“Hopefully it will get better when I reach Redwood”

Nope, turned out it was not. Yah, I just completed 37 miles running and walking in 12 hours straight, the title was a thought I had in middle of my journey, a fragile and uncertain moment. This idea of long running and walking was considered a crazy one by anyone I shared with such as my aunt, my uncle and my friend but I was just really excited about the challenge and wanted to push it forward, I made it eventually :)

A Saturday morning, after my regular run, I just had a thought that I wanted to go for a trip, a special one in which I will run to the destination. Before that, my friend invited me to visit her on Labor day holiday, her house is in San Mateo, California. I was a bit concerned at first since we are in the middle of pandemic, taking public transport is not a good idea while I don’t want to ask for help from my aunt and uncle. Then I had a second thought, what if I can go myself. The first thing I did was to google the distance, 36.7 miles, 12 hours for walking (rest time is not included). Though challenging, it’s not bad to me. I used to walk for hungers for 20 miles in 8 hours with 5 breaks, 17 miles added and with the fact that I have run for 3 months every morning, it should be okay to try. Then I told my friend, she was like “wow, but promise me you will bring foods.” My next step — explaining to my aunt and uncle was a hard one. My aunt responded aggressively: “are you okay? If you need, I or your uncle will drive you there, no need to do such kind of crazy thing” My uncle was a bit calmer, he advised me to think through carefully: “Look, running for 7–8 hours straight is different from how you usually run for 1 hour then multiply the work, your energy will drop a lot after 2–3 hours. What’s funny is you getting to the mid point, exhausted and don’t know whether you should move forward or backward hahaha” My uncle was kinda mocking my ‘simple’ imagination but I took every word of his for evaluation and see how I could prepare the best for my trip. Now, let’s take a step back to see why I wanted to do this to-be-considered-as-crazy thing. During the pandemic, there were lots of ideas I aspired to make happen but I couldn’t. I felt like disabled so this time I want to ‘just do it’. Most importantly, I thought maybe going out will open my eyes, my mind and my heart even more. Also it’s a way to free all thoughts and feelings I’ve held. Not to mention, it marks 1 year I have been in California so why not seeing it more clearly on my feet. I wanted to start simple and see if I can make it, no pressure, my backup plan is always there, train/Uber is there for me if any point I couldn’t continue. Wrapping my mind around it, I set for myself 3 goals: 1. Do not die. 2. Reach my friend’s house before it gets dark. 3. Reach her home but still have energy to talk to her. The rest are actions. Every day till that day, I ran one and a half hour in the morning and the same amount in the afternoon to have my body get used to different weathers as well as to push my endurance. I needed to be super strict in establishing and maintaining this routine because on the side, I had to work as well. Pushing both my body and my brain to work at the same time was very intense. Usually we as humans just do well if focusing on either of these. Fortunately, God just seemed to support me because that week of practice was also the time my aunt was off from her work so she could take care of all the cooking. In preparation, I searched for snacks that are helpful for running because I know I would need foods, I do not want to die, remember. My list was narrowed down to carrot, apple, boiled eggs, chocolate, peanut butter and cracker. I myself came to the Indian store to pick all of these. Surprisingly, this trip comes with the best preparation I ever had. Finally, that day came and I was extremely ready as well as excited. I was eager to test my endurance and how I deal with challenges along the way. I left my home at 5:45AM, full of energy. I left right after my uncle went to work and before my aunt and my