Bikram once or twice a week, early in the morning. I don’t remember the first time I put on a harness and scrambled up a climbing wall, but the exhilaration of my first outdoor climb just a few weeks ago left me itching to do it again. I don’t remember when I decided that I might like to try running, but I woke this morning excited to lace up my running shoes.


I used to treat running as bigger and better and more important than the other activities I took part in, even if I often enjoyed those more. I used to make running an imperative, something I would do at the expense of a range of other activities. I was around a lot of people who lived and breathed and loved running and I wanted to understand their world.

I didn’t like it much and I didn’t understand.

I still don’t understand.

And that’s why running has changed for me. Running is something I do not because of running itself, but because I like to feel my body move. I like to be out in the world. I like to sit on warm rocks on the beach and it’s quicker to get there if I run. I like the ease and accessibility of running. I like that I can just get up and go.

I’ve learned to do what feels right in the body. Sometimes it’s okay to walk for a few steps to take more time to look around. Sometimes it’s okay to extend or shorten a route. What does the body need right now? Sometimes I stretch my arms out and fly, laugh, and play. Sometimes I play the same songs in my head on repeat and I wonder, why those songs? Why now?


I run because I like to feel, not because I particularly care about running. And it’s easy to mistake those two things, to miss the distinction. There are days when running feels like a chore and it’s become clearer to me that the right thing to do on those days is something else.

There are many ways to feel the body move.


Today I actively practiced a meditation while I ran. In my head, I was going to take the long route to the beach and relax in the shade of a palm tree until the sun got just high enough. When that happens here, the heat isn’t far away and it’s time to go.

But my body had other ideas and I took a shorter route instead, cutting away from the beach. But again my body had other ideas and I extended the run along a path of gardens that I like to look at; I’ve been there before but didn’t think that was in the cards today.

And I took this unplanned path and let the world rush in.

Meditation has taught me that there’s a subtle distinction between letting the world rush in and moving towards the world. Experiencing sensations as they are, as they arise, means stepping outside of the self. It means allowing ourselves to feel things we might not like or understand and certainly do not control. It’s a willingness to be vulnerable and open and afraid and hurt. But it’s also a willingness to feel connection and love and trust and courage.

So I let the world rush in.

And my body moved.

And I felt that, too.

Shi Bao Mountain, Yunnan, China – November 2018