Not many people know this, but I used to hate running. It all can be traced back to my sophomore year in high school when my gym coach out of nowhere declared on final day that everyone who wants to pass his class (regardless of what grade people have earned so far) must be able to run a mile in under 15 minutes. Throw in the fact, none of the activities we have done so far up to that point has anything to do with running.
Of course, I was furious. I refused to let my then “A” in the class quickly turn into an “F” due to a single activity. So, I used my anger as fuel and ran as if my life were depending on it. Even while my sides were severely cramping and every minute that passed by felt like never-ending torture, I didn’t stop running. I ended up reaching the finish line with two minutes or so to spare. However, after that traumatic day I decided I will never, ever be caught in any running activities if I could help it.
Fast forward to five years ago, when I moved to northern California for my new job and learned how out of shape I was when I hiked with my friends for the very first time. Then I learned from my doctor that I was very close to having diabetes, and will probably need to live with taking medicines and injecting myself with needles everyday for the rest of my life in order to manage my health conditions.
That was my wake up call to reclaim my health and life back. Coupled with my interest in proving my doctor wrong about my imminent health future I started to become more active and took various fitness classes (e.g., spin and Orangetheory classes). That’s when I started to give running a second chance; and started doing the 5K run training via the C25K app.
When I first started to run 30 seconds felt like an eternity and every minute felt like torture. However, as I continue to stick with it my running strength improved and seeing the progress I was able to make weeks by weeks motivated me to continue to push myself. I was elated when I finally was able to run a straight 5K; and quickly made it my goals to complete a 10K, 15K, and a half marathon.
A year and a half after that I was able to complete two half marathons, with the first remains to be my best half time at around 2 hours and 14 minutes. However, I felt so dead inside and outside at the last 5K on both of those runs that I didn’t have the courage to take on a full marathon after that. Additionally, it was around that time that I discovered and fell in love with the world of lifting, i.e., powerlifting. I decided then to trade my aching feet and running shoes for callus hands and barbells.
Then something happened at the beginning of last year that shook my core existence and led to the alteration of my life beliefs. It was after my close encounter with a hit-and-run accident that I decided to finally lay to rest my fear-based living. The accident made me realized that life is too short and precious to be wasted in not following my heart; and taking a leap of faith on doing the things that I want, but are afraid of doing due to my fear of failure and the unknowns.
So, I did just that. I went on many last-minute road trips, booked impromptu flights to foreign countries, and ventured to unfamiliar places where getting lost and being in a constant state of bewilderment became my new favorite pastimes. And every chance I get, I would run towards my fear — diving heart first. As a result, I met and befriended a number of amazing people; learned so many interesting things about others and myself; and discovered new, adrenaline-rush hobbies (e.g., paragliding, skydiving).
It was then the marathon dream began to surface again; and started to haunt me at night. Still, I didn’t have the guts to pursue it whenever I thought back on the physical and mental walls I repeatedly hit near the end of both of my half marathons.
Then one night it’s as if the Universe was listening (or perhaps the Youtube machine learning algorithms has been improving) videos on marathon training started surfacing up on my recommendation list. And after watching ultramarathon documentaries like those by Billy Yang, the Barkley Marathons, and those of Courtney Dauwalter a fire lit within me. One fateful night in my sleep-deprived state I did what I know will make me commit to this marathon goal. I put myself in a sink-or-swim situation by signing myself up for not only one, but two marathons and a number of 10Ks and half marathons in between so that I can’t back out of this goal.
However, COVID-19 has forced a lot of my races to be cancelled. Today’s supposed to be my first Western Pacific marathon, but it was one of the races that recently got cancelled. For the most part, I definitely didn’t plan to run a full marathon today either because I still didn’t think my body was ready.
To be honest, due to my attachment to powerlifting training and fear of losing the muscles I have worked hard to gain these past two years, I didn’t fully buckle down on my marathon training until three months ago. Not to mention, it was only a month ago that I was able to run my longest distance in one day (i.e., 22 miles), but that was when I broke it out in two sessions (morning and evening).
