There are many different ways people measure their days. As humans, our brains are wired to seek fulfillment. It’s an inevitable facet of our being. We are constantly trying to gauge how to make the most out of each and every passing day, which is part of this all-encompassing thing we call life – a never-ending process that continually expands in a vital process of growth and revision as we coast through each 24-hour period. Ernest Hemingway measured out his days with the number of words he was able to write. Jordan Belfort measured out his days with the number of investors he was able to defraud. I measure mine with kilometers.
On a really good day, 20,000 steps from my house will take me around the entire village six times. From a subdivision in Quezon City, 20,000 steps from will take me along C-5 and EDSA to as far as SM Mall of Asia. Sometimes, 10,000 steps is good enough. It will take me north towards the far end of Katipunan Avenue. 10 kilometers, or about 6 miles. The madness of the world is tuned out. No distractions, no dialogue with a gym partner, no worrying about anything else. Just running.
Loving the act of running was much a surprise to me as if I had suddenly discovered that I loved vegetables. If, five years ago, a time machine made me see my future self running long distance in 40 degree weather, I would have assumed that I had been sent to work for the army. It began with short jogs and a couple of 5k running events. Once in awhile, as a fair-weather runner, I would get ambitious and put in an extra kilometer or two, or perhaps three on a good day. But motivated, and somewhat scared, I set off to bigger goals. Somewhere between September and November of 2013, I stopped jogging and started sprinting long distances. Then I started doing it with alarming regularity. I moved on to 7.5ks every day, then 10ks every day, then eventually, at present, 15 kilometers every day. So, like some necessary activities in my day — along with eating, lifting weights, and working — long distance running was incorporated into my daily itinerary.
From an activity, it evolved into becoming part of the definition of who I am as a human being.
Until now, I have never looked back. Every day, my alarm goes off at 6:00 AM, and I am usually out the door on a run just minutes later. My coffee and my vitamins are all ready when I wake up. Even my compression shirt and my socks are laid out waiting for me. I need not think about anything. There are mornings when it’s difficult, but it’s the difference between approaching the upcoming day with a smile or a grimace on my face. So I lace up my running shoes – even when I don’t feel like it, even if I’ve had only two or three hours of sleep, even if there’s a downpour outside, even if my body is still sore from lifting heavy iron for three grueling hours the previous night. Every single day, I run – either while watching the sun going up or going down, on good days and bad. I run as often in December with all the dirty holiday food in my belly as I do at the peak of April’s heatwaves. The weather in Manila in February is wonderfully cold for running, and I am never rained on even once. I’ve learned to love running, but I still loathe the heat. When I’m feeling something negative, I go running for a little longer than usual. On colder days, I guess I get to appreciate a little how cold it is. All of it makes no difference – I run, without any qualms.
There I days when I don’t get it right away, but when the runner’s high comes, something clicks and I’m suddenly in the zone, or what some may call a near-religious meditative state – I simmer down and cease obsessing about every little thought I am wrestling with in my head as a man who is about to turn 25 in less than a month.
Out of nowhere, I find my Zen.
I start to be one with the rhythm of the sprint, my heart rate, the running shoes crashing on the asphalt, the new Spotify playlist blasting in my ears. The environmental stimuli becomes near perfect. I take in the different smells of the air, the cool breeze of mid-August when the rain comes down in torrents, the number of stray cats wandering in the village. All of them become the substances that I am made of. Every mile is as tough as the last one, but there is suddenly a sense of absolute effortlessness and eternal optimism; a groove that vanquishes all discomfort; a euphoric feeling that makes me forget my finitude and feel limitless against natural elements like weather, temperature, or terrain, even if everything around me feels as swift as a blink of the eye. The tempo of my run becomes very even; even the trees and the fields around me suddenly seem to blend together. The world starts morphing around me.
When my favorite part of a song kicks in, such as Big Sean’s verse towards the end of Drake’s “All Me” or the powerful entrance of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” I feel this elating rush of pure emotion.
Things inside and out suddenly become surreal. Angel wings grow out of my spine and lift me off the ground, spurring me to go faster than ever. Suddenly, I am traversing with a velocity that is greater than a cheetah’s. I am living inside of time and simultaneously against time, gasping for precious breath while immersed in the unstoppable flow of my feet.
Mentally, my brain summons into its presence whatever thought it pleases – be it from nature, distance, or hardship. There is absolutely nothing and everything to think about at the same time. More than anything, I become merciless in my honest assessment of my own thoughts. Somehow, random memories find their way back to my mind as well. Most of my words and decisions are written in my head while running. It’s as good as unexpectedly finding inspiration in the middle of a sweet dream, or a nice holiday in another country. The energy radiating off the music and that inner voice inside is magnificent. Even if it’s not tangible, I feel it all around and inside of me. Sure, it’s temporary, but in those moments when my heart is thumping with adrenaline, I find my greatest satisfaction: the peaceful realization that I am living most fully in the present. The sensation is as good as downing two Red Bulls and two shots of espresso in one go. But, in all seriousness, I run because, when the gun goes off and I go from 0 to 100 in a span of three seconds, I feel a thousand times more alive, living in my own special world and breaking down barrier after barrier, like a Frankenstein shocked back to life. Every other activity that makes me feel alive suddenly pales in comparison. My body is in full throttle and my grasp of my surroundings is at its peak, but in the end, there is nothing in existence but me and my mind, running on every ounce of willpower and strength.
Throughout the entirety of my run, only one thought dominates all the others: beat the person that you were yesterday. It is all about beating a specific time; a few numbers strung together by some automated machine called a clock, all down to a hundredth of a millisecond. This specific time represents the person I want to beat.
