Running in Hsinchu

Yesterday my ankles ached and my left hip felt like it belonged to an octogenarian. My knees felt a bit wobbly and my entire body had a tiredness that doesn’t come from sleep deprivation. I knew the physical consequences of running 10 kilometers Tuesday night, but I needed to do it. It was a matter of determination; I’d never run 6.2 miles before, so I did.

I'll never be able to wear this shirt in public save for on runs. It's see-through and oddly cut, but I love it.

Prior to August 2009, if someone had told me I’d venture out willingly and jog 10K in one go, I would’ve mocked them. “Oh, and once I finish that, would you like me to build a rocketship?” It sounded preposterous and impossible for my unathletic (Google says it’s a real word), pear-shaped body. I had muscular strength, sure, but no cardiovascular strength.

And I had absolutely no mental strength. Every time I said I couldn’t do something, I believed it.

The markers are miles, not kilometers. The far left point where I start jogging is a 5-10 minute walk from my house. The top right marker is a 5 minute walk from my office.

My Tuesday night jog began at the base of a 1.4-mile gentle hill that would alternately rise and then flatten. Then I turned right onto a quarter-mile-long, steady, more vertical hill. Once I reached the apex, I thought the hard part was over, so, feeling good, I picked my pace up a bit and congratulated myself.

Talk about a premature congratulation. My new pace and euphoric feelings were because I was going downhill. When one goes up a hill, one then must then go down that hill, and if you turn around and run back in the direction from which you came, chances are high that you’re going to be going up that same hill again. Elementary Law of Duh.

I jogged up a mile-long hill. One full mile with an elevation change of approximately I Want To Quit.

My Fish Camp 2004 cap, which used to be white. Yup, I've washed it, several times. Yup, I've bleached it.

My legs were leaden and my feet felt like they were sticking to the ground as I tried to lift them for the next step, and I was only halfway through my jog. I tried to keep a spring in my step, but by that point my legs and feet felt like I was wearing cement shoes. When I realized how stiff my back and neck were, I doubled over as I jogged, then leaned back a bit, then shot my arms out like I was doing Tae-Bo. I probably looked like one of those punching nun puppets.

96 minutes, 35 songs, several curse words and a few blisters later, I finished my first 10K. I teared up and chugged air.

A raw patch under my underarm where the seam of my sportsbra rubbed me raw. My skin is angry.

Jogging in Taiwan has its challenges. Traffic is tricky, even when you have lights and pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, namely because most people here drive blindfolded. Traffic lights tend to be more of a “please” than a rule.

It all works, somehow, up until you’re 7 kilometers into your workout and all you want to do is stop, and if you break your pace you’re going to stop, but that light just turned red and now cross traffic is ruining your original path, and you have to run around and in between cars and scooters to get to the other side, and that scooter is about to cut you off, and now you have to avoid another pedestrian.

My main concern, though, is with the pollution. Denise and I have returned from a run and found our sweat mixed with exhaust and dirt. If we were to wipe off our arms, legs and faces after a jog, a white towel would turn gray. Is it really cardiovascular fitness when you’re ruining your lungs in the process?

Yay for jogging in the rain! Even if it's acid rain. My shirt is wet, if you couldn't tell.

You deal with the smell (and taste, when you’re a mouth-breather like me) of exhaust and sewers. You deal with cockroaches scurrying between and beneath your feet.

Me: “What’s worse: being attacked by a cockroach or by a car?”
Denise: “Cockroach. Definitely cockroach.”

You deal with cars and scooters parked on the sidewalks. You deal with scooters driving on the sidewalks and expecting you to get out of the way. You deal with stepping in dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk. You deal with stares and stiff wind and acid rain and bugs flying into your mouth.

You deal with it all because it’s not a big deal.

And you deal with it so your butt can look like this!

Cameron asked me one night why I worked out. I said something very philosophical about constantly improving myself. I believe it was, “Because I feel better.”

When I run, I escape undefinable worries, pain, responsibilities, conversations, my phone, the internet, and loneliness. I know exactly what hurts and why it’s hurting. What? My hips, ankles and knees. Why? Because I’ve been going up Mount Killajogger for the past five minutes. It’s clear-cut and simple. When I lift weights, I hurt because there are 10 pounds of iron doing the Cha Cha with gravity while I try to thrust the dumbbell into the air one-handed. Of course it hurts.

It hurt, but I did it. And now I'm laying on my bedroom floor to cool off and stretch my limbs.

October 29, Denise and I will be running a 10K in Nanliao, a beachside community within ten minutes of scooting from Hsinchu. I blame my CrossFit coaches, Zachary Thiel and Stacey Lashley, and my running buddy Denise for where I am physically. It’s a long way from August 2009.

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