The Real Life of a Newbie Runner

Last year, I resolved to eventually run a half-marathon. This year, I’m actually going to do it.

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Back when I was in Sydney, I unexpectedly picked up running. I had always hated running. When they made us run the mile in high school? Torture. But I hated the high price of a gym membership more than I hated running. With the help of a friend, I was soon pounding away 5k’s regularly.

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And thus I was introduced to the weird world of running.

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I’m not just running, either– I’m training. After my return to Boston this January, I signed up for Boston’s Run To Remember, a half-marathon that takes place at the end of May. In Sydney, I ran whenever I was in the mood. Now, I have a schedule. I’ve had to push myself to greater and greater distances.

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Along the way, I’ve met a few surprises. I’m a noob to all this running stuff. I’ve always had an image of what a runner’s life is like…

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…but the reality is much different.

Mother Nature is cruel.

Photos of runners can be deceiving.

Outdoor Running Series

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Silhouette woman run under blue sky with clouds

For some reason, nobody ever told me how hard it is to run in bad weather. I became complacent in Sydney, where it’s always sunny and beautiful. Even in the winter, the weather sticks around 50 to 60 degrees. Imagine my shock when I walked out of the Boston-Logan airport upon my return in January, dressed in shorts and a tank top.

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There are many people who man up and run outside. I am not one of them. I run in my sport shorts from middle school and that free t-shirt I got from my university. I don’t have any fancy thermal running gear. When I tried to run outside, I was very uncomfortable.

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I’ve ended up running at my school’s gym, which has a miniature indoor running track. The track is only about 1/12 of a mile, though, so I have ran around that track literally hundreds of times.

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Thank goodness it’s spring!

Contrary to popular belief, not all runners are stick-thin athletic models.

Photos of runners can be deceiving.

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First of all, those expressions. They all look like they’re simultaneously running and achieving enlightenment. I, on the other hand, am a little less zen when I run.

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Everyone’s seen those hardcore runners in their neighborhoods, right? The ones all tricked-out in fancy running gear, with seemingly 0% body fat and rippling lean muscle.

Or maybe that’s just my neighborhood.

Either way, those runners gave me a false perception of what I would look like if I started running.

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But after running for several months, I still look like this:

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Even though I cross-train and watch my diet, I am not a toned, athletic model. Nope, I still look pretty much the same. All you other runners out there, what are your secrets?!

Shoes actually matter.

I’ve done many sports before, but I’ve never paid attention to my sneakers. Usually I’m clad in some cheap pair that I picked up at Marshall’s.

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However, as I’ve been running longer distances, this no longer seems like a good idea.

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Thus, I went to a sports store in Boston and wandered to the shoe department, which happened to be staffed by a long-time marathon runner.

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This marathon runner also happened to be quite enthusiastic about shoes.

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After trying on many, many shoes, I did successfully buy a new pair of sneakers. On that very day, I tried running in them.

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Who knew that sneakers could make such a difference?

I am now the weird breed.

Like I said before, I have never been a runner. I actually hated running. I was on my middle-school track team but only did long jump, never any running events. I played lacrosse and tennis and was always the slowest runner on the team. Runners were just an entirely different kind of people from me– or so I thought.

Now that I’m running, I’ve become that different kind of people. My friends react to me the same way that I used to react to runners.

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Then they go on to describe how much they hate running.

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I used to try to explain to people that I was the same way. I used to hate running. It’s a difficult sport to pick up if you’re out of shape. But the beauty of running is that anyone can do it, as long as the determination to train is there.

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Now, I just accept it.

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Because no matter how much I argue, people never believe that they can run too, just like believed about a year ago. It’s weird, being on the other side of it. If only they knew my good ol’ middle school track and field days!

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Despite all the pain, sweat, and tears, running is actually quite nice.

Don’t get me wrong. Running is exhausting. You’ll sweat. You’ll burn. You’ll wonder why you ever decided to do this in the first place.

