I ran a marathon and so can you!

Last week, I ran the San Francisco marathon. All 26.2 miles of it. Five and a half hours of non-stop running, jogging, walking, and limping. When I crossed the finish line, I felt the kind of euphoria that I’ve never felt before in my life. To be able to do something you thought was impossible gives you a sense of unparalleled satisfaction that cannot be expressed in words.

But I’m not an athlete. I never was. I used to flunk Physical Education class at school. All the time. The only reason I got promoted to the next grade was due to pity from my PE teachers. I remember a childhood memory quite vividly— I am panting, coughing, sputtering, trying to finish a lap of the school ground, while the rest of my class looks on, having finished it eons ago, with ridiculing, embarrassed, and sympathetic eyes. The memory is clear because it was the same story every year for 8 years, until I graduated from secondary school into college.

That’s where I was. Until 2014, I had never jogged more than a mile. Running was something I hated. It was painful. It was annoying. Every now and again, I would go to the gym, attempt to run a mile on the treadmill, run out of breath, get discouraged, and quit. The gym was an intimidating, sweaty, and demoralizing place.

In the summer of 2014, during a family get-together, my adventurous cousin signed me up (against my own will) for a half-marathon. At that time he was switching from mountaineering to long-distance running as his primary endurance sport. His argument was simple — “You are younger than me. If I can run a half-marathon, so can you.” My argument was simpler — “I can’t.” But I caved in and started “training”. I had paid about $100 to register for the race. My hard-working middle-class instincts told me that I shouldn’t let it go to waste.

Training was painful. I set a goal for myself to run three times a week — starting out with 1 mile during each session. The same things happened all over again — running out of breath, knee pain, ankle pain, pain in various muscles in the body that I never knew existed. But I persevered. I had to. I had spent money, and I didn’t want to disappoint my cousin. It’s amazing how well social pressures work as motivators. I also made a conscious decision to get out of the gym and run outside. Two things worked in my favor — I lived very close to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which is a gorgeous place to run through, and the weather in San Francisco is perfect for running. Never too hot. Never too cold.

As time progressed, my body grew stronger. I could now run 2 mile stretches. In a month’s time, I could do 3 mile stretches, then 4, then 5. The really cool thing about running, as with many other physical activities, is the fact that it is measurable. You can quite literally see your progress. Watching myself improve was incredibly motivating.

The more I ran, the better I felt psychologically. Running made me happy. There’s a biological reason for that. The body releases endorphins to counter pain, when you are engaged in a physical activity. But endorphins also have the side-effect of producing euphoria. Slowly, my attitude changed from, “I have to run because I don’t want to let my cousin down” to “I want to run because it makes me happy.” The runner’s high is a real thing. Running also helped me lose weight, get better toned muscles, and create this desire to eat healthier food. It was a self-propelling wheel to a better lifestyle. It felt incredible!

To be fair, I wasn’t always motivated. Lethargy, procrastination, and the philosophical thought of — “I could be doing something else right now” (the #fomo anxiety) often got into the way. Over the course of time, I had to learn a variety of tricks to fool my mind and convince my body to run. (I’ll share those tricks — some of them are pretty weird — in a future blog post).Those tricks paid off and here I am, alive to tell the tale.

Running a marathon is not an easy feat. But it’s achievable. Even if you never ran before in your life. All it takes is patience, perseverance, and most importantly, common sense.

Now stop reading and go out for a run :-)

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