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aucklandexerciselifethe happiness project

How running a ridiculously long distance did make me happy in the end

currently: listening to 'Brother' by Needtobreathe feat. Gavin DeGraw

It's hard to believe, but something as awful-sounding like running a 21 kilometre half marathon was good for me in the end - in body, mind and soul.

Last Sunday, I competed with thousands of Auckland runners to run a really long distance. A distance that most people would take 15 minutes to drive on the motorway - but took me just over two hours to run.

And why did I do it? Because I felt thought I needed to try to. That's the honest truth.

Three years ago, I wasn't this person: a "running" person.

Three years ago, I was a 'fresh out of university' student about to start my very first full-time job the week after I had finished my last assignment. I had everything new and wild in front of my eyes, and the anticipation to do great things.

Fast forward to this year, eight months ago - I'm in the same job, same room, in an industry that is constantly changing, but never really favoured upon. (Even I'll say some days I hate the way the media has turned out today.) I felt like I was being surrounded by a lot of negativity, and took in a lot of that negativity myself. I didn't think it was possible at 24 to get as cynical as I did but I was unhappy and had no more motivation or goals to look towards. I felt stuck.

When you feel things aren't going your way and you wake up feeling like there's nothing worth getting out of bed for, or worse, you aren't feeling worthy - that's a really dark place. Looking back I don't truly understand why I had let myself feel that way for weeks; but I never want to have those thoughts again.

But what was good about running was not the feeling of exercise or the time to be away from my screens. I think it was the fact I challenged myself for this end goal and there was only myself to rely on. No one was influencing my choice to run - just my own determination and will. There are very few things I've come across in life where your own self is the only influence you need, and no anyone else's approval. It's empowering, and everyone needs to feel like that.

So through winter, through spring - I had a reason to get out of bed every Saturday morning. And I did it because I owed it to myself to train for this ridiculously long run.

My body did physically pay for it though. Never ending blisters were awful (I'm still got open blisters), almost losing toenails worried me, and the two weeks I spent with pinching back pain were the worst. Want a reminder of your mortality? Lose the ability to sit down comfortably. I felt like a 24-year-old in a 60-year-old body by how often I had to hold my own back and shuffle about. Looking back though, that stuff made me more aware of my own health and how I was treating myself. I dedicated a whole month of 'wellness' to myself for my Happiness project to make sure I cared about my own well-being.

I was having a good chat to this guy from Unitec a couple of days before the run and he said it wasn't uncommon for people to get "the runners bug". I laughed at the idea at first - but having done the run I do kinda understand where he was coming from. It's the challenge you set yourself and test your own body. And I never really had any goals to motivate me this year like this. There's nothing quite like worrying about passing out on the harbour bridge to get your motivation going.

By the way - people asked me what I thought about while running the half marathon. Honestly - very little. I had my songs playing to keep my beat up and not feel as bored, I paid attention to the little kids who were after high fives from passing runners. I thought how far till the next water/Powerade stop, about whether or not I needed to use the bathroom, and worrying if I had put enough plasters on my feet to prevent my blisters from bleeding.

At the 5-6km mark I was cursing myself. At the 9km mark I had found my second rush of energy. By the 10km mark I was proud how fast I had ran. And by the Harbour Bridge, I just wanted to soak in the amazing view (another perk for running it!).

And then after the Bridge, you just want to be done. The sense of accomplishment as you get to the finish is two parts pride, one part relief it's over. No regrets - just happiness, breathlessness, and my very first sports medal. (The half-marathon medal is much bigger than the one flute medal I got when I was 13 too.)

So while I began this year thinking running was the worst decisions I had ever made - I truly am happy I did it. And maybe I did catch the "runners bug" cause all I want to do is beat my time next year... I wouldn't have believed it myself had I not gave myself a reason to get out of bed.

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