I don’t even remember why I started running, maybe it was just a convenient way to listen to music or procrastinate schoolwork, either way it really began to increase in the Summer of 2010 while I was solo travelling France and Spain, needing a way to get myself out of the hostel when I didn’t have anything planned and didn’t want to break open the wallet. I soon learned that running (and more importantly, getting lost while running) is probably the best way to explore a new place, and it has played an essential role in my travels ever since. Following Europe, I eventually acquired my addiction for running while studying abroad in Morocco that Fall. I could use my time running to throw myself into the life of the country, exploring different routes each day, or I could use it to take a break, cutting myself off from my surroundings and absorbing nothing but my thoughts and the music in my ears. By the time I left Morocco, I was running 8 miles a day and walked with a constant limp as I would never sit still enough to let an injury heal…always telling myself I’d rest it tomorrow…that was stupid.
The running bug dug a little deeper when I returned to the U.S. for my last couple quarters at UCSB. After a month back in SB, my roommate Kip noticed the increase in frequency of my runs.
Kip: “How far do you usually run?”
Me: “I dunno. Maybe like 8 miles?”
Me: “Yeah, most days…”
Kip: “So are you gonna run a marathon or what?”
Really running a marathon had never occurred to me. Sure I had grown to love running, but going from 8 miles to 26 just seemed ridiculous in my mind. But Kip told me that he knew some girl who recently ran a marathon, and according to her if I could run up to 40 miles a week, I could run a marathon if I just staggered my distances and created a schedule to train my body.
Now obviously you can only strain your body so much before you’re going to hurt yourself, but I’ve heard it said before that running is “90% mental and 10% physical.” The day I learned that was the day I decided I could run a marathon.
Back then, I used to run up one of Goleta’s main roads and then turn around after X amount of miles or minutes. So to increase my distance I would just run the regular 8 miles but never turned around; once I finished I had no choice but to complete the 16 otherwise I’d have no way of getting home – playing a sort of mind game with myself. I can remember getting back from that first run and just thinking “holy shit, I just ran 16 miles and it wasn’t even that bad really.” I ate those words quick enough the next day at work as I hobbled down the ramp of the Santa Barbra Sailing Center bowlegged. I kid you not, the captain, who I had never spoke to about running before and who I am 90% sure wasn’t a runner himself, asked me if I ran a marathon. When I replied “No, but I ran 16 miles yesterday”, he just laughed and responded, “Why the hell did you do that?”
I was probably just about in marathon condition once June and graduation rolled around, but before I could enter a race, I left to travel S.E. Asia for a couple months. My brother had picked up running by that time too, and with little spare money to spend on activities we spent most of our time either laying on the beach or running around whatever island we happened to land on that day. Seriously though, you could run three laps around Gili Trawangan for a 15 mile course. By that time, I decided to fuck the training program and staggering workouts; spending each day running as far as I could instead – usually falling between 12 and 18 miles. That was about a year ago and ideally where I’d like to be now.
I signed up for my first marathon soon after returning to America; somewhat foolishly choosing the Golden Hills Trail marathon due to its locale. I was staying in the bay area at that point, not really sure what I was to do during this limbo I found myself in between college and Peace Corps, and Golden Hills took place in Berkeley. More focused on location, I didn’t put much care into researching the marathon itself. Now the Golden Hills Trail Marathon is truly an amazing, beautiful, intimate, and well organized event; it probably has the best aid stations you’ll ever encounter in a race and a wonderfully encouraging vibe. However, it also turned out to be one of the most challenging marathons in the nation, perhaps second only to Pike’s Peak. I literally remember parts where I was pulling myself up inclines on all fours. When I would tell other runners it was my first marathon, most replied with something along the lines “Well anything you do after this can only be easier.” But despite its difficulty, I found it hard to make any excuses for myself as every so often a runner would pass me going the opposite direction: ultra-marathoners on their return lap of the 50 mile course.
