“Where have you been this summer?” is often a question to catch up with friends when we are coming back to school. And we often expect the answer to be an interesting event to hear about, such as an eye-opening trip overseas. A single event that might change our mindset and shift our identity. Looking back on my summer, if I want to find such event to impress my friends, there would be none. My summer consisted of a few weeks relaxing in my hometown after the finals, followed by a month filled with summer courses and a short trip to SaPa with my friends. Although the trip was fun, it was not life-changing to me, as I still had to get back to my daily routine afterwards. Turns out the impactful experience that everyone waiting for was not from a far far away land, but kicked off in a corner of my building: the gym. I started running this summer.
Why did I start?
I was lying on the couch one evening, feeling a little bit down. I felt stuck and everything, from the big assignments at school to the family issues, were competing for my attention. Yet I felt too exhausted to address any of them. I bet we all have moments like this in our lives. I knew that I was under pressure, so I decided to get out of the apartment and went for a walk, hoping that it would make me feel better. While I was wandering around my building, I came across the gym: a small block in the corner with dazzling bright light and some big, bulky treadmills at the front. “Why not go for a run on these treadmills?” I remembered some articles suggesting that exercising can help release hormones to cope with stress and make us feel happy. Lucky for me, the gym membership was already included in my tenancy, so I used my fingerprints to access the place and started to run, for fun.
How running on the treadmills is like
The next twenty minutes was not as fun as I thought. As I began with a walking speed and slowly accelerated, the first few minutes were easy. That was until I pushed the button with the highest speed on the treadmill, nine kmph. My body heated up and sweat covered my face. My heart was pounding in the chest as I was gasping for air, trying to catch up with the speed of the treadmill. “This is too fast for me. I can not handle it. I must press the stop button right now or I will faint.“ Just one minute passed at the highest speed and I thought I had reached my limit. “No, let’s just hang in there to see how far I can go with this speed”, I persisted.
As my mind juggled between the decision to slow down or not, another half minute came and nothing bad happened to me. My feet were still racing on the running deck. My head became empty as the only thing that I could notice at that time was my rhythmic arm swing and footsteps on the rail. I just wanted to continue that tempo as long as I could. After two minutes of wrestling on the treadmill running at max speed, I finally slowed down and realized I had exceeded the limit that I set for myself earlier. One minute was believed to be my maximum, yet I managed to carve out another minute of running with sheer stubbornness. I was proud.
As long as I run, everything will be fine
That day when I returned to my apartment, I took a nice shower and cooked myself a decent meal. Somehow I got the energy to sit in front of the laptop and started to do my homework. With my clear mind after the run, I focused on the tasks and slept like a baby at the end of day, leaving all of my anxiety behind. I did feel better that day as running gave me a sense of control amid the adversities. Therefore, I made a commitment to run three times a week, twenty minutes each. I was glad that it just required a pair of shoes, some comfortable clothes and then I could run whenever I wanted. I gradually formed my running habit throughout the summer and had never missed a practice day since.
A slow-burning love
Despite being beneficial to me, I was not particularly fascinated by the idea of getting on the treadmill to run at first. It is never as chill as watching Netflix, but I just kept on exercising, believing that it would be better after each session.
These sessions started to shape other habits of mine such as eating and sleeping. I eat more proper lunches in order to have enough energy for the running sessions, and refuse to eat anything within two hours before or I will experience terrible cramps. I also fall asleep quicker and have better sleep quality. As students, we are familiar with the fatigue and the relief we feel after finishing the last exam of the finals. We can literally bed down right after and sleep like a log until the next day. Ironically, this used to be the best sleep I have as a student. Since running imposes physical stress on my body, it allows me to replicate that experience and stimulates the release of endorphins, the natural relievers. When I burn all of my excess energy during training sessions, I often doze off as soon as I get on bed.
My body keeps getting better as I continue to run. Now, I can endure the nine kmph speed in six minutes on the treadmill, a substantial improvement from the initial two minutes. My movements are more agile and my running form becomes more stable on the track. It is like steadily building up the infrastructure to cope with the tensions, both in the body and in the mind. During running sessions, I often feel an increase in the blood flow pumping through the veins to my muscles and brain. Just like boosting the network bandwidth to deal with the traffic overload from the internet users.
Not that I was not aware of these benefits of running before, but when I commit to running long enough, I get to experience the rewards in my life. As I learn to enjoy running by putting on some music and constantly changing the speed, I just want to repeat these running exercises again and again. The more I run, the more I love it.
If anything managed to shift my identity this summer, it would be running. It was a series of running sessions that helped me identify as a runner, and prepare for the tough semester ahead. Whenever something bad happens to me, I can always remind myself of this running experience. Just need to put on the shoes, tighten the shoe laces, and run the woe away.
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