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Narrated Articles—Opinion: Running past my limits was a turning point in my college experience

Photo credit: Helen Quach

By Danielle H. Cho

Dec. 5, 2023 11:40 a.m.

Listen to Daily Bruin News contributor Danielle Cho read her article about how running changed her life in college. The article was published in the Opinion Columns on August 19, 2023.

Opinion: Running past my limits was a turning point in my college experience

What am I even doing here?

We were all sniffling as we stood outside on a chilly November night. I nodded along as my friend explained what we would be doing.

Off we went, feet pounding on the track, noses stinging from the cold air.

It felt good for about a minute before the breathlessness set in. How could I last any longer and at this pace?

This was my first Thanksgiving break at UCLA. All of the gyms were closed, so my friends and I went to the Drake Stadium track for a supposedly light workout. There, I learned about interval training, a running technique where you alternate between running fast and slow laps.

I remember the desperation I felt as I got to my fourth lap, watching my friends still going strong while I was gasping for breath. I kept counting in my head how many more laps I had left to go, only to discover that I was only halfway done – and already exhausted.

Was I even capable of running another lap? Feelings of discouragement dragged me down as if I had heavy weights attached to my feet. I ran slower and slower but did not stop.

In the last 200 meters, I saw the picket fence we had chosen as the end line, and with a sudden rush of energy, I dashed forward, all of my tiredness suddenly melting away. My friend shot me a surprised look as I whooshed past him, feeling exhilarated.

I walked out of Drake Stadium that night with a changed perspective. Before then, I had never thought of myself as a runner.

For me, the idea of running brought back memories of scampering around a weathered middle school gym with my P.E. classmates. All of us approached these gym days with dread, except for the talented few who seemed blessed with endless stamina. As we circled the gym, our boisterous gym teacher – infamous for his dad jokes – would bellow about how we just needed to breathe through the pain. Squinting through sweat as the stabbing sensation of a side stitch surfaced, I didn’t see how that would help.

In the end, even our sighs of relief weren’t painless, as the dust we kicked into the air left us with scratchy throats.

Maybe these early negative associations are the reason I didn’t pick up running right away after that night in Drake Stadium, despite the good impression that lingered in the back of my head.

A few weeks after that night, I pulled a muscle in my back going to the gym. After recovering, I decided to hold off on weight training until I could learn the proper form. As a replacement exercise, I took up running.

And I found that it had so many more benefits than just feeling stronger.

If I had a sluggish day, I would drag myself out of bed, and once my feet hit the track, all of my tiredness vanished like magic.

I started out only being able to run for about five minutes at a time and having to take breaks in between. To be honest, I felt a little embarrassed, thinking that was all I was capable of.

To my surprise, after a few days of five-minute intervals, I found that running for 10 minutes became within my reach.

Weeks crept as that consistent 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes, which turned into 30 minutes. I felt a rush of pride as I hit the 40-minute mark.

One day, I felt so tired that I thought I could only run for 10 minutes. After reaching that target, I felt a little regretful about the run coming to an end so soon. I knew that I had extra strength left in me. I could go on a bit longer, I thought.

So I did.

When I hit 60 minutes, I felt a sense of triumphant victory. To my amazement, I didn’t even feel out of breath.

I noticed many positive changes in my life after taking up running. I felt a lot more energized, I could fall asleep quicker, my mood improved, and my independence and pride in myself solidified.

Running is a solitary sport, but I found that it isn’t lonely at all. Without room for other thoughts, what should be a grueling endurance test feels paradoxically peaceful.

I can truly say that taking up running was one of the turning points of my experience at UCLA.

Running was the gateway to my exploration of a variety of other activities. It gave me a sense of pride in myself for being able to accomplish something so taxing. As a new college student who was adjusting to living alone for the first time, it was also a valuable experience in cultivating my independence and enjoyment of being alone.

It also taught me that discomfort wasn’t necessarily bad. Pushing through the pain of running out of breath and eventually stabilizing to a peaceful rhythm taught me the value of dedication and commitment in overcoming challenges.

To sum it up in a few words, running cultivated a sense of maturity in me. It helped me outgrow my youthful notions about what life should be like. It also allowed me to see how life is a mixture of different experiences and made me curious to explore life in all of its complexity. And it imparted the lesson that solitude was not something to avoid.

I didn’t exactly like running at first, but the fact that I gave it a chance made me open up my mind to it. They say the hardest part is getting started, and I think this truly applies to running.

To all other newly fledged college students, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving running – or any other activity you’ve previously blocked yourself off from – a try, not only for the physical benefits but also for the capacity to learn more about yourself and your limits.

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Danielle H. Cho
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