What I Mean When I Say I Am A Runner (Not by Haruki Murakami)

I was a grade schooler when I was initiated into the dark (literally–it was before the break of dawn) world of running. My father, himself a runner, made it mandatory for me and my siblings to shuffle with the other Milo running clinic participants round the Quezon Memorial Circle.

The first time I ran, I remember the rising panic I felt at the unusual sensation in my tummy, the tightening of my chest, the urge to purge (if you know what i mean), the itchy sensation on my thighs as blood made it’s way to heretofore unformed blood vessel passages and the overwhelming desire to just sit down and stop it already.

So early on, I made the acquaintance of these body signals and it ceased to scare or dishearten me. Close to 4 decades later, they are like old friends signalling the start of a wonderful tete a tete with myself–‘Hey you, come! Have a seat, here’s some coffee. How ARE YOU? Tell me, tell me, tell me.’. Because if you run, you have no choice but to be good company to yourself.

Running is when I meditate. It’s when I pray and plan and scheme and dream. Running is my happy place, the  place where all gloves are off, where stripped of everything, I tell the truth I am unable to tell myself when not running. Running is an old friend–a haven, a comfort, a joy, a genuine delight. There are days when I need to talk myself into it but by and large, I lace up with gratitude~ eager to see what this run will bring.

This is how it is with old friends, I guess. And I’ve had running for close to 4 decades now.

It was spotty and limited to my popsy’s weekend blasts when I was in grade school and high school. But in college, I  joined the UP Mountaineers, where running was de rigeur and tightly woven into the fabric of mountaineer culture. And so, if I wanted to climb mountains, I had to run. And I so wanted to climb mountains! So this girl had to run.  And run she did~in rain, under the hot sun, in groups, alone, easy chit-chat runs, tempo runs, group runs. One summer in college,I ran with a girlfriend 3 to 4x a week for the whole summer–and neither of us changed our socks. And this is how colegialas get their thrills,folks, for your information.

After an all-nighter, I would tumble out of bed still reeking of alcohol and run around the Academic Oval. (Ahhh youth! I ). I ran the day after I shared a kiss with my all-time crush and I ran the morning after he broke my heart. I ran when we got back together and I ran when the fool dumped me yet again. I ran the day I learned the better way to deal with a broken heart is to get another cute guy to share a kiss with and I ran the day I learned an even better way than the better way is to run with a staunchly loyal girlfriend. And I ran the day I discovered the staunchest staunchly loyal friend one can have for life is one’s self. And so to this day, I run with her, my best girlfriend, so loyal to me.

I learned that the best way to see a place is to run through its streets, its forests, its alleys, its landmarks. Wherever in the world I found myself, I eagerly, almost-jumping out of my skin, laced up and ran. Adventure! Off the beaten track! It beat any tour guide and I am convinced I got to see more and know more about a country’s people and culture through my jaunts. Instead of blurry snapshots, one is treated to lingering sights and smells and sounds and more elbow-rubbing with the natives. Priceless!

I’ve had a kangaroo suprise the living daylights out of me while on a run in the Gold Coast (I’m pretty sure I surprised the living daylights out of this kangaroo as well!) . And one morning, a sky full of hot air balloons was my backdrop as I ran the streets of Canberra. In my mind’s eye, I breasted the tape in the New York marathon  when I ran through Central Park. And I had the joy of running relay with a bunch of awesome girls from the UPM when we ran from UP Diliman to UP Baguio–with me getting the Bulacan leg (MacArthur Hwy, otherwise known as the armpit of the Philippines) and a part of the Kennon leg. I ran the early morning streets of HK, the nth time I’d been there and to this day I am convinced, this was when i got to see the most of HK’s culture and people. I stopped midrun and joined a group of Hongkongers do tai-chi then sat with them when they offered me tea.

I ran the morning a beloved friend I had run with back in college, died. Running was the last thing I wanted to do that day. I only wanted to curl up and weep. But in life, Hecky was so stoked that I had taken on a full marathon in midlife and running was how I knew how to honor this wonderful man. I ran to let people know about that nasty scourge, cancer–and I ran to honor the people I loved that this nasty scourge had visited~ my mother and Lyndy, my beloved kapitbahay.

Running gave me this place to shake a fist at this monstrosity, and chip at it and at the same time let my loved one know I was holding her hand throughout her dark night.

I ran the morning of my wedding and I ran the morning after the deed was done. (The wedding, the wedding!) I ran the day I learned I was pregnant and for all 3 of my pregnancies, I ran until the 7th month of gestation and power-walked almost to the hour I popped my babies. I ran 3 weeks after giving birth and because we never had yayas, I ran as soon as my husband walked in the door. In fact, I almost always slam dunked the babies in his waiting arms. He would then run after my run was done. Yes, I married a runner. Big surprise. There was no other way.

I ran through my children’s roseolas, and fevers and teething and first days of school. I would drop them off to school and off I went to my regular runs. It didn’t matter if the sun was scorching hot or typhoon signal no.2 was declared. It only meant my children would have a wet mom fetching them a bit earlier that day.

I ran when they got honors, I ran when they had fist fights. I ran when I felt like I was really and truly the best mom in the whole world. And I ran when I broke their little hearts and felt like the nastiest piece of crap and didn’t deserve the lovely children I was given. And I ran with so much happiness my heart felt like bursting when one by one, my children took to running with hardly a push from us. It just felt like I had given them something precious, an ally, a loyal friend–something and someone that would guide and protect them for as long as they had it in their lives.

I ran and said the rosary when I was still a bona fide, card carrying Catholic. And I ran talking to God in the peculiarly robotic, creepy way fundamentalists do in my mercifully brief stint as an-almost-speaking-in-tongues-fundamentalist. I ran the day scales fell of my eyes and organized religion was stricken off my life. And I ran when all around me I could see only the atheist black void. And I ran when all I could see was agnostic grey. And I ran, when I saw that what I wanted, more than anything was to be boldly caring about the world around me~ and that this was my religion, my creed. And I ran full circle, back into Loving arms.

I ran when my marriage was all sunshine and daisies, when my heart could only overflow with love and the disbelief at the outrageous good fortune of my endless happy days of connubial bliss. And I ran when life happened and it was all I could do not to walk away. But I would run and always ran back home. And my husband would run and always ran back home too. I ran when he was my worst enemy and I run now, certain he is the man I have a sacred contract to walk the earth with.

I continue to run when I know that everyone in my life was eager for happy endings and resolutions for me. And I run knowing happy endings would have to wait. Like running, happy endings have to be earned with mileage, hard work and a kiss from lady luck herself.

Running keeps it real for me.

There is nothing more real than this step you’re taking, this moment you breathe in and out. Nothing is more real than now. And running has given me this–the ability to be present in the moment. Yes, I plan. I have goals.

But running has taught me that I only have now. Where others will say ‘Choose your battles’, my mind goes, ‘Run another day.’ Running is such a striking metaphor for life that I feel I have lived my life, arms full, because I’ve had running for as long as I have and I’ve used running as a vehicle to metaphor and write the narrative of my life.

The funny thing is, I’ve never been a fast runner. I am a consistent back-of-the-packer. All my running life. And I’ve never done an ultra-marathon. Just a full one. So it’s mostly been, overwhelmingly been, 50 minute runs, 5 to 6 days a week, off season. It’s mostly been me running simple runs, day in, day out. Before enlightenment, lace up, run. After enlightenment, lace up and run. 🙂 Yet, in midlife, I take a look back and I see a landscape of fullness.

Ah, my friend, running, how well you’ve served me. ~~

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