as fast as you can

My feet hit the pavement, my elbows swing out wildly. My form is definitely incorrect. There is sweat pouring down my face and stinging my eyes, and simply being in my skin feels like donning a wool suit in August. I try to breathe, but my lungs feel more like gills in the thick air. Still, I run.

I am at Muang Chiang Mai Stadium, running laps at the rust red track alongside other runners, walkers and children because I can’t handle the moat route in Chiang Mai’s Old City any longer. Don’t get me wrong- it’s scenic for sure, and refreshing (though probably unsanitary) because of the spray from the fountains. But the levels of exhaust I’ve inhaled are ungodly and dodging the scurrying rats is starting to take a toll on my heart. I recently moved to the Chang Puak Gate area and the track is no more than 10 minutes from my new apartment. I take this as a sign to keep running.

Despite my rocky past relationship with running (I was on the track team in high school and once cried, claiming “exhaustion” during an easy three miler), I keep going. Half marathons excite me. I have no idea why. I think it's because every particle of my being revolts against the idea of running for two hours straight that I feel like I absolutely have to do it. Every time I finish one, I vow never again. Time to hang up these sneaks, sister. And then, like clockwork, two months later, I’ll start running again or impulsively sign up for another race. This is exactly what happened my first week in Chiang Mai. I landed in the sweltering humidity and thought yeah, I hate temperatures over 85 and humidity over 12%...yep, this is the activity for me. SO. I’m currently in training for a half on January 21st. It’ll be my third (Brooklyn Half and Prague Half preceding it). You know what they say- third time's a charm! 

I only have about two months left to train, so by now, it’s crunch time. Between the stifling humidity my first weeks here and the overwhelming and lingering heat, I’ve honestly been more motivated to nap. But, a cooler front has kicked in these past two weeks, so I’ve been using it to my advantage and trying to get out and hit the pavement about five days a week. I admit, this is optimistic of me. Days I don’t run (and some days I do), I do a little cross training or bodyweight workout, just to mix it up. My training plan (if you're interested) is as follows:

  • W 1: m (x) t (3 mi) w (4 mi) th (3 mi) f (x) s (5 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 2: m (x) t (3 mi) w (4 mi) th (3 mi) f (x) s (6 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 3: m (x) t (4 mi) w (5 mi) th (4 mi) f (x) s (7 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 4: m (x) t (4 mi) w (5 mi) th (4 mi) f (x) s (8 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 5: m (x) t (5 mi) w (6 mi) th (5 mi) f (x) s (9 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 6: m (x) t (5 mi) w (6 mi) th (5 mi) f (x) s (10 mi) s (3 mi)
  • W 7: m (x) t (4 mi) w (5 mi) th (4 mi) f (x) s (11 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 8: m (x) t (4 mi) w (5 mi) th (4 mi) f (x) s (12 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 9: m (x) t (3 mi) w (5 mi) th (3 mi) f (x) s (5 mi) s (2-3 mi)
  • W 10: m (x) t (3 mi) w (4 mi) th (3 mi) f (x) s (13.1 mi)

Running in Thailand has been the surest test of my determination. In high school, I was perfectly happy to be sidelined by a case of plantar fasciitis after wearing literal tennis sneakers to run. I was happy to use my asthma as an excuse not to log and slog long miles in sub freezing temperatures (it hurts), but here I found my excuses evaporating. Drink more water, wear more dry-fit, run later or run earlier. It's not that hard. 

I'm back at the track. The heat fizzles out as the sun sets, and there is something a little magical about my early evening rounds on the red oval, my path illuminated by the big white stadium lights. I am surrounded by professional athletes and leisure power-walkers, and we all move in the same direction- a forward, ongoing stream of movement. We smile, grimace, sweat and laugh. We high-five and urge on compatriots, actions that transcend language barriers.

Ending my day here gives me a chance to reflect on the past 12 hours, to release whatever anxiety or concern has preoccupied my thoughts. This is cathartic. My relationship with running will always be a bit love/hate, I realize that. But. Yes, but! At the end of the day, the feeling of my body flying through space, the heat radiating through my sneakers, the wind whipping through my hair and the sweat dripping down the nape of my neck is the sweetest expression of freedom I can conjure. So I run.