cousin woke up. San Jose was still quiet in sleeping. As a person who enjoys doing things in the dark, there was no better time for me to start and run other than early morning or evening. I walked for 0.5 mile to warm up then ran and ran. I ran through big car dealers such as Toyota, it was too dark to recognize other car dealers’ brands in that area. I crossed houses and apartments that seem to not desire to wake up yet. Quickly I felt like I was approaching Santa Clara downtown or at least coming very close. Running is how I usually start a day and fuel energy for myself, but above all, I get to meet running mates on the track, get to say “Hi” and smile with them, that’s all enough, that’s the minimum human interaction I crave for :) I love that close-knit community. This morning, it was different, I ran, alone, with a goal of moving forward intensively to reach my friend’s house before it got dark. I also wanted to utilize all the shades of morning to get myself ahead in a further distance. I could recognize that Lincoln street is very long and goes through the center of San Jose. It has many stores and restaurants lining up into arrays on two sides. Unfortunately, the downtown vibe is not there anymore due to Covid 19, it now looked more or less an abandoned city. There were only several folks exercising and running on the side walk. Never ever I have aspired for human interaction much as this hard time. Feeling a bit empty, I stopped at a bench of Bank of America to have my on-the-go breakfast with strawberry bread. It was so sweet that I had to fill myself with some water although I tried to keep in mind that there won’t be many restrooms available for me. I had a final look at small houses in the condensed neighborhoods. Half way of Lincoln,I set another milestone to reach the Pizza Hut 4 miles ahead. It was getting brighter and my legs were a bit sore so I just walked. At the same time, I noticed that the bag I was carrying was still heavy because of the foods I packed and I really need to reduce its weight gradually. Carrying it felt like taking up another burden but then again, I don’t want to die so no debate here. It took longer than I expected to arrive to Pizza Hut. I then turned on Park Avenue, it seems to be a pretty long street to escape San Jose. This was the first time I tasted the dry of San Jose downtown quite clearly. There are some grass and tree but I felt the lack of a soul in these. Plus they seems to not be taken care well as the ones in Palo Alto and Redwood if I have to make a comparison. Keep moving, I saw Santa Clara University hiding itself in a corner. It’s a large and inclusive campus. Even though all auditoriums are banned for entry and there was no one, not even a sign of human there, grasses were watered nicely if not always wet. I attempted to see if there is any restroom outdoor but no, I guessed all of them are hidden in the buildings just like Babson, my college. Hanging around for a bit, I reminded myself that I had a long road to continue. From San Jose, I had only one straight road to go, Monroe, here I headed to Sunny Vale. On the way, I could not remove the simulation of asking for water and restroom if in need, “Hi, I am Hong, I am taking a challenge of running from San Jose to San Mateo, I am running out of water and in need of restroom, is your home welcoming me”, “does it seem too brave or not proper”, “anyway, let me just keep moving”. All of the streets I had taken are just local roads so there are not much to sightsee other than houses. I stopped in the middle of Monroe street to have some carrot which actually helped a lot since it provides me water and it’s light. Just a thought, whether I could reach my friend’s home in time by just my feet would be uncertain but it is certainly that if I keep moving, I’ll get there, it’s that simple though not easy. My legs were not capable of running long anymore so I could only walk but that’s okay, I needed to reserve my energy. It was also the biggest challenge for me to balance between moving forward and saving energy as well as taking care of my legs.

