Failure and success (A lengthy personal post about returning home after a long time… and how running today made that ok)

It had been days, likely weeks since a decent run. Besides the odd 20 minute runs I had not been sticking to my 10K programme app.

I had malaise, I was a failure. Every passing day mounted that failure into sheer defeat. Defeat shifted into an acceptance and acceptance into new rationale. ‘I go home in 2 weeks, I can start running again then. It’s too hot here anyway. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I’ve given up eating right because buying food here is so problematic.”

(That last one is true, food purchasing when I have little to no language skills relies a lot on guess work and in truth I had given up on trying to muddle through. I wanted home.)

The sheer weight of understanding I had nearly completed a year in Asia hit me like a wall. First elation, a weekend of excess in Guangzhou with a friend and partying until I couldn’t see. Secondly memories, feeling bad about leaving my shitty little part of the world and how quaint it actually can be now I was used to it. Thirdly and most upsetting, the wall of loneliness.

I had left my home for a year forsaking my then shitty relationship, my friends, my family and my life in order to go… well… do something and find something I guess. It was mostly running from things, but that can be a tale for another day.

In that year I had seen wonders; the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors, the Rice Terraces, the Asian cities, Hong Kong, Beijing, Hu tongs, transport, travel, tickets… I had managed lots in a short space of time. But I had been alone. Talking to a man in a bar in Beijing he hit me with a phrase I can’t shake:

‘well, no-one back home really gives a shit do they?’

No, I guess not was the answer I came up with. It was my experience and mine alone which was utterly invigorating and totally devastating. I don’t necessarily mean I needed I romantic partner, but the idea I couldn’t share it with my mum, my gran, my sister and the likes hurt me inside. I had trail blazed, who would follow? Would they even want to?

I felt a failure. A highly successful bucket listing failure.

I came in after a dinner alone in the village where I had chain-smoked several cigarettes, staining my hands with the scent. Smoking was something I associated with holiday and leisure, by engaging in it I guess I was trying to convince myself this wasn’t hard work despite coming home drained everyday. I sat on my bed to assume my youtube watching position as I had been doing for nights on nights on nights until…. GET THE FUCK UP.

Trainers. Socks. Shorts. Sports bra (was this tighter? Was I imagining it?). Phone. Headphones. Move.

Outside. Stairs. Hallway. Track.

I put on my phone and music. I went to my app.

‘Welcome to 10k trainer by Zen Labs. Start your warm up now.’

It was to be 5 mins then 10 mins run, 1 min walk repeated 4 times. I paused. Fuck it I’ll do 20 minutes. I went to go to set a timer. Did I really want to be out here for 1 hour?

FUCK THAT. MOVE. Hit start. Just go. Warm up. 10 mins. 1 min. 10 mins.

The stars were out. The sky was unusually unclouded and the night sky was littered with glittering stars. The north star looked oddly red. Was that a thing? Was that why it was a symbol? I thought it was a metaphor… but here it was.

By 20 mins in I bargained with myself. Do the 40 minutes and we get to lie in the middle of the track looking up.

In truth the bargain was not needed. I wasn’t exhausted. I kept going. 10 more. 1 min. Still ok. 10 more, that’s 5.5 laps of the track I still have no clue the distance of. 1 done. 2 done. 3 done. 4 done. 5 done. Check timer. 30 seconds to go. 20. 10. stop.

Done. Cool down. Headphones out.

In the first ten minutes I thought about this blog post. I had all sorts of dark ideas about failure and sadness. By the end I wasn’t elated but content I had finished. I had done it. I wasn’t a failure after all. I guess that was something good to take back home, I could run now. Likely further and longer than many of my friends.

Sad I had to think that, tragic I was trying to play this petty game of 1 up in my head to stroke some kind of ego, but in the year I was gone missed a wedding, various baby chat, a new relationship blooming and an engagement. I was genuinely happy for my mates. I was. I am. I love them and want them to be happy. But I felt left in the dust, my travelling hadn’t been life changing it had been like hitting a progress pause button as far as society was concerned. I had made some sort of error somewhere and this was where I had ended up. Here. On a track in China. At least I could run round said track. Make the most I guess.

I lay in the middle of the track for 30 minutes. The odd student came out to look at the mad teacher taking a moon-bath in the dark, staring up and occasionally using her pointed finger to follow a shooting star. I would have cared more, but I guess being caught in work out clothes doing something fairly wholesome isn’t a terrible way to be found.

At 21:30 I left the track and came home, where the full size of the moon could be appreciated from my 5th floor apartment. It was huge. I felt small. My achievements were small. But fuck it. So was everyone else’s.

I’d deal with that shit when I got back to Glasgow. You deal with running track one step at a time, one lap at a time, one interval at a time, one work out at a time. Why should life be any different?

Zen. Success. Calm.

I’m glad I went a run today.


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