In that span, life is about becoming better than the day before. Nothing more, nothing less. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
When I do beat a record, I pass out in the warm afterglow of a natural high and feel as if I’ve done something seemingly impossible, like ending poverty, climbing Mount Everest, or swimming across the Pacific Ocean. I feel absolute and complete. I feel as if I ran as hard Pheidippides when he ran through the Greek countryside to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, or as fast as Clovis when he ceaselessly dashed through the mad blizzard towards the Wall in order to inform the Night’s Watch that Jon Snow is trapped by an army of White Walkers.
There are runs that will forever stay in my mind, like an old slideshow of sorts. The morning I ran 10 kilometers through the massive cityscape under 48 minutes for the first time as a 22 year old, having to take the long way home after seeing a wild Doberman Pinscher running around the village streets and forcedly running an extra two miles, running like the wind around a beautiful lake in Kissimmee for two hours in order to make space for the Coronas waiting for me in the refrigerator back home, putting in an extra kilometer at the end of a 10-kilometer sprint to say goodbye to my beloved Basset Hound during his last few minutes in the pet station, or that time when my running partner literally had to push me from behind to endure the pain and keep moving forward after reaching the 18-kilometer mark in the UP Diliman trail on a late afternoon in May 2015. In my defense, I had already lifted weights for two hours that morning and the pounding of the road was unforgiving. At the time, I had never run more than 15 kilometers, so it was terra incognita. It was intensely hot – about 35 degrees Celsius with full humidity – but hobbling towards the finish line was what made it memorable. I thought that my lungs were going to give out, but then I marveled at the sun peeking through the trees as it sank below the hills, the streetlamps all lighting up at once, and the simple yet priceless privilege of having someone by my side to motivate me to never give up. My running partner pushed me to keep going, so I hung on for as long as I could and finished despite the fact that my guts were already feeling like twisted steel. Those were fantastically exciting runs, and they have left me with some amazing memories that will last forever.
They say that running is annoyingly monotonous, boring, and painful. You know what? There’s a lot of truth to that statement, especially at the start of a run. Because the truth is that it is hard. It is difficult because it makes your lungs heave and your legs ache. There are seconds and minutes when I feel too sore, too slow, too bored. Some of these minutes can last for what feels like hours — spanning sometimes a couple of kilometers. You think time is flying by too fast in your life? Try running. It’s amazing how long even half a minute can seem. During these minutes, there’s a voice inside of my head that says one of three things: slow down, walk, or quit. It’s a monologue that represents all forms of sloth that plagues one’s life; it’s a personal mental barrier that follows me home, to the office, everywhere, regardless of whether it is day or night. To me, the voice is loudest when times get hard. Everyone has it, but this voice is something that can be drowned out. It is something that one has to take control of – in my case, I outrun it by asking my entire system to operate at maximum capacity. It takes a while for the body’s engines to warm up and it takes an even longer while to leave the voice behind, but then the part where I try to slowly build up the distance between me and this voice of negativity is the gateway to heaven; the last stretch of turbulence before going on autopilot mode.
When I hear people say that “running is boring,” I usually tell people that enjoying running demands one to enjoy the journey more than the destination.
Sure, it’s something of a cliché, but the key to obtaining real contentment in running is to focus on smelling the roses and enjoying all the crappy parts instead of waiting for the Nirvana part.
Wanting to skip to the good parts will only make you feel like you’re in some forced-labor camp throughout the process. It’s nice to bask in those few moments of glory at the end of a long sprint and to enjoy the natural dose of Serotonin that comes with it, but the secret to enjoying a run is to find beauty and meaning in the torment, the burn, the fatigue, the ache. The purpose of your run has to be deeper than losing weight, winning races, bragging rights or earning the right to eat more food throughout the day. Those goals will get you started, but I’ve come to find that they can never sustain the enthusiasm that long distance running entails. Your purpose has to be more than a fashion statement, more than something rooted in vanity. It has to burn, burn, burn like a wildfire that never dies out.
One of the biggest misconceptions is the often over-emphasized stereotype that runners and bodybuilders celebrate all forms of healthy living. Well, I am not that type of person, even amidst my daily pursuit of becoming the best runner and bodybuilder that I can be. As unconventional as it may sound, I eat junk food every day. I think that the cheeseburger is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world. I am frighteningly passionate about cheesecakes. I can never say no to Japanese buffets and dimsum carts in Chinese restaurants. Maybe this makes little sense, but I will never let my passions deprive myself of such simple pleasures in life, nor will I ever use my crazy little obsessions with running and bodybuilding to justify eating anything I want. I was never hardwired at birth or genetically gifted; I just find meaning in everything that I do, and subsequently, this bestows me with enough enthusiasm to put in the work every single day.
I run and lift for my head and my soul. The body and the health benefits are just byproducts. I run and lift because I want to slay the voice inside of my head that tells me to be lazy, content, and comfortable.
I want to defeat the inner monologue that tempts me to hold back, to relax, to wander, to be aimless. Shuffling, groaning, and sweating over a 10 mile stretch of hard pavement everyday teaches me so much about myself, life, and what really matters during my time on Earth. Running and lifting reminds me that hard work works; that expanding into my own unmet potential requires me to embrace suffering instead of (ironically) running away from it; that I have to channel all my limited energy on whatever’s critical at the moment if I want to accomplish anything of value, on the road and outside of it.
I’ve asked a lot of people why they run. Everyone has a different story. I could go at length about all the other stories that have inspired me, but what I want you to take away from this is that running is unlike almost anything else in life. On the road with your running shoes, you get the opportunity to transcend the normal and dull and teleport into a dreamlike, colorful, soulful reality.