I started running to lose weight. At that time, that was not a simple or trivial goal at all. Losing weight was something that had proven elusive for years, and every random act of variety led me nowhere. While the nominal goal was to run a race at the end of it, my thought process going in was

If I lose 10 kilos, I don't care if I finish the race
Brussels marathon runners
Photo by Mārtiņš Zemlickis / Unsplash

The alarmingly intelligent thing I did was not track anything. I did not know I needed to track weight or measurements or any such thing. I did have a weigh scale at my house - I just never bothered stepping on it.

72 kilos

How then did I know I wanted to lose 10 kilos - well, it is a nice round number. The one time I stepped on the scale (before starting running), it read out something in the high 150s (pounds, not kilos) and that just confirmed that I had to lose a lot. 10 is a nice round number. It translated to 72 kgs or thereabouts, and that was a shocker. All my life, I had weighed in around the 60 kg mark, and sheesh, 72?!?!

Without any attention to nutrition, because I had zero clue about it, I put all my hopes on running. It worked amazingly well because going from running 0.0 miles a week to 10, then 20 miles a week is a huge increase. That was enough of a jolt to the system for my body to start shedding the pounds. Sleep and stress were not an issue at all, as I was in my mid-20s.

the issue, until it no longer was

The only issue, and it was a huge one, was actually going running. I disliked it. Vehemently. I sucked at it. It was cold. It was hard. It required waking up early in the morning, which was not something I did. Did I mention I sucked at it?

The thing is, the first few weeks, we can survive on willpower. It is after that initial stage that we give up. And an interesting thing happened before then, that made it all possible.

And no, I am not talking about results because I did not measure anything. Honestly, I did not see much in the form of results. I mean, I still felt horribly unfit and out of shape. And yeah, the belly was still there.

Photo by John Silliman / Unsplash

About 4 weeks into it, I started enjoying running. Our twice-a-week run with my buddy group started getting easier, and the last half mile, I started to finish with a spring in my step. And I realised there was no more a question of "will I make it?", and so I would leave my buddies behind for that last stretch and run that as fast as I could - just lengthening my stride and enjoying that new-found power. It helped that we ran in wonderful parks and trails but I was blind to all of it for the first few weeks.

Once this started to happen, the weekend run became easier to think about. I still sucked at that one, because it was beyond my capacity. But the fact that I enjoyed running 3 (the 3rd day was track repeats. I like running fast!) out of the 4 days of the week was mind-boggling.

It was truly life-altering!

the autotelic experience

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow, terms this the autotelic experience.

having a purpose in and not apart from itself.

What if the purpose was the activity itself, and not the outcome? What a powerful thought.

Somewhere along the way, running turned into an autotelic experience. I stopped worrying about the 10 kilos, or whether I would be able to run the race, or finish, or if I would embarrass myself. I started looking forward to running.