Chasing my thoughts and keeping up with my mind, I could still notice that I had passed quite several 7 Elevens, it reminded me of my experience in Thailand, that trip was fun. I visited Thailand with my GMAT group, we were a team of 5, renting out a house which looks not different than a villa with very cheap price. In that trip, we got to try mega zipline and free jumping, it was amazing. There in Thai, I got to see a vendor whose style of grilling meat is so cool like a DJ with a background of hip hop beats. Foods in Thailand are great, mango sticky rice, banana fried with milk, omg. Yup, just a nostalgic flash. The noise of construction work brought me back to reality that I was in Sunnyvale already. This was the first time I got to see this city, studios are coming up here and there. Many advertisement banners came along for people to know they are open for lease. Crossing Sunnyvale I met a very cute kid, his dad was helping him to bike. When he saw me, he was distracted and directed the bike down to street. I felt like during the pandemic, many people got to adjust their work schedule to spend more time with their family, which is great. I paused at a small park to rest and realized that in front of me was Caltrain station and there were some public restrooms. Awesome, I made use of it. Then I checked the map again and set in mind my next destination to be Mountain View. The sun was getting higher and I got more thirsty. The way I took was paralleled with rail way so it was like a competition, who was persistent to get to the end. Coming closer to down town, I crossed offices of many popular tech companies such as Smugmug, Flick, Coursera and Atlassian. Mountain View is very quiet though, I guessed it was because tech guys are working from home now. Every time my legs told me to stop I needed to work with my mind to settle down that voice and keep moving. It was always a battle between my mental toughness and my physical strength. Crossing another high way, downtown was becoming clearer. I could not wait to take a long rest at the transit station where I arrived at 12 o’clock. I pulled out boiled eggs and apple for my easy lunch. There were many moms busy carrying foods from shop or running together with their babies. They are so much multi-tasking. I always feel like being a mom takes away lots of freedom and the privilege of doing ‘whatever I want’ although in return it brings plenty of joy. Finishing my lunch I tried to stand up and do some stretch but gosh, my whole body felt so sore, I could see my body was working hard. However, I had no time to wait for my body to get back to normal state other than keep it working. While figuring my next turn within an intersection I was almost hit by a car just because I was putting my eyes into the phone and did not notice the red line. Fortunately I was safe. There was again only one straight street that takes me to Palo Alto and that was the most green part in my journey. Walking on that street, I could see as though Palo Alto attracted all of grasses and tall trees from this universe to cover its place. The smell of grass was quite clear and apparently mowers in this area never have to worry about losing their job. Palo Alto has long history so houses here seems to have sustained for a long time. My mind was brought back to the sitcom Silicon Valley which was made mainly in Palo Alto, CA. I could imagine plenty of techies hiding themselves behind these houses and running the whole world. That Middle field street is like endless, I walked and run and walked and in front of me is still street, not even a sign to turn. Google map showed a straight way from there to San Mateo, just like, here you go, “just keep yourself ahead, the destination is await”. I soon realized that having too much shade and running in a comfortable condition is even more challenging since you are easily tempted to stop and rest or do easy things such as walking and jogging. Yeah, probably being too much comfortable is not a good thing while people just keep craving for comfort. So the shade and the random showing up of benches made me move slower. At the same time, I felt quite chilled while people were coming in and out at local restaurants, probably Thanks God It’s Friday! Palo Alto has the most close knit community and neighborhood I have seen in California. It also has many churches which are unfortunately close these days. Almost houses have solar panels on top. My friend once told me “Palo Alto smells ego” and my uncle spoke: “Lots of rich people live in Palo Alto”, not much to debate here :) Even grasses are taken care very well here. I of course did not see any homeless people around. I stopped to get some water but whenever holding the bottom up, I was so tempted to take more and more. Then I told myself “control yourself, Hong”. There were some people biking on the side as well but they did not share my journey, others looking at me might think I was the homeless (one bag, walking). But who cares? Yes, I just raced with myself and it was already a big game. Sometimes, I see walking long road is just like writing, you get to take things slower and pay more attention to details, you get to be persistent too. On my way, I ran into some people walking with their dogs ahead and these are obstacles to me because I got to run slower or may just walk so I lost my leverage. However, does not matter how many or how big the obstacles are, if I have a clear vision of where and when I want to reach, I have enough strength and courage to overcome. Crossing several red lights, I saw myself in front of a quick stop shop so I came by to buy my third bottle of water. That was also the transition from Palo Alto to Red Wood