If the government forces everyone in your middle school class to kill one another, whether you have the heart of a killer or not, you have no choice but to run. Run after your prey, or run to last longer on the battlefield no matter how tired and traumatized you are.
Above is the premise of the movie “Battle Royale”, and it shows how our ancestors figured out how essential running is in life, long before it evolved into competitions in which the one who runs fastest gets awarded — and this was how I figured it out myself.
It all started in my very first semester in college. I chose running as my PE class for the year because my best friend did, and I figured I might as well use the time to hang out with him. The academic oval served as our race track. As I ran in the counter clockwise direction against the morning wind without any rules or strategy in mind, I felt my energy level slowly diminishing. In an alternating sequence, I ran for as long as I could and walked when I couldn’t take it anymore. My legs weakened, and as I gasped for air my lungs felt like they would burst any time. Needless to say, I lost my motivation to run and gained the urge to secretly slip out of the class and take a shortcut instead, though I kept on running because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It was only a 2.2-kilometer run, but it made me rethink whether I made the right choice for a PE class or not, since I’m not much for physical activities. For three days after the first time I ran, every step I took made me cringe in pain, and going up and down the stairs was twice as excruciating. That’s what happens when a runner lacks in preparation, our professor told us. Running is a challenge to overcome.
Wanting to turn my slip-ups into lessons learned, I made it a point to take mental notes every time I got the chance to run. I realized that the trick to it is to keep one’s pace and to breathe steadily. I also learned the hard way not to eat anything right before running, as it once made me sick to my stomach. It’s also a good thing to eat a hearty amount of food rich in carbohydrates the night before, to have enough sleep, and to keep oneself hydrated for maximum energy and efficiency. My running habits gradually improved, and by the end of the semester, I got fit and running wasn’t as tiring and excruciating as it was before. Running is a matter of discipline.
But when the semester ended, I didn’t get to practice running anymore because I was too shy to do it on my own. The only time I tried it in the next semester was when my dad took me for a morning run at the Quezon Memorial Circle. The place was bustling with activity that Sunday morning, and lots of people were also out for a jog. That was the first time I did it without a running buddy. I realized that the lack of pressure, knowing that no one was watching me or commenting on the way I ran, made a huge difference. I was only able to go on for 2.5 rounds because at that time, my leg muscles and I weren’t prepared so I got tired easily. I enjoyed it nonetheless, since the scenery was refreshing – running around the academic oval countless times can get boring. The fast-paced lively music booming from nearby speakers provided a steady beat to run to. Running is a form of recreation, after all.
After that, I thought I didn’t have any real reason to run anymore, but I found it one summer afternoon, while I was alone in my favorite mall reminiscing about my failed relationship with a close friend. I was on the verge of breaking down when my dad asked me if I wanted to go night running with people from his company, and I took him up on the offer. We went to the Philippine Sports Complex and I ran a good 7.2 km. It was my first time to try night running and it felt good due to the cool breeze and absence of heat from the sun. But even more than that, I found that it is a good way to release the steam that have been piling up in me for a long time, and to make my heart stronger, figuratively. A memorable quote from the aforementioned piece of literature came to mind: “No matter how far, run for all you’re worth. Run.” And though I wasn’t forced to run from any insane classmate who was out to give me a brutal death, I did it as if to run away from my troubles. As I ran, I thought of everything I wanted to reflect on, all the frustrations I had and burdens cast upon me, the melancholy I felt back then. To me, it was a brave attempt to sweat them all out. Running is catharsis. Running is ‘moving on’, in more senses than one.
It is actually my dad who is really into the sport. He buys running shoes, magazines, and gear regularly, and he actively participates in local running and trail competitions. Badminton used to be our family sport a few years back, but he figured that running is a more “portable” sport and is more versatile in a sense that anyone can do it anywhere as long as there’s a decent path to run on. He bought me some running gear and encouraged me to try my hand at joining official races.
My very first was in July 2012, “Run for Good Governance”, held at the UPD Academic Oval. I lacked in preparation, unfortunately. My dad and I did something terrible: we sprinted the first 200 meters and ended up burning out really quickly. My legs got tired faster than they ever did before, and I had to repeatedly run short distances in between pauses to reduce the burning sensation in my windpipe — the same unfortunate ‘deja vu’ moments I had the first time I ran. I finished the whole 5 km in 29 minutes, which was average, but it didn’t matter considering how terrible it felt. I remember thinking somewhere in the middle about giving up. However, I didn’t want to disappoint myself, so I continued. Running is persevering until the very end.
I promised myself that I would have a better strategy next time, even if I had very little time to prepare because of the rainy season. In September 2012, I joined the 5 km “Pick UP the Pace” alone, also in UPD Oval. That time, I really did my best to keep a steady running and breathing pace. Not once did I even stop for refreshments at the hydration stations. I didn’t really need it because I didn’t feel as burned out as before, and because it was raining hard the whole time. Of course, none of my clothes prevented me from getting completely soaked in rain. It was my second run under the rain, but it was when I realized how refreshing it was. The cool water left no room for me to sweat anymore. The only annoying thing about it was the unpleasant feeling of rainwater hitting my eyes — I should have followed my dad’s advice and brought a cap. I wasn’t able to note the time, but I was one of the first 30 people to finish in my category, and for that I was awarded my first running medal. There was no place for me to get changed, but going home completely drenched in rain with the evidence of my triumph was worth every discomfort I felt at that moment. But whether one would win a medal or not, running is winning in itself.
Haruki Murakami, my favorite author and a long-time runner and triathlete, wrote of how he made it a point to finish every race honorably against all the tiredness and pain that weighed him down. His book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, in which he chronicled his love-hate relationship with running, helped me develop a genuine interest in running and inspired me to take it up again – not as a course requirement this time, but for myself. I haven’t been joining any official runs lately, but I still do 5-kilometer runs whenever I have the time. My PE professor went on and on about the health benefits of running, but my reasons for running are not those that are manifested in my physique. I run for the feeling of liberation, clarity of mind, and odd happiness that takes over me every time I do. Most of all, I run for the sense of accomplishment. After getting tired and losing motivation somewhere in the middle, all I have to do is look back to see how far I have come, remember Murakami, and it’s enough for me to regain my energy, push myself to keep on running, and finish what I started. Every run, I learned, is ultimately a battle against oneself. It is too easy to start. What matters most is to challenge oneself to meet one’s goals and reach the finish line with flying colors. When one looks at it from this perspective, life is actually parallel to running in so many ways. It is not a race. Rather, it is more about keeping a steady pace.
“ ‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run. ”
– Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run