And indeed, I’ve been wondering a lot about why I decided to do this. Running long distances is incredibly time-consuming. I get tired, and thirsty, and hungry.

But last weekend, Boston had one of its first good-weather weekends in a long time. The winter here is finally starting to break, and spring is starting to show through. Last weekend, then, I went running outside. My route took me along the Charles River Esplanade, a walkway along the river that looks like this:

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The sun was warm.

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There was a gentle breeze.

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Sailboats filled the river, taking advantage of our first true spring days.

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Yes, last weekend, I experienced it:

Outdoor Running Series

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Despite the difficulties and surprises of being a runner, it’s been rewarding. A few years ago, I could barely run a mile. Last weekend, I ran ten. Sure, I might not be the poster child of athleticism. Sure, maybe I run at a snail-like pace. But I can do it! I can run!

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It’s only going to get weirder when I run my first half-marathon in a few weeks. Coming soon!…too soon.

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Wish me luck! Because I’ll need loads of it.


5 things I’ve learned from a year of Weight Watchers

It’s been about a year since I started doing Weight Watchers.

For those who didn’t know: at this time, last year, I was overweight. It wasn’t by much, and people never believe me when I tell them this, but it’s the truth. I was eating poorly, exercising less, and really was just on a downward spiral that was only going to get worse.

When you keep a bag of chocolate chips in your car to absentmindedly snack on at stop lights, you know it’s bad.

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It was time to change.

So, for the last year, I’ve been using the Weight Watchers online tools to control how much I eat. Contrary to popular belief, Weight Watchers isn’t one of those weird “meals delivered to your door! Lose 5 pounds in a week!” sort of diet plan. It allows people to eat whatever they want, but has them keep track of it. Weight Watchers also encourages daily exercise, a healthy diet, and overall lifestyle changes.

Believe it or not, it’s actually worked for me. Over the last year, I’ve changed how I view food and exercise, and have really strived to improve my health. I’ve actually been able to shed a few pounds! Not without a few hiccups, though.

I’ve tried to face and resolve the problems I’ve ran into as best I can. Yet, a year later, it’s hard to not pound my head against a wall. Weight Watchers isn’t a gimmick. It’s a true lifestyle change. You’d think that, in the last year, it would have become easier, but it’s still a learning experience. Here’s some of the challenges I’ve faced:

5 Things I’ve Learned From Doing Weight Watchers

1. Delicious food will always be delicious. Sorry.

People claim that once you stop eating greasy food, or sugary food, or straight-up-artery clogging food, that you’ll eventually stop liking it. Suddenly the McDonald’s burger is too greasy and the Cheesecake Factory is too sweet.

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I think they’re all nuts. Cookies have always been and forever will be delicious, and it’ll always be a challenge for me to eat 1 at a time instead of 20. I guess I’ll just have to accept this, and use my willpower.

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2. Traveling makes staying healthy really, really hard.

Weight Watchers is all good and fun when you’re at home and can stock your own fridge and prepare your own meals. When you’re on the road, though, it’s a whole new ball game.

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Besides, food is an integral part of every culture. I’m not going to go to Vietnam and refuse to try the coconut-flavored ice cream, or decline my long-lost family’s home cooking.

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3. Self-motivation is also hard.

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I decided to do Weight Watchers for myself, and nobody else. As a result, I’m the only one who cares if I screw up.

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I’m the only one who holds myself accountable. In fact, most people don’t even know that I’m doing Weight Watchers. This makes it hard to stay on track.

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I avoid buying junk food, but sometimes, the junk comes to you. Even a year later, I find it difficult to resist.

4. Sometimes, good is never good enough.

Despite all the challenges, I really have lost a bit of weight using Weight Watchers. My family noticed it when I visited home for Lunar New Year’s last month.

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I was glad to hear that my efforts had bore visible fruit. However, the compliments were followed up with comments like these

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There really isn’t any winning this battle. Sometimes, good is never good enough…

5. …especially to me.

