Back in February I played Frisbee in the park with some other expats for the first time. While playing, I realized that I wasn't winded or affected in any way by the altitude. After that day, I decided to give running a try, since I had nothing better to do anyway and was no longer going to a gym. And I've never looked back. It was a bit slow to start, of course. But most things are like that when you train physically.
At first doing two laps around the park was draining, and once I stopped running I would be huffing and puffing for a minute or two. But eventually I worked up to be able to do two laps without a problem, and eventually three laps. Finally, my host mom suggested I run in a 10k in Cuenca, and with the encouragement of running with my friend Jamie, we completed it with ease. After that I started running longer routes in the mornings and pushing it further. A month after the 10k I did a 15k in Quito at even higher altitude. And again, though it was challenging, I completed it in good time and felt great about it. It's kind of like a Forrest Gump situation. Once I did a 10k, I figured I'd just keep running and do a 15k.
I'm still running, and I'd like to continue it when I get home and move to Argentina. For anyone who's known me long enough, this would be a complete change. I never used to like running, and in fact, I hated it. I'd run on elliptical machines at the gym, but that's about as far as it would go. To me, running was boring and difficult. So why is it that now I'm suddenly into running? I've thought about it, and if you ask me, it has something to do with the physical education system in the United States.
For one thing, unless you participate in Track and Field in middle or high school, the only time you're running outside of a particular sport is when you run "The Mile." It used to be one of the most dreaded events for me. Twice a year you're suddenly told to run as fast as you can in a loop four times, and this is supposed to determine how fit you are. Besides, a mile is a totally arbitrary measurement. If it was 5 yards less would we be in better shape, or in worse were it 5 yards more? Running for a longer distance might prove more than how far you can push it for 8 minutes. But without any training or preparation, the gym teachers judge whether or not you are in shape. Well, frankly, it doesn't work that way.
Running, as simple as it may seem, is actually more complex than that. Running in a couple of races, I've seen just how much preparation goes into these things. I'm obviously not an expert on the subject, but you pick things up quickly. For one thing, stretching is extremely important, and though they always had us stretch in gym, there was about as much oversight on what we did as there was on the executives of Enron. No one told us whether or not we were stretching well or progressing. Chalk it up to either lazy gym teachers or a general lack of concern with how kids are stretching.
Second, there are actual training regimens to follow. Sure, running on the fly might show what you're able to do at that moment, but aren't we told our whole lives to practice, study, train, get better? Isn't it much more enjoyable to set a goal and accomplish it? Running isn't the most thrilling sport, but I really enjoy setting a goal every morning and reaching it. I love playing sports like basketball, baseball, football, Frisbee, etc. But I suck at all of those, and never was able to make the teams. But you can't suck at running. You're just not as fast as the other guy. But you don't suck. This is not something that is taught to us as young children.
Third, you need to learn how to breath. Okay, obviously, we all breath independently of whether or not we think about it, but there's definitely a different way to breath when you run. Starting out running, you soon get the heart pumping faster than normal and need to take deeper breaths. But if you're like I used to be, I would almost freak out and breath too much, not regulating how much air I took in. I was focusing more on the fact that I had no breath than on how to deal with the air I had. I've learned since February to take slow, deep drags and take the air that I have, which isn't always easy considering I'm at high altitude. But it's necessary. As a person who used to have asthma, running was a terrible idea for me. But I grew out of it and was able to increase my lung capacity.
Basically, running is a nearly cost free activity that everyone could take part in if they had the proper education on it. It's obviously not for everyone, and can definitely get boring running around a track for 30 minutes, but that's why I switch it up every few days and run on the sidewalks. Why is it that only the fastest kids are encouraged to run Track? What about the other kids that aren't going to make the baseball team? Why should they just sit around on the couch? While the ultimate goal of running a race is to win or get the best time you can get, I think there's just as much pleasure in finishing. At least for someone like me, anyway, who doesn't even plan on winning.
Back home, I used to go to the gym all the time. While some people start lifting at the gym for a few weeks and then get bored, I went consistently for 5 years, except for a couple months in Spain when I had no membership. I stopping going to the gym when I got to Ecuador, and I guess to make up for it I've picked up running. And since I get into what I do, I've continued to do it about 5 times a week. I want to continue this for years to come, and I hope that I will be able to. But if a guy like me, who genuinely did everything he could to avoid straight out running, could pick up the sport, at high altitude no less, anyone could do it. And it's worth a shot.