Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing, Workouts

Running: Suffering Is Optional – Tan Lili

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional,” wrote Haruki Murakami in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. How can runners relate to this? Founder Tan Lili, who ran the recent Sundown Marathon, explains. 

Photo taken from the Official Sundown Marathon Singapore Facebook page.

Photo taken from the Official Sundown Marathon Singapore Facebook page.

You might’ve noticed a flood of Sundown Marathon photos on your Facebook news feed the past couple of days. While 30,000 runners pounded the pavement through the night, you were probably lying in bed thinking, “Hah. Suckers.”

Yeah, well, I was one of those suckers.

Come to think of it, I’ve been a willing participant of these running events for a while now. It started with the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in 2007, which apparently brought out the non-sexual masochist in me and got me hooked on endurance running. (By endurance running, I mean a distance of 10km, not 21km or – heaven forbid – 42km. I’m not that masochistic.)

It doesn’t matter that I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of runners. The moment I start my music player and cross the start line, it’s me against the distance. I revel in this solitude and freedom; how I run my race is up to me and me alone. I feel alive in my own thoughts.

Just as well, because what goes through my mind isn’t exactly the stuff motivated runners think about. Here’s what my thought process generally looks like during my 10km runs:

At the start line: (all pumped up from the energetic emcees and party music) WOOT! LET’S GO!

1km: Huh? Only 1km?! Shit. I probably shouldn’t have sprinted. 

2km: What evil possessed me to sign up for this again?

4km: Oh, hello U-turners. The halfway mark is near!


5km: 100Plus banners and standees: the grownup equivalent of the much-loved Milo truck.

6km: Just 4km to go. I CAN DO THIS!

7km: I can’t do this anymore.

8km: What’s 2km compared to the 8km I just did? Piece of cake! Ooh … cake …

9km: I’m never believing in my own lies again.

9.9km: Ah! The finish line! Okay, must look pretty for the cameras.  

At the finish line: I AM AN INVINCIBLE WOMAN OF STEEL. And I can’t feel my legs.

Honestly, I cannot imagine the kind of torture full-marathon runners go through. But despite all that internal turmoil, I will dutifully sign up for yet another run and put myself through yet another mental and physical challenge. (I truly have; Denise, Vanessa and I will be participating in the Great Eastern Women’s Run 2014.)

I seriously don't know how it's possible for my boyfriend's hair to remain well-coiffed after a run.

I seriously don’t know how it’s possible for my boyfriend’s hair to remain well-coiffed after a run.

Am I a sucker for pain? Perhaps. Do I get a perverse sense of gratification in suffering? No. As Haruki Murakami wrote in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” And that is exactly why I run – to find my strength in the experience of pain. See it as a metaphor for life, if you will. Allow me to explain.

Physical pain consists of two components: biologically, a pain signal is transmitted through our body’s central nervous system to alert us that something is wrong; psychologically, we give meaning to the pain signal, which translates to our emotional responses. Suffering is born from the latter – it is a response to pain. The obvious problem with choosing to suffer is that it sets off a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to even more suffering, prolonging the recovery process.

But because pain is inevitable – be it when you run or in life – you can’t not have a response to it. You can either let pain defeat you then wallow in your suffering, or you can use the pain as leverage to overcome it, to help push you forward one step at a time. This is also probably why the sense of achievement you get after completing a big run is almost transcendent.

Of course, it’s easier to internalise all these feelings after my run. It’s still a struggle for me to motivate myself with positive self-talk during a long-distance run, to be honest. Any tips? Do share!

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as (now, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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