27 October 2018
“You’re a runner noo..ow!” my friend Bella said to me over Whatsapp call. She said it in an excited long purr that felt very satisfying in the ear. She had just told me absolutely amazing news about her life and as good friends do, asked me what’s going on in mine. I ran a half marathon in Yogya on the weekend, so I told her that.
Six years ago I started to wonder what running was like. Bella was doing it and seemed to love it (she stopped doing it a couple of years ago after injuring her ankle). And two other friends Anna and Cosi were doing it too. Anna even did the marathon in Sydney in 2012.
Running is excruciating. You make yourself go out of breath and sweat a lot. But there must be something to it because why do so many people become obsessed with it. I decided to find out in 2012. Google helped me learn that you can apparently train yourself to run long distance and to run fast. After all these years I’ve managed to run long (21 km). But I haven’t managed to make myself run fast.
Yesterday, I found an old dorky photo of me and my friends Zaki and Ika after running 10 kilometres in 2012. We stand atop the winners’ podium and raise our hands up to the air, grinning ear to ear. That was my first attempt in running. And during training for this 10k I started to understand why people do it. After a certain threshold of effort, running becomes enjoyable. Perhaps that’s when you come to a state of flow. I’m pretty sure it is. You’ve overcome the initial challenge of starting and warming up your body but it’s still challenging enough to make it stimulating and still not too hard so it’s doable. And this state is blissful. It doesn’t usually last that long in my runs, though. Maybe 30 seconds? But another good feeling comes when you finish your run. Because it was hard, you automatically feel good about yourself. With so many distractions on social media with posts and pictures of people seemingly living amazing lives, which I somehow could not for the life of me stop myself from looking, and work stress fuelled by toxic self-doubt, feeling good about myself doesn’t come easily.
Running is a relatively(?) easy pick me up. And a stress buster. When I run, I feel on top of the world and feel like I can overcome any challenge. I sometimes read on online running magazines that it can train mental toughness too. I remember a couple of months before launching The Conversation, one Sunday when I was started doing my long run a bit too late, and the heat of the sun was scorching my head, the light blinding, I started to chant “The Conversation!”, “The Conversation!” That kept me going.
Apparently running might increase your cognitive abilities too. A neuroscientist told me about a research where epileptic mice who were given epileptic drugs during their pregnancy will have babies that have trouble learning and remembering tasks. But these baby mice can improve their memory by running (in a running wheel). Perhaps running in humans can make us retain more information when we study too. We made a Sains Sekitar Kita podcast episode of this topic, that you can listen (in Indonesian) here.
The run last weekend was called Pink Ribbon Run organised by Hyatt Regency hotel in Yogyakarta to support breast cancer survivors. The route takes us to quiet and empty roads next to rice paddy fields and lots of trees and houses. The sky was overcast and at times there was a very very light drizzle. I think that helped a lot because running under the heat of the sun is really difficult. I wouldn’t have made the 21-kilometre without my friend Verena. It’s her fourth half marathon and her first after recovering from dengue fever two years ago. She could have easily run faster than me. But she stayed with my pace the whole way through.
A week before the race, I ran with Axel, my friend Eliza’s husband. They just moved to my apartment building and are now my neighbours. We ran more than 9 kilometres and it was nice to have a running buddy, but I struggled during that run. My feet were heavy, my breath short. I told myself that after the half marathon, I’ll quit running because I’m not ever going to be good at it. But I’m taking that back. My half marathon was one of the most enjoyable runs I ever had. And a couple of days after that I was already running on the treadmill faster than ever. Apparently, I am a runner now.