I hate running. It’s exhausting. The weather’s never good enough. My shoes are always tied wrong. It just hurts. Despite this, I’ve been on a fitness journey since coming to Taipei. I quit smoking. I started running, exercising, and eating well.
Going to the gym and exercising aren’t all that interesting. It’s the same everywhere. Pick up heavy things and put them back down. Eat more vegetables than you want to. Running, however, is the real drama of any good fitness journey.
I first started running from my apartment to the gym. Just a kilometer. I wore a pair of beat-to-death Asics trainers with burn marks, no support, and hardly any tread left. They had been to more parties than gymnasiums. I just quit smoking (5-10 cigarettes/day) cold turkey. These first runs were filled with smog, traffic lights, and exhaust, but honestly my tar stained lungs didn’t notice. It was all pure hell, but slowly I started running farther.
After breaking away from the narrow, polluted streets, I started to run around campus. The cars and trucks were replaced by a pond and trees. The highways and alleyways were replaced by a dirt trail and bike paths. The air was so much cleaner here. It was intoxicating. My lungs relished the – almost – fresh air. I kept going further. First around the pond, then to the fields by the agriculture school, back through the palm trees. The running hurt, but I distracted myself with the scenery. After a while, I started to get bored during my runs. I outgrew campus. I needed to move on to greener pastures, literally.
I found Da’an Forest Park 大安森林公園, which Google Maps lovingly describes as “a sprawling forest park in the heart of the city.” I ran one long, dirty km along a 6 lane highway, and finally got to the park. Da’an’s not that big, but the dense tree cover blocked out the traffic, and I could stretch out my legs and breathe… for a nice 3 km loop. A few weeks in, running stopped hurting. I started getting faster. I started running longer. My runner’s high replaced my nicotine addiction. I craved fresh air. I wanted to just run. and run. and run.
The riverside in Taipei has kilometers of open, grassy trails just snaking through the city. There’s the river, trees, and marshland on one side, and a 10-meter levy, the highway, and skyscrapers on the other. I jogged about 1 km to the park, climbed over the highway, and down onto the trail. All I saw was the river, the trees, the skyline. I kept running. My body was in pain and euphoria at the same time. I kept running. I was in awe of the scenery as much as I was in awe of my endurance. I kept running. I had no real plan to stop.
I nearly collapsed at a bend in the river. I laid down in the grass. I was in my own bubble of nature surrounded by the city. My phone told me I ran 17 kilometers. I ran for almost 2 hours. I had no clue where I was, but I liked that. I drank my water, stretched, and found my way to a metro station.
30 meters underground, sitting on the metro, surrounded by people, cars, buildings, smog, I realized if I didn’t quit smoking and start running, I would have never seen this much of Taipei. My cigarettes tied me to the same crowded, dirty places. They got me tired from walking blocks, climbing stairs. Running made me want to push out. It made me feel more alive. It gave me energy to keep exploring.
I love running. It gives me energy. I love feeling the sun warm my skin, the rain chill my skull. I got new shoes too. They have tread, support, and no cigarette burns; but, they’re still never tied just right. A few kilometers in though, I guess I stop noticing.