The beauty of running is kind of hard to explain. I guess the first question to be asked, is why do we even want to run? Weight loss? Image? Fitness? Is it a social thing? Is it for stress relief? You tell me. A mix of all of these things is probably the right answer, but for me it started very differently.
I have always loved playing sports and never genuinely liked running or working out. Football was pretty much the only physical activity in my life, and I didn’t really have a problem with that. With the worst possible combination of injuries, being overweight and lazy, I had become pretty obese (102kgs to be exact) and I was just feeling very tired everyday. I just felt tired no matter what I did. I felt tired even just after waking up. My body was not reacting to anything and I was feeling insecure and unhappy. I felt negative and I took it out on my closest friends and family. A change was needed. However, I knew I couldn’t change all my habits overnight. I was smart enough to understand that a real change in mentality and also my physical shape would only come with a serious amount of hard work and dedication.
So, in October 2011, I decided to start running. Now, to be totally honest I had no idea as to how I should run or what my objective was. Should I plan to train for a marathon? Should I go online and find running routines? Should I get a running partner? I was confused but determined. In the end, I decided to just start running alone at a slow pace on a treadmill.
THE TREADMILL DAYS
I never really used a treadmill regularly before. Yeah, I mean I did attempt to use it a few times in college and maybe once or twice in high school, but I wouldn’t really count those experiences to be meaningful. The thing about using a treadmill is that you have to beat your mind to keep the body going. It’s as simple as that. It is a mental issue, where you have to keep yourself entertained. It is monotonous and it can be quite a frustrating experience. 20 minutes can seem like 40 minutes, 3 km can feel like 6 km. One of the worst experiences as a treadmill runner is looking at the digital screen and seeing that the time has barely gone and you’re already tired, although you haven’t even broken a sweat yet.
Initially, I started with a goal for time and not distance. I wanted to run 15 minutes straight at a medium pace (I’m talking about 6.5 km/hr) and gradually build up to 5 minutes of fast pace (8km/hr). That was it. Just a 20-minute run and I was happy. I did sweat and I felt like it was a good work out at that time. I did this for about 3 to 4 months and I remember checking my weight every day and I was barely losing any weight. I did feel slightly fitter though. I was running 4 times a week and I felt as though I was getting used to this routine. This is when I realized I needed a change, so I moved to a goal for distance not just time.
I wasn’t training for anything. I wasn’t training with someone. It just seemed like a smarter decision and in retrospect, it was. My new goal was 3 km. I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for some reason I was really running well when I changed my goal from time to distance. It just felt easier on the treadmill and my mind was reacting to this new goal better. By April 2012, I was now weighing about 95 kgs. Ok, so it isn’t an amazing achievement, but it was a start. A start that was so important because it made me realize that it was working.
Along with the new goal for distance, I changed a few other habits. For a start, I changed my diet completely, moving away from carbs and eating in lesser portions. I was eating dinner by 8 o’ clock, which gave my body time to digest. I was going to sleep with a light stomach rather than eating very late and going to sleep feeling heavy. The other big change for me was having a light lunch, because I run at my best when my body is not heavy. I also changed my work out days. I was now working out 6 days a week, with one (and this is very important) ” REST DAY” and not a “CHEAT DAY”. It is very important to understand the difference. To be honest, the difference is already mentioned in the terms. I used to eat whatever I wanted on my cheat days and then spent the next week working that one single stupid cheat day out. Now, I moved to a rest day, where I would spend the day relaxing and resting my knees and other parts of the body, which needed rest. This was a huge change for me and I was slowly beginning to understand my body better.
It was around the summer of 2012, where the biggest change in my life came. It was time to say goodbye to the treadmill. It just wasn’t challenging me anymore and wasn’t working for me. I moved to running outside. I decided to start with my school field (AISD). It was a nice and quiet place and I thought it was the perfect place to start running outside. Once again, the key decision was to follow my own pace and let me understand my whole body. It is the most important thing for runners. You have to know your body and you have to know how it reacts to certain conditions. Summers in Bangladesh can be deadly hot, and I needed to know how far I could go in the heat.
LEARNING TO RUN
It was perfect. It was exactly what I needed; a big, beautiful astro turf field and myself and…. that’s it. It was wonderful to find such peace and quiet in Dhaka. I was also running quite well at this stage. My distances were slowly going up and my time was becoming faster as well. However, my performance was the last thing I remember from running at AISD. It was my mental state during and after my run. That is all I remember. I fell in love with running, while running at AISD. I don’t even know what it was exactly; I just remember everyday being perfect. After a hard day at the office, it was so nice to just go and run. Me, my iPod and my thoughts. Sometimes, I didn’t even bother counting how many rounds I was doing, or how long I ran. I just ran till I got tired and I went home as a different person. I felt light, both physically and mentally.
