I wasn't always a runner. Far from it. As a kid growing up in the 1980s in Los Angeles, it was difficult not to immerse yourself with the "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers. Each championship brought its share of jubilation, and further ingrained my personality with that of the basketball ethos. I lived, ate, and drank basketball.
While I saw basketball more as a recreation, running was seen as more of a requirement. Be it a specified part of the state physical education requirement, or a part of a federal physical fitness standard, it was difficult for me to enjoy myself as I approached the final stretch of that last lap, gasping for air and just wishing for this to be over. This perspective continued with me throughout college, as I continued to gear most of my physical and cardiovascular fitness activities toward more team-oriented sports.
Like many that make their way through college, I studied incessantly, often times unknowingly falling asleep at the library until the janitor woke me up. While I did well in school, it came at the cost of my physical health and well being. This, coupled with partying and late night eating, took its toll. Yes, I gained the notorious "Freshman 15." But, I also went on to pack on the sophomore, junior, and senior 10 as well. I had started college at 160 pounds and ended it slightly over 200 pounds.
And, I maintained this weight for several years after college. That is, until I went out with my friends to nightclub one night. There, I couldn't help but overhear a high school friend that I hadn't seen for a while say, "Wow, Sang got fat."
When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, you don't notice yourself gaining weight. At least I didn't. So, I had to ask several friends to confirm the news to me. Did I or didn't I get fat? Although I didn't want to hear it, they told me the truth. And, truth be told, it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me - for it introduced me to this wonder called running.
I proceeded on a strict training and eating regiment. Key to my diet was watching my calorie count. I had to burn at least 400 calories every day, six days a week. It felt almost like Bill Murray's movie, "Groundhog Day." Every day was almost the same as the one prior. I would go to the gym, work out on the treadmill or elliptical trainer, and I would get a calorie count in return. And then I'd enter the data into my Documents To Go spreadsheet on my PDA, which at the time was an old Palm Tungsten I had laying around.
Except that in this version of Groundhog's Day, I was getting thinner each day. 205 pounds soon became 175. While I would occasionally run on the streets, I didn't like to; not because of the physical nature of it, but because it lacked the caloric data that the machines at the gym provided me, which would eventually make its way into my spreadsheet.
This would completely change in June 2006, Nike released its Nike+ iPod integration system. The "analog" road could now translate its findings into the digital world through its little sensor and receiver.
Nike+ would help fuel my 25 pounds of weight loss, putting me now 150 pounds. This all occurred within a six month period. During this period, and since then, I have not touched a treadmill at all. Looking back, I don't know how I ran on a treadmill for as long as I did without going insane. Today, there exist a smorgasbord of fitness-related apps on the iPhone that can help some meaning from your sweat. These include RunKeeper [iTunes link], Couch to 5K [iTunes link], WalkJogRun [iTunes link], and AllSport GPS [iTunes link], all of which facilitate the running experience.
And the running experience is best felt on the road.
No matter how bad a day you have, running is always waiting there you. It's the escape from our busy lives. Running can also accentuate some of the best moments of your life, be it that raise you just received at work, or getting up the nerve to ask that special lady in your life to spend the rest of your life with you and her saying yes. These things feel a million times better when you re-live them while running.
Running provides you a perspective of your surroundings as well as the world that you may otherwise not have noticed. Whenever I make return trips to the UC Berkeley campus, I always make sure I pack my running gear with me. While I'm only several years removed from the campus, running makes it feel like a million. I see things that had always been there, but that I seemingly never paid attention to.
Freeing myself from the treadmill and taking to the road has been one of the most life-altering experiences for me. It's as if the the road is an extension of me. And with each step I take, my soul is leaving its mark on the world through the soles of my shoes.
As I cross the finish line of the L.A. Marathon, I am reminded of the incredible feat that I and the thousands that I joined have accomplished. Some can do it without the aid of technology, and many, like me, need some gadgetry to give them that extra push. If you are currently at a crossroads (like I was several years back) and would like to get off your feet and lose some weight, there exist a myriad apps on the iPhone/iPod touch that can help you get there. Enjoy the run.