Nevertheless, whenever I feel fear is starting to take back the driver seat I always ask myself the following question: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” When I did the answer was clear: I would run the marathon today or die trying.
I nearly did though because of my last-minute decision. I failed to check the weather in the morning to see that today was the hottest it has been (average 84°F) and I was running in a place with no shade. I also didn’t map out my running trail ahead of time and was running on the thought that I’m going to continue running until I passed the half marathon distance somewhere…then I’m going to run back to my starting point.
At least, I did one thing well this morning, which is to fill my hydration backpack to the brim and packed enough food in there to last me. Although running with a ~5lb bag on my back was not ideal; it did its job in keeping me alive. Fortunately, my tendency to get lost seemed to only be applicable when I’m walking/hiking and not running. Thus, despite making multiple loops and turns on a trail I haven’t been yet I managed to find myself back to the start point with a few sips of water remaining in my hydration pack.
It’s only when I returned back to my car with the A/C fully blasting while chugging down three bottles of water that I learned how close I was to dying from heat stroke out there, especially since I forgot my phone in the car and had no way of getting help if something were to happen to me. Again, I’m incredibly thankful for the resiliency of my body and mind; and the wonderful, yet mysterious Universe in keeping me alive for another day. So, the famous #MikkiDidntDieTho hashtag can live on (at least for another day). :)
Also due to the urgency of wanting to get back to my car, I ended up running more than a full marathon (27.03 miles or 43.5 km to be exact), which by the ultramarathon definition means I can consider myself an ultramarathon runner now. And after plenty of water, a cold shower, and some yoga stretches my soul and body was revived again so that I could add another 5K+ walk to end my day. All in all, today is my most successful step count day yet and I was able to travel a total of 31 miles/49.88km by feet. This gives me hope that someday I can participate in the “Race that Eats Its Young” AKA the Barkley Marathons.
I’m sharing my running journey as a reminder to everyone who has a dream that it is possible for the realization of that dream because as long as you’re alive everything is possible.
If you want something you’ve never had. You must be willing to do something you’ve never done. ― Thomas Jefferson
However, in order for your dreams to happen you must be willing to work for it and let go of your old beliefs and the person who you think you are today. Too often people try to rationalize their fears by talking their way out of their dreams and capabilities based on the attachment of the labels society have prescribed on them and the identity they have adopted for themselves as a result e.g., “Everyone knows I have always been a couch potato. Thus, I will never be able to run a 5K.”
But this is not the matter of color preferences. They are dreams we’re talking about here. Not anyone else’s, but your dreams. Your dreams like your fingerprints are unique to you; they’re the proof from the Universe that you have greatness within you — we all do.
As the legendary motivational speaker, Les Brown once posited:
Imagine if you will, being on your deathbed — and standing around your bed — the ghosts of the ideas, the dreams, the abilities, the talents given to you by life.
And that you for whatever reason, you never acted on those ideas, you never pursued that dream, you never used those talents, we never saw your leadership, you never used your voice, you never wrote that book.
And there they are standing around your bed looking at you with large angry eyes saying: “We came to you, and only you could have given us life! Now, we must die with you forever.”
The question is — if you die today, what ideas, what dreams, what abilities, what talents, what gifts, would die with you?
So, don’t let fear being the predominant factor holding you back from living your dreams and reaching your full potential. In Jim Carrey’s famous commencement speech to the class of 2014 Maharishi International University he shared the following wisdom:
Now, fear is going to be a player in life, but you get to decide how much…
You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all it will ever be is what’s happening here, the decisions that we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the Universe for it…
You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors today, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.
So, what will you choose for yourself and your life going forward?
I know for me, I’m less attached to who I was yesterday and today than who I want to become tomorrow.
As a result, I no longer want to live a life based on the exchange of fear as my currency. Instead, I strive to live a life filled with love, meaning, and purpose. So that on my deathbed there will not lie a well-preserved body, but a body full of interesting, wonderful stories to tell for the times it was pushed and suffered so that its potential can be realized.
If you feel inspired about my running journey, please help fight COVID-19 by donating to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO.