I don't quite remember where the urge to run came from. It was either a magazine article I read or a movie I watched. What's clear to me is one morning in 1981, I decided I would go for a run. Wearing denim shorts, a white cotton t-shirt, and my white rubber sneakers on my feet, I set out, intent on running from the cathedral close to where we lived to the center of town and back. It was less than a kilometer in distance, I learned much later, and I covered it in about 15 minutes or so, long walking breaks included.
I wasn't athletic in high school, much less in college. I wasn't into sports and physical education classes weren't exciting at all. But I remember running a lot when I was much younger, playing a game of tag called "batin" with my cousins. We ran after each other, trying to catch members of the opposing team while avoiding getting caught ourselves. The game usually lasted hours, and we enjoyed all that running. The only other time I remember running long again was during ROTC training in college. It was running in an entirely different context. Those runs were compulsory, part of a discipline, not a game that we chose to do willfully and enjoyed.
Somewhere in those years between playing "batin" and ROTC training, I saw this movie about the marathon. Set in the Olympic Games, its main character was an unknown barefoot runner who competed against scientifically trained top athletes. Somehow, that movie and the racing scenes made a lasting impression on me. Running did not only seem fascinating, but romantic.
Running has given me a lot. It made me quit smoking for one. I was a pack-a-day smoker when I started, and I still had the habit with me several years after. One day, trying to pick up speed while training for a race, I felt the burn in my lungs. Gasping, I told myself I needed to quit smoking. I threw away what remained of the last pack I had, and haven't smoked a cigarette since then. I have had my share of depressing times. Running was there to help me get through most of them. It gave me friends. It even awakened the writer in me.
It's been years, this romance between running and me. It hasn't been always a good one. Sometimes, on the road, burdened by the exhaustion and the thought that I still have several kilometers to go, I ask myself why I am doing this. I can be in bed, sleeping beneath the comfort of my blanket, cradled in the softness of my pillows. Yet, here I am... punishing myself, and for what?