I decided then then that running wasn’t 90% mental and 10% physical but really 90% mental and 10% mental. Marathons not only call for will power, pushing your body with your mind but they leave you with nothing but your mind for hours on end. Yes, there’s the occasional chit chat with other runners, music if you carry an ipod, and the scenery which surrounds you; but for the majority of the time you’re left with nothing but your thoughts – thinking about the past, present, and/or hypothetical future – a collection of daydreams. And still at some point during that marathon, the mind turns off all together, miles disappearing beneath your feet as if under hypnosis. And then you finish, and it’s almost as if it never happened, well for the time being at least…
That night, after the marathon was over, and before the pain had settled in, I signed up for another marathon to take place 3 weeks later. This, I think, was a mistake…I should’ve waited for my body to recuperate. The second marathon wasn’t bad by any means. Those runners from Golden Hills were right on the nose in that sense. The Santa Barbara Marathon was a breeze – there might have been a total of one mile uphill throughout the entirety of the course and it was at sea level. I actually improved my time by nearly an hour because the course was so much easier, and I had only ran three times in those three weeks between. But after that second marathon, I just stopped. I don’t really know why; but for some reason I just stopped running. Suddenly I had no urge to do this thing I had grown so addicted to, always telling myself I’d go tomorrow and making up some excuse. I suppose there were a number of factors: I wore myself out attempting the second marathon too soon, I got more hours at work around that time making it a full time gig, and I had received my acceptance to the Peace Corps – with a concrete date of my departure I really wanted to spend my time with those I cared about before I left. So running took the backseat, and I only rode in the backseat once a month…and only for a few miles at that.
In April, I departed for Indonesia, and by this time I have decided that running and traveling come hand in hand. To be totally honest, I was kind of pissed off when I first started running again. Bulukerto (my training village) was full of hills, something I’d never really been accustomed to. Moreover, at this point I really hadn’t been running regularly for about 4 months, which meant a drastic decrease in my speed and endurance. However, each day got easier, and each day I went a little farther. Finally after two-and-a-half months I had built myself up again; running 14 miles at a solid pace the last week there.
And then I moved here…the Tengger. If Batu and Bulukerto were hills, then these are surely mountains. With my village sitting at 6,000 feet above sea level and my runs often taking me to a minimum of 7,000, the grade of terrain and lack of oxygen reaching my muscles nearly threw me back to square one. The 14 miles I had ran the week before in Bulukerto seemed like a piece of cake compared to just 5 miles here. But after a month at site now, starting at the bottom rung and climbing my way up the ladder once again, I think my body has finally decided to accept its new environment, accomplishing a 15 mile run just last week and regularly running 7 or 8.
Running in the Tengger has been such a rewarding experience. I’ve managed to map out several of the other villages (in my head at least) scattered throughout the peaks and valleys here, and it’s been a great way to meet new people. To most people I pass while running I give a smile, nod, and “mangga” (Javanese greeting), but I also make an effort to stop and hold at least two short conversations during every run – briefly discussing who I am and why I’m here. At first I swear the people I passed while running were just confused as all hell; telling me it was too cold, far, and steep. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been offered transport or accommodation for Bromo or just blatantly asked for money while out on a jog. But these past days I’ve noticed these questions aren’t asked so much anymore. Children who used to ask for money now ask how far I’m running or if I’d like to join their soccer game. Men who used to greet me pointing to their motor bike or jeep, greet me with a high five or thumbs up. And ibus trying to rent me a room at their hotel or homestay for the night, instead invite me into their home for a cup of tea to meet their family. So not only have I finally regained my comfort with running, but through it I’ve managed to feel more at home and recognized here in the Tengger, rather than another buleh or dollar sign.
For me, running is more than just keeping physically fit. Running has led me to explore my surroundings and dive down roads I would normally walk past. It’s familiarized my face not only with the eyes of my own community but the several villages surrounding it; as well as allowing me to familiarize myself with the lay of the land and the people who inhabit it. It’s allowed for time by myself when I need it, to think and reflect, or just not think at all in some cases; and it’s led to opportunities to spend time with new people. And most importantly, it keeps me happy and motivated…reminding me that there really are no bad days as long as there’s another day to get out there and live, another day to run.