How Running Saved My Semester

As the semester draws to a turbulent close I find myself with a lighter heart, and even though the workload mounts I feel like everything is well within my grasp, and this wasn’t something I could have said confidently 2 months ago. Things were darker back then, a lot of issues were unresolved and I was just beginning my journey through an overloaded semester. I think I was a little crazy then to think that I could have done it, but I’m here and still persevering. I have good explanations as to why.

For some strange reason I fell down over the weekend while running in the rain down Bukit Timah Road.  My knee swelled up the next day and so I had no choice but to hang up my running shoes for the week. It was the worst of times, but also the best, because week 13 meant I had four assignments due, and it also meant that having more time to do them, and taking a rest from running may have been the better course of action. So the last few days were spent reading and icing my legs, doing my assignments till late into the night and trying my best not to think so much about running. After all, it was the first time in two months that I hadn’t run for more than two days in a row. And so I was granted a small space in my little corner to reflect on what precisely running has done, both to my semester and my life.

At the start of the semester when things were really bad and uncertain I made sure that I would make the most of every training session. I couldn’t sleep very well at times and I messed up a few crucial races, and hated myself for that for a while. It was just this self blame that I had to convert to better results in the future so I spent the day looking forward to every training session. When negative thoughts crept up I imagined the feeling of the track, the bright lights and the people that would be running alongside. Running was the safest space for me. I sat in classes sometimes feeling terrible but always I knew, running would be waiting for me at the end of the day. And that was how most of the first few weeks passed; sometimes aimless, sometimes lonely, but always eager to get running.

And then on Saturdays and Tuesdays were the long runs, stretched out languorously over Clementi or MacRitchie reservoir. I would look forward to those too, because they were long 45 minute to 1 hour periods where I could be on my own, truly away from everyone and just challenge my own self doubts in the simplest, most brutal manner I knew. Any accomplishment I felt was truly my own, not dependent on anyone else but myself. Sure, long after I’d done my stretching and showered the trials of the day would encroach upon me again but in those few moments I felt like I could truly be free. And it didn’t just feel like freedom, it pretty much was freedom.

I allowed weeks to pass this way. I measured my days by runs. I marked my routines through rest days. I sat in class restless at times, looking forward to the next training session. The training would end and I would already look forward to the next one. I didn’t let my mind wander so much to the sadder things that could have easily taken over. When I heard that an acquaintance passed away late in September I was walking towards training, and I remember running with a heavy heart but running anyway. I struggled that day but I kept thinking to myself just what a privilege it was to be able to run, to be alive. That maybe if I couldn’t run for myself I would run for those that could no longer run, and that if I could find joy in something so simple then I could find meaning in every other challenge in my life as well. Running is, after all, the ultimate act of continuation.

I planned my time around my runs, I did work beforehand so I had more time to run, I said no to social gatherings and drinking sessions just to sleep earlier, to be more prepared physically to deal with the workouts. I tried not to compromise too much because I knew of the slippery slopes that awaited, how one thing could lead to another. In many ways sadness works in the same way. Give yourself some allowance and the whole mind and body slips into despondence. If i could keep to my runs, I would be able to hold everything else together; student organisation meetings, friendships, rest times, study times. I built a coherent structure to keep my life in order and in the middle of it were these runs.

And then the runs became the framework for my thoughts as well as for every other challenge. Sometimes during a run things would get tough and I would think to myself I can’t do this anymore, but I look at my life and notice how I still continue living and trying despite everything. And so I go on running, because if I could do this everyday then surely I could do this for something simple like a run. And the same applies from the other perspective: when things got tough in life I would look at the run I completed and think to myself that hey I completed a run which is basically the toughest thing anyone would have to endure. So going by that logic I must be able to go through life as well. One thing led to another and I would persevere no matter what, through 11km tempo runs to assignments due the day after. I could do it, because each experience validated the next. I could endure anything because I wasn’t raised to start walking 6km into a 10km run. I was here to fight.

So here I am at the edge of the semester, deep into week 13. I’m deep into a fight that’s almost over. And I can’t wait to get back into it. The road is dark and the miles are long. The street lights guide me home, but it’s a long, long way from home. But that’s okay. I’ve done this before, and time and again I’ve made it. Sure, when I ran in the rain down Bukit Timah Road I fell down, but I got back up. I’m no pushover. So bring it on, week 13. By the end of this semester you’ll just be another completed workout and me a stronger runner.


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