The one least satisfied with my progress is me. It’s been a year, yet I’m not even close to my target weight. I miss the times when I could eat without thinking about every bite I take. Sometimes, staying on track is just as difficult as it was on day 1.

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The more I try, the more discouraged I get. I know it’s silly, but how do models get as thin as they do?!

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Every writer and their mother has talked about the pressure to stay thin as a woman, especially for Asian women. I’ve come to realize– though I know people come in all shapes and sizes and can still be healthy– though I know models are always photoshopped and it’s all fantasy, all fake– I still hold myself, as I do for most things, to unrealistic standards.

It’s not as though the last year has been a total failure, though. I know I’ve improved. I’m healthier. Fitter. I’m training for a half-marathon, for goodness’ sakes. The difference is visible.

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I’m no longer waging the battle to be healthy. I’m going to run a half-marathon in May, so I figure that fight is well in my favor. Now I’m grappling with something much harder– the ability to like myself the way I am.

And that, my friends, is way more difficult.

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But, in spite of all this, it’s fine. Don’t give up!

That’s what I tell myself every day when I log into Weight Watchers and obsessively track my food. I’ve stuck with it this far. I have to keep going. Despite my long list of failures and defeats, I’ve had little victories as well. I view food differently now. I no longer compromise my health for school. I still have trouble refusing when someone offers me free cake, but sometimes– once in a while– I’m able to say no.

So… I guess I learned not 5, but 6 things.

6. It’s possible.

Even after a year, changing the way I eat is hard. I’ve fallen on and off the wagon so many times. But little by little, I’ve been getting better at this. Even if I haven’t reached where I want to be, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Because I have accomplished something. It’s possible.

And knowing that– despite the difficulties– despite my seemingly insatiable appetite and absolute love of sweets–  it is possible for someone like me to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle. That’s what they are, steps. Nothing big. Nothing sweeping. But at least, a year later, I know it’s possible for me to get what I want.

I just have to keep trying, one day at a time.

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Nothing’s more motivating than knowing that the menopausal women at the YMCA could easily kick my butt.

My friend’s friend gave me a long, inspiring rant the other night about how all you need to get fit is running, push-ups, and rock climbing. He told me about how he’s gradually built up his endurance and muscle from simple home exercises. Which is very well and admirable for him.

I have less willpower than that. The only way I can get myself to do push-ups is if someone’s screaming at me to do them, so I decided to start going to classes at my local YMCA. I was already going to the gym, and the classes are free with membership, so why not? Maybe they could make me push myself a little more.

And boy.

They do.

Nothing’s more motivating than doing kickboxing with a tiny 60-year-old woman who not only has more endurance than you, but is also more flexible and more muscular than you.

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The younger people in my classes casually talk about how many half-marathons they’re running this year.

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When you’re lifting weights next to a pregnant woman who looks like she’s ready to burst into labor any second now, you know that there are no excuses.

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These classes can push you hard. In a free weights class I go to, the instructor takes pleasure in her students’ pain.

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It doesn’t help that I was never fit to begin with. I have zero core or upper body strength, a fact that I discovered very quickly.

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These classes are exhausting, but they definitely make me try harder than I ever would on my own. I don’t know if they’re working, but I’ll keep trying! It’s for my health, after all.

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Geez, I’m such a try-hard. Oh, well. Hey, if I keep trying, maybe one day I can look like this!

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(Though I’m willing to settle for less.)

Guys, I confess: I’m on Weight Watchers.

You know what?

I’m just going to say it.

I’m doing Weight Watchers.

Whew. Okay. It’s out. Now you know.

Yeesh, I can already hear my friends:

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Well, actually, I’ve been on Weight Watchers for about 2 months.

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Sorry guys.

Here’s the thing:

For the last two years of college, I haven’t been, well, the healthiest. I go to the gym a lot, but I also love to eat. A lot. I don’t eat too poorly (I love fruits and veggies) but I also eat tons of rice and bread and I love pastries.