since I could actually feel the smell of woods already. Cars were moving busily, only me walking, just like going back on a time machine. This area, I barely saw houses but manors and big houses hidden behind giant bushes and living fences. It was over lunch and usually I would take a nap, at that moment I was okay but still decided to stop at a root of a tall tree, lean toward it and closed my eyes for a bit to let my feet rest also. My childhood memory all suddenly arrived, I never forgot moments I got to play with dirt and with natural substance from leaves. I could freely create anything I imagined and anything that is fun. ‘Alright’ I said to myself to standup, I tried to not let a rest last too long because then my whole body got more tired when getting back, inertia. Middlefield road, still, seems to be endless and my legs could not process the command “run” anymore, I kept walking and walking, in front of me were woods and trees and shades without a sign of approaching town. Plus my mind was just occupied by the fact that what if I wanted to pee even though I had not felt it, none of these is a proper place and having a public facility. It’s quite embarrassing to share this detail but I did even think of whether I could ask construction workers to use their restroom or imagine if I could find any bush to do it. It was not an organized running activity so this small need suddenly became my huge challenge. It got me to think back the time I was walking for hunger, I had walking mates so the walking became so minor to the point that we almost did not pay attention to it, the stories we shared took us far. Then I relate it to having a team vs. going alone, it truly is “go fast, go alone; go far, go together”. To do big things, we need to find for ourselves a good team sharing the same vision. Just like how I did the Jailbreak project before, there were tasks I reflected back and could not be convinced that “we” did it, almost impossible for myself alone. Business too is just a group of people doing something together. Wandering with my thoughts, I suddenly realized that all the shades were gone, brightest lights hit my face. It felt pretty dry and sunny in Redwood downtown, extremely opposite to where I had just been. I checked out several quick stops and local stores to see if there was drinking yogurt and by the way detecting if they offered restroom. No, sadly. The railway nearby reminded me that I am very close to Sequoia park, a familiar stop in which I stopped to go to teach kids programming, also an area surrounded rich neighborhood with smart kids. I took a small break near a locked down playground, watching cars making a line behind train warning. People are always more happy on Friday, for more freedom and more for me or we time. I tracked the map and it still gonna take 2 more hours to get to my friend’s house. It was 4:15pm. Next stop should be San Carlos and then San Mateo, close but not close. The road to San Carlos was boring and even drier without a tree around. However that was an important period. I learnt that the closer I was to the goal the easier I was to give up. Reaching San Carlos, I took out my phone to text my friend that I was close and only God knows, I saw a message from my friend that her family did not like the idea that I was visiting time in this sensitive time of Covid, the message arrived late last night after I slept. I was speechless but happy that I had made this far, I did not mind stopping there and by the way, it was right at train station, one train I could just go back to San Jose and reported my aunt and my uncle what happened. I tried to call my friend but she did not pick up, probably she was working or at a meeting. Having not figured out what to do, I thought I should quench my thirst by getting a yum mix berry smoothie promoted at the opposite store first. The store turned out to be poor inside and has pricy drinks. I ended up having green tea and regretted later for not asking for another bottle of water. Fortunately my friend called back and said that just go to her house because I came here anyway. Foo, so I still had a chance to make it to the end, an expected end. Disclosure: I found a place for restroom therefore I got to drink freely. My body was like alive after the drink even though my legs could not recover. I walked mostly and ran for a bit, short gaps. My motivation was fueled up. Passing by San Mateo downtown, I was not much interested in watching what people are doing. Some people were eating ice cream, yeah, but who cares. I was close. I did not need any more break afterward because I was so eager. My friend checked in again “about 10 more minutes”, I said. The familiar scene of my friend’s neighborhood was gradually appearing. “5 more minutes, then 2 more minutes, no not yet, not this house, keep going, almost, yay I arrived, at 7:29PM!!!”. I took a selfie to record that moment. Then I could not wait to ring the bell and say Hi to my friend. She was surprised to see I was not desperately tired as she imagined hahaha. I got a good homemade almond milk from her, we talked and I got to massage my whole body as well as took care of it during the sleep. I made it, to the end, ~37 miles in 12 hours, I did not give up, that’s the most important thing. Amazing :) Little steps make a journey. I do not die, checked. I reached my friend’s house before it was dark, checked. And I had tons of energy to talk to her, checked. Goals were achieved, actions prove the impossible. Highly recommend carrot, boiled eggs and apple if you want to take a journey like this.

09/04/2020

SunnyVale downtown
Mountain View
Mountain View
Palo Alto

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!”