My first few weeks in Bratislava, I ran as often as I could-along the Danube, through the shrinking alleyways in Stare Mesto, up the steep steps leading to the castle, so beautifully aglow at night.
And then, after running solo got a little monotonous, I had the bright idea of starting a running club. Easy enough, right?
Not. At. All.
I began my great quest for running partners by infiltrating all the expat Facebook groups I could find. Some people promptly responded with great possibilities for running routes while others suggested the dropping temperatures did not call for such a ludicrous sport. Basically, the Facebookers were happy to talk about running but not quite as enthusiastic about lacing their sneakers and joining me for a run or two.
From Facebook, I walked down the virtual street to InterNations, a website that connects expats and locals in just about every European city. It’s a great resource for foreigners looking to meet new people and join new clubs. However, creating a new club on that website is exhausting.
Bratislava InterNations does not have a running club so I decided to create one. I thought it would just be a two-click process and then, voila! Running Club.
I was wrong. So so wrong.
There were fees to pay and applications to fill out. In the initial application, I had to explain the purpose of the club, create a monthly schedule of activities, and explain further why I would make an exemplary team leader.
And then there were follow-up questions. Why you? How will you lead? How will you create special events for members? What qualities do you possess that set you apart from the crowd? Explain in detail your life story from birth to now?
The last question may be an exaggeration but you get the point.
I’m still running on my own and probably will be for a while. It’s not a crushing blow but rather a reminder of why this sport means so much to me and more importantly, why I want to share it with other people.
I’ve been running for what feels like centuries. I owned my first pair of track spikes at the age of five. I can still picture them so clearly in my head: navy blue with gold stripes and tiny little spike holes. I felt invincible every time I put them on.
But I was not invincible. I was a frail little girl who could describe the bitter taste of inhaler mist much better than the sweet taste of victory. I was constantly breathless at practice, always lagging behind, always running modified distances and paces. I started running because Dr.Tan, who I saw almost every week, suggested running would strengthen my lungs, my legs, my spirit even. He believed that maybe, just maybe, running would lessen the bouts of pneumonia and my dependency on inhalers.
To this day, it’s the most effective prescription I’ve ever received.
At Dr.Tan’s orders, my mum promptly entered me in Anza, a track program my older brother was already excelling at. There were meets on Saturdays and practices on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays under the tutilage of expert coach, Jack.
It may sound like a busy routine for a five year old but as time-consuming as it was, the simple truth is running saved my life. I haven’t used an inhaler since I was nine. I only visit the doctor’s office once a year.
I started running at five years old and I haven’t stopped since.
When you stick with something for so long, you start to forget why you started in the first place. The reasons that were once so strong in multitude fade into habit. The magic ages, the spikes start to blister your feet. There are days when running is unbelievably boring, and cold, and painful, and terribly inconvenient. Sometimes, the heroic sport that saved my life forgets to wear its cape.
But the magic of running is regenerative and anything but individualistic. I started running because my doctor told me to but I kept running because the jerseys I wore in competition did not just belong to me. Anza, Amherst, Keene, Ithaca were all the signs, written across my chest, that nailed me to this sport.
Waiting for your teammate to pass the golden baton in a relay sends electric sparks through your dull spikes. Fighting to qualify for the championship meet with your teammate by your side admonishes your head of all negative thoughts and propels your body past your pain threshold.
Running may have given me new life but it has always been my teammates who have given that life meaning.
When I run alone in this foreign place I think about all the teams I’ve been so fortunate to part of. I think of my passionate coaches, my tireless captains, my dedicated friends, my infallible family. I think of how extraordinary it is that I’ve been running for seventeen years now, how strange and out-of-sync I feel on the days I don’t run. Running is my unbreakable connection to the past, my extra dosage of life in the present, my best mode for transportation in the future.
So readers, it’s time to hit the ground running, or walking, or cycling, or swimming (you’ll want a pool for that, though). Get outside, breathe in some new life. Share that new life with others. Rediscover the childhood sport that not only made you into a better person but helped you meet the best of people.
And if starting a running/insert other activity club is not working out in your favor, remember that the jerseys you returned long ago have left their mark. Your teammates are still counting on you to pass that baton and share your love for the sport with others.
So InterNations, I will not give up on my quest to start a Bratislava running club but you ought to do something about those character limits. Clearly, I have a lot to say because after all, I’m in it for the long run.
Just Keep Running,