It was June 2019 when I was working a full-time office job. I took a week off (10 days with a public holiday and a weekend), and I decided I would make it a staycation because I was feeling burned out.
It was wonderful to have that familiar routine back and enjoy my usually busy neighborhood during the day. The late morning coffee shops, a casual walk to the farmer’s market… the privilege of David Hockney exhibition without a crowd! (It was a very popular exhibition, on the weekend tickets would be sold out in the morning, and of course, it’s packed with people).
As much as I loved the idea of paid vacation doing NOTHING out of obligation, I did set up a challenge: to start one thing I hate and keep on doing until I like it. Why? No real reason. I was thinking about how I'm controlled by my own habits and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Just a little.
I’m nerdy in nature (and also secretly love it) and not much into “actions.” I’d do stretches and home training. Causal biking and hiking aren’t bad either. I generally do not like cardio exercises, but oh, don’t I hate running. There is zero attraction in making yourself constantly breathless for an hour regularly. To me, that sounds like one hour of thinking, “I can’t breathe, I’m going to die.”
That being said, I read all the good things about running, too. It’s a great exercise with many health benefits you can make a part of your life without much investment. So I thought, if I come to like it it’s great; if not, I will keep doing something that’s really good for my body anyway. It made a logical sense and worth getting over my “feelings.”
I got an app that’s designed to help people who never ran before like me. There are a few apps like that and most are free. They guide you to start with a warm-up walk followed by run/walk intervals. For instance, you may only run for 1 minute and walk 90 seconds the first week, repeating them for 20 minutes, completed by the 5-minute walk to cool down. The duration of each interval will increase as you continue. The goal is to be able to run for half an hour non-stop at the end of the program, you get the idea.
I discovered running for a minute or two is actually doable, which was a relief. I ran every two days, mainly because I knew skipping would only make it harder. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to run before leaving for work at 7. However underwhelmed I was for the exercise, I completed 2/3 into the program until I hurt my knee somehow. I think my running shoes were too big. The shooting pain lasted until the autumn, luckily only when I tried to run and I just needed to heal.
I was on and off when I got back partly because the air pollution in Seoul was nasty last winter, but I never really stopped. This week, I did the 20-minute interval, which is the longest I ever ran (although I cheated in the middle and walked for 3 minutes).
Do I like it now? Nope.
There was no magical moment you get hyped about your progress and finally discover the joy in it. I still grind my teeth right until I walk out the door. It does feel really good after, just not during. I’m much more energetic for the rest of the day and get more things done. My body looks different quite a bit, which is definitely a bonus. That still doesn't make it fun and I'm fun-driven with most things I do. What keeps me going is that I'd like to take my words seriously, even if they were just for myself. I wouldn't call it a discipline but this part of my personality seems to work to my benefit.
The way I see it, we are required to bite through unpleasantries and headaches in the adult world. Since I can do them when they are not half as healthy as running, I suppose I don't need to love it to keep running. And it's actually really good for you 😉