I ran at AISD for a year and a half and as you can imagine, a lot of things changed in those 18 months. I was now running 7 days a week. I ran on weekends, I ran with a hangover, I ran drunk, I ran with injuries, I ran when the weather was 45 degrees and I ran when the weather was 9 degrees. If I was in Dhaka, I went to AISD. I still remember how sad I felt when the campus was closed one day during Bengali New Year. So, why the change? Why didn’t I just continue running at AISD? It’s a combination of many things, actually. I felt as though I needed a new challenge. 5km wasn’t really doing it for me anymore. I had also reached my target weight of 80kgs by now. However, I wasn’t happy. I have a problem; I set myself goals and become almost obsessed till I achieve them, and then I want to go even further.
Losing 22kgs was fantastic, but I needed to lose more weight and the time seemed perfect to switch up my running style. I decided to start going for longer distances now. It was going to be hard, but I knew my body could do it. I was dedicated and determined. I was slowly running 6 -7km and by the end of 2013, I was running it at a good pace. It took me a while to adjust to a faster pace, but the rewards were tremendous. The last day I ran at AISD was towards the end of April in 2014. I remember this because it was during the T20 World Cup that Bangladesh hosted. We were terrible during that World Cup, but my running helped me through all the trauma. I felt that I achieved everything I could achieve from running at AISD. I was the fittest I had ever been and I was now weighing close to 72kgs — a huge improvement indeed. It was finally time to say goodbye to a field that has given me some of the best memories of my life in high school and also now because I found why I loved running and I believe I found out how to excel as a runner. I now understood the beauty of running and I was ready to challenge myself in the outdoor parks and streets now. We should always keep setting ourselves newer targets and challenges. So I did.
GOING THE DISTANCE
So, there I was in bloody hot May 2014, trying to run in the park. I had no idea about the distance. One of the first things I did in AISD was run with my iPod and my Nike Fuel watch to calibrate the distance per lap. This park seemed so enormous. Anyway, first day I thought I’d try to do a 5km minimum and 8 km maximum. I think it was the worst running experience ever. It was so hard and it was so hot. Also, there were so many people. Where the hell did they come from? “I am going back to AISD from tomorrow, where it was just me and the field”, I thought to myself.
I didn’t go back, but it did take me awhile to warm up to the park and its beauty. I am not a big fan of nature. Therefore, it took me a little bit of time to just get used to the surroundings. My performance was “ok” but I was slowly getting the hang of it. I decided to make some changes to my running technique and this is where I learned the most important aspect of running. I learned all about rhythm. I realized the importance of keeping the flow, the beauty of the rhythm. I was smooth and delicate with my feet. I was running and running and I kept on going. I was hitting the 10km distance regularly. I was running everyday and sometimes twice a day. I only stopped because of my knees and a lower back injury I have been carrying for years. I was never tired; I was never out of breath.
A lot of new runners make the fatal mistake of starting too fast and then just dropping out and walking. The park is where I learned to pace myself. I learned to increase and decrease my speed with my heart rate and with how my body was feeling. We have to remember that our bodies will react differently everyday. Just because I am completing 9 km in 50 minutes today doesn’t mean it will be the same tomorrow. There are many different aspects to a good run and running in the park taught me that. I was going the distance too. I am talking about 15 – 18 km almost everyday for a month. I felt that, if I ran alone and not with a partner, I could run further and that is because I could run at my own pace. I have been fortunate enough to run with many different partners. Some faster than me, some slower than me. However, I can safely say that when it comes to distance, I am quite good at setting the pace and completing the distance.
The park has taught me to be patient. Even though your legs are ready to burst and speed up, I learned to let the other runners in front of me go, and not show off by running fast as well. The park has taught me that, when it comes to running, the mind is the most important body part. There is no greater feeling than completing a long run at the park. I have been lucky enough to run at 6:30 am and also 8:30 pm at the park; same location but vastly different experiences. However, I try to keep the flow and rhythm to myself and that is why I succeed.
There is no END!!
There really isn’t. Look, I mean yes I guess, I have now achieved my target goal for my weight (65kgs). However, I run and work out more than ever now. I have added High Intensity Interval Training and weight training to my everyday routine. I wake up early and finish a minimum of 8km before I go to work and I work out with either my trainer or friends in the evening. Hey, I even train my friends (who are just as dedicated as me) now. Who would’ve thought that was possible 3 years ago?
The hard truth is you won’t change overnight, but your attitude can. The results will only come if you really, really, want it. You have to fight yourself to prove to yourself that you can do it. This is your body and it is almost a sin if you don’t take proper care of it. I do diet, I do eat well but at the same time, I also enjoy myself and sometimes I eat what I want. I can work it out now. Running has been everything to me. It is my refuge and I have thought about everything when I run. I think about my life, my future, my friends, work, football and even when I will go for my next run. Set yourself a target and achieve it. There is no greater feeling than the feeling of accomplishing a target. We are all capable of greatness and we are already great. However, don’t just settle for great. I certainly don’t. I want to be the greatest. There are no limits, and as my hero Michael Jordan said, ” limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”