Running is a long time love for the writer. Pix courtesy of Shanaz Shamsuddin

Finding the rhythm once again

AS I’m writing this, my legs are feeling quite sore. I have just completed a 25km run, my longest in a long time. I was nervous all week about this run, anxious to know how it would turn out.

I’m happy to report that for the most part, it was enjoyable. The weather was nice this morning. My breathing was in sync and my legs felt light. In other words, the run was well executed.

After a running hiatus of nearly a year, it took me months to get to this point. I had to start from square one again to progressively build up my mileage. I concluded that the runner in me — the one who used to go ultra distances — no longer existed. Even if she was still around, it would take a lot of effort to bring her back to her old form. I hope I'm not giving the impression that I’m a fast runner because I've never been one. However, at one point, I could go pretty far.

My longest run was 90km, which I ran for two consecutive years. Completing the prestigious Comrades ultramarathon back-to-back was one of my biggest achievements. The main obstacle wasn’t the running itself but in managing my time to put in the long hours of training despite my crazy work schedule.

Sadly, my running slowed down considerably after that. I just let it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I still love running. However, I was also exhausted. I grew tired of having to constantly manage my running hours while trying to meet other expectations, especially with my job. For the past two years, there have been a lot of changes and uncertainties at work, which made it difficult to plan ahead. Signing up for an ultramarathon? Forget it.

On the bright side, slowing down on running allowed me to explore other outdoor activities that required less discipline. I rediscovered trekking and scuba diving — two things I had abandoned since becoming a runner. It was great to do all these again. I never did stop running completely, though. I would still lace up my running shoes and hit the pavement whenever I could but not the way I used to.

I was convinced that diversifying my activities, as opposed to obsessing over one thing, was exactly what I needed. From time to time, I would enjoy the weekend sleep-ins without guilt. I suddenly had more free time on weekends. I wasn’t as tired as I used to be. As I remained constantly active, my overall fitness didn’t suffer much. Come to think about it, there really weren’t that many downsides to not running too much.

That feeling didn’t last long, though. Something was missing and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I longed for this indescribable rush that only long distance running could provide. In fact, I missed everything associated with it: The muscle soreness, the tan lines, the skin chaffing and the blisters. Above all, I missed the drive to dig deep and push forward when I had nothing left in my system.

The writer at the Comrades Marathon in 2014. Pix courtesy of Shanaz Shamsuddin

So late last year, I decided to start running consistently again. I wished I could simply pick up from where I had left off but unfortunately, it was not that straightforward. Hitting double-digits in a single run felt like completing a marathon. Going over gentle slopes felt like conquering mountains! After a while, I was itching to sign up for a race but I promised myself to wait until I had found my rhythm again.

I think I’m doing a good job so far in getting back to running. I’ve also revived my running journal to track my progress. The only person I’m using as a benchmark is my old self. Speed and hill sessions are back on the menu. I've started to look forward to my early morning weekend runs. (Sleep-ins, I discovered, are way too overrated). I’ve finally found the courage to sign up for two full marathons this year.

Long-term, I’m not sure where my running will lead me this time around. I doubt I will have the desire to run ultramarathons again due to the amount of commitment required. Even without big goals, I hope that whatever life throws at me, my love for running will remain unaffected. If I can be like my mother, who hasn’t stopped running since she started nearly 30 years ago, I’ll be more than happy.

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