If you see a fork in the road, take it

As I sit down to pen my second diary entry, I have come to realize that plans seldom work out the way you intend them to.

Naïvely believing that I had the concept of running down pat, I had originally envisioned writing about my food choices and how they play an important role in my training. Instead, I find myself reflecting on how these last few weeks have been a roller-coaster ride for me and how there is so much more to running than I originally thought.

Some of the highs and lows I experienced have taught me important lessons that I had simply overlooked so far. They have helped me understand how even minor details could easily derail you, but also how sometimes a low can bring to the forefront the inner strength that one inherently has.

At the beginning of July, Abhi and I went on a week-long vacation. Typically, vacation for me translates into a gym break and enjoying beautiful sights (hooray!) — but more importantly, constant gluttony expeditions (oh yeah!). For the first time ever, though, I was a bit apprehensive about a vacation — worried about my training and concerned I would lose whatever momentum I had gained so far in running.

But this summer is proving to be a series of firsts for me. For the first time ever, I had an adventurous vacation where food was an afterthought and activities were the highlight. I completed my first hike ever and did several more — even some more than 10 kilometers. I even conquered a summit by scaling 7,000 feet!

As I hiked, a sense of numbness used to slowly crawl up my legs to the point where, although I felt tired, it felt like I could go on for miles still. Eventually, at the end of the hikes, gleefully looking down at the panoramic sights and realizing how high and far I have come, I remember thinking, perhaps this is how it would feel when I cross the finish line for the half marathon. Like a soaring bird ready to conquer the world.

I was ecstatic that even while on vacation, I had remained very active. I was ready to plunge into the training once again with added gusto. On Saturday, July 8, we were to do our group long run, set for 5 miles. The route was to take us through the labyrinth of Columbus downtown.

Yes, a labyrinth! For a directionally challenged person like me, even Columbus feels like a maze sometimes. And Murphy’s Law followed me around that day. Rookie runner that I am, I did not make note of the route we were to follow, and I managed to lose sight of fellow runners and got lost. Quite embarrassing to say the least.

With no clue about the prescribed route, I somehow managed to come back to the starting point. In the process, I also dropped my phone (during a failed attempt at figuring out the route), cracked my screen and made it go dead. To add to my misery, the activity tracker that I use stopped working and I had no clue about the distance I had covered; I’m guessing it to be 3 miles at the most.

Overall, it turned out to be a miserable day, and I felt completely dejected and frustrated. I came home and cried. I lamented my lack of progress and how inept I am.

But with a lot of encouragement and support from Abhi (support from family is key, I realize) and my resolution to persevere through this, I vowed to myself to do better. The next day, Sunday, I got up early and did my first lone long run of 5.5 miles on a route familiar to me.

I was grinning from ear to ear.

The following Saturday for our group run, determined not to let silly technicalities hinder me, I scribbled some key turns on my hand. Archaic, yes, but who wants a paper in hand while running? I just needed a quick check to ensure I was on the right path. I completed the 6-mile run without a hitch. Funnily enough, this time there were many runners who kept pace with me.

Where were they last week? I suppose I had to learn my lesson somehow!

But oh, the joy and pride I felt after I finished. Hmm … is that what the elite refer to as the runners’ high?

Too soon?! Perhaps. But I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment that I have come to expect and cherish so much now. It was all validated when, during the following Tuesday’s track work, Coach (Alex Contreras) passed and told me I have improved! Yessss!!

This week, though, Abhi had his ACL surgery, and I have had to miss few days of workouts yet again. I never thought I would be one to miss working out, but like I said, plans seldom …

I am now itching to go back to training. Yes, it was a stumbling block, but not something that will deter me anymore. We have finished our in-class sessions and will join the running club each Saturday from now on. I do feel my best is yet to come, and I am happy I am gradually increasing my stamina and strength.

Oh! And how humidity and proper running clothes (thanks to some serious chafing) play an important role in one’s run is another lesson I learned! Hopefully from now on, the ride will be much smoother and steadier. Phew!

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.