Can I be obsessive? For sure. In fact, when I get into something, I’m often obsessive about it. My latest obsession has to do with running. Now, if you know anything about me, I hate running. It was my bane during the time I was doing my military service.
You see, long-distance running is pure torture. It isn’t a short stab of pain but a numbing continuous agony that needs to be sustained for a long time. Yet I’ve taken to running with a vengeance in the last couple of weeks, clocking anywhere between 25-35km a week.
While my timing isn’t anything to brag about, I’ve discovered somewhat of a joy in running at a steady pace for a longer period of time.
Let me romanticise about running, about how it mirrors life and the needed elements of life so that we can sustain ourselves through life’s race – not a short one, but a rather long one in truth.
1. Look for new sceneries
One thing I’ve discovered is that I can’t run around the same place over and over. I lose motivation. I start focusing on the end point instead of enjoying the journey that’s happening now. This is why I shudder at the thought of running round after endless round along a running track. To satiate my appetite for running, I’ve embraced a pursuit of new sceneries. Each week, I drive out looking for new places to run.
The pace of running makes it such that I’m able to take in much more of my surroundings than in my usual driving through. Squirrels, birds squawking, the wake of a swimming monitor lizard have all caused me to pause and take a second look.
Not too long ago, I discovered that right before Pasir Ris Beach was a vibrant, thriving mangrove habitat for all kinds of birds, crustaceans, and flora. Having lived around the area for over a decade, it was a revelation to discover boardwalks that led through the mangrove swamps, bursting with avid nature photographers touting their large lenses and waiting patiently to capture the perfect shot of their subjects.
Life should mimic this hunt for new sceneries and experiences. It might require us to take on a new mode of transportation and movement for our perspective to zoom in on things we’d otherwise overlook. But this is well worth it. God intends for us to enjoy the journey as much as the destination He’s calling us to.
If there’s something needed in endurance sports, it’s patience. You just can’t rush it. My Garmin coach works out a training schedule to help me attain my running goals. The training pace really goes slow.
75% of the runs scheduled for me are much slower than what I’m capable of. The increase in distance is also very progressive. So often, I end up running at a faster pace than what’s been set for me, simply because patience isn’t my strength.
The end result is that I don’t recover as fully as I should. My training load also indicates that it hasn’t been as productive as it can be.
In conversing with a triathlete, he gave me a repeated advice about endurance exercises – have patience. He told me that distances should not be increased by more than 10% of what was previously run each week. What was a greater eye-opener was when he talked about the importance of zone 2 training for endurance sports.
Zone 2 training is simply training at just about the easy zone, where one is able to speak in short sentences and hold a conversation while running. This turns out to be quite easy and counter-conventional, where we tend to believe running faster helps us make better progress.
But, in reality, most of our training should be done at zone 2 to lay down a solid aerobic and endurance base. So basically, it’s to keep progress slow and steady. Reminds me of Aesop’s tale of the tortoise and the hare.
The implications for life are obvious, and maybe not so obvious. Obvious in how this parallels the progress we seek to achieve in life, but not so obvious as so few of us work out a sustained routine for the progress we seek.
Mastery isn’t something people generally aim for. We may fantasise about it but mostly, no one ever gives themselves over to the discipline, process, and systems that need to be practised to gain mastery and high levels of proficiency in our craft.
But, if we’re pursuing mastery, then patience and zone 2 training must be the mainstay of our routines.
Finally, finding a steady rhythm and holding to that constant pace is incredibly therapeutic. I’ve noticed that, whenever I pass by other runners, it’s easy for me to end up adopting their pace instead of keeping to mine.
Take a look around. Everything follows a rhythm and a pace. Things vibrate at a constant frequency, we breathe with a degree of constancy, time is measured in cycles of minutes, hours, days, and weeks – everything has a cadence to it.
Likewise, we need a steady pace in the way we do life – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Avoid the tendency to be driven by the moment. Instead, find a steady regularity in what you do.
Keep your exercises regular. Maintain a regular schedule for your relationships. Fix a time each day for your daily devotions with God. Don’t let them stack up and attempt to do everything at one go. Find a rhythm and stick to it.
I invite you to run as well. It might turn out to be much more instructive than just getting your cardio pumping.