And so, for the last two years, my weight has been steadily creeping upwards. Not fast, mind you. I didn’t get the freshman fifteen.

More, like, uh. The freshman five?

Last semester particularly wrecked havoc on my health. I had to cook for myself for the first time. I barely went to the gym. I was stressed and sleep deprived.
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My mom became seriously worried. Or maybe she was just being a pretty standard Asian-American mother. But at least she’s concerned for me, which is always comforting to know.
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Most of the time, I just ignore my mom and tell myself that it’s whatever. But I really do eat– a ton— and it was getting hard to ignore.

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I was in denial and I knew it. The irony is that I spent a year writing a ridiculous comic about weight loss. I continued to tell myself I was fine– until one night, at my friend’s dorm…
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I don’t think I’m particularly fat– but I could be. And I was getting there. Then, last February, my doctor told me that I was on the border between normal and overweight. 

It was time to reverse the trend.


I know, I know: I’m paying for a weight-loss service like a chump. I should just eat salads and exercise more, right? I don’t have hundreds of pounds to lose, after all. My problem, though, is that I have no willpower. I’ve tried free calorie-counting tools like MyFitnessPal (which I actually used the entire time I wrote and drew Minus One) but I just couldn’t stick to it. I couldn’t commit.

If I literally put my money where my mouth was, though, maybe I could get some motivation.

That, and the fact that I told my mom.

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Thus I signed up for Weight Watchers.

Not for their weekly meetings, mind you. Only their online tools. I was actually ready and rarin’ to join a Weight Watchers group– but then I went to one as a trial run.

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I guess the meetings just weren’t for me. (They do work for a lot of people, though!)

So now, I have the Weight Watchers online tools on my iPod. I’ll be honest: I’m impressed! The site, in addition to giving you a tool to track your food with, provides recipes, exercise tips, success stories for all ages, general healthy living tips, and… dang, I sound like a paid advertisement. But, I’ve been trying. I really have! For example, instead of cooking

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I’ll make something like

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I used to go to the gym to do this:

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But now, I’m challenging myself. I’ve been going to fitness classes regularly to be schooled by the 60-year old women.

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And you know what? It’s working. It was hard at first, but somehow, Weight Watchers actually seems to work and I’ve actually been able to lose weight without starving myself. I appreciate how the program measures your daily intake of food based on macronutrients, not calories, and how it emphasizes that you can still eat things you like– but in smarter portions.

It’s totally strange, too. I spent 9 months writing a comic about weight loss and the benefits you can get from it. You know, like increased energy, boosted mood, and better sleep.

The comic is fictional. Yet I’m experiencing it in real life.

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I’ve even been experiencing the same problems Max went through.

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It’s a pretty bizarre feeling. 

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I’ll be honest with you: I’m not the strong-woman-who-don’t-care-what-no-one-thinks that I wish I was. Teenage girls tend to obsess over their weight. We also have a tendency to tell our friends to YOLOI’m completely guilty of this.

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Therefore, for the last two months, I’ve kept my Weight Watchers endeavors private. Not because I think trying to lose weight and be healthy is embarrassing– but because I knew I wouldn’t have the willpower to withstand

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But for the past two weeks, I’ve been slipping up a bit. I’ve hit a… plateau? And while these weight-loss plateaus can be attributed to things like slowed metabolism, less lean muscle mass, etc, etc, etc…

I know why it’s happened.

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I’ve concluded, then, that I need to put it out there. I have to increase my accountability. The more people who know, the more people I’ll have to answer to. And now, two months in, I know I should be able to withstand any friend telling me that “I don’t need to do this.”

Because I know I don’t need to do this. I want to. I want to be healthy, and look better, and feel generally good. And I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of.

So this is my declaration. This is it. I’m the most confident person– believe it or not, I doubt myself all the time–

But this is one goal that I’m going to achieve.