When Running Went Viral
Sean Leung, Meds '22
Let’s see… how did this all start? It was March 2018 – about two years from me writing this right now. I didn’t even like running. Cardio sucked. I never did it. All I needed were protein shakes and the iron temple. But then one day my best friend Darren messaged me asking me if I wanted to run a 10K. “Bro, I don’t do cardio LOL”, I said. He said “Come on, man”, and told me I’d be getting a Lululemon shirt – and the cost of registration was less than the value of the shirt itself. Well, I mean… sounded like a pretty good deal to me! So, I signed up.
The next day, I started training with my housemate, Max. That still sucked. I couldn’t even run 500 meters without slowing, stopping, gasping for air. Honestly, if it weren’t for him dragging me out for workouts, I probably would have quit. I’m a social exerciser and I easily lose motivation when training alone. So, trailing behind Max on every run, I endured it. I won’t lie – I still hated running. The air was cold and harsh, I was tired, and it was hard to breathe; but I began to find solace in the warm company, the refreshing nature, and the burst of endorphins waiting for me at every finish line. I ran the race, and I beat my target time by 4 minutes. It was a thrilling experience to run in the middle of the highways of downtown Toronto, surrounded by several thousands of people, and breaking personal records in a legitimate race. It was equally awesome getting my shirt.
Birth of the QMed Run Squad (QRS)
I thought that was it. Another bucket list item ticked off. Great start to the summer. Back to the no cardio life. Little did I know, running would soon become an integral component to my life, and a gateway to a community that would grow to inspire and motivate me every day.
Fast forward to the end of August 2018. I’d just moved in to my new house in Kingston, ready to start up my new life at QMed. I didn’t really know my housemates at the time, so I shot my shot and asked if anyone wanted to run with me. Kim said she was down, and all of a sudden, I was much less anxious about making new friends. The familiar feelings of companionship flooded my brain, and I realized that day: I actually liked running.
Come December, a classmate and former varsity track star named Clare McGrath asked if she could run with me and Kim. I said “Of course!”, not knowing that this woman would, in the following months, completely destroy and rebuild me as an athlete. As our little squadron continued our workouts to keep cozy through the frigid grips of the winter, March crept back around – a year from when I first began running. I thought “maybe it’s time to do a race again”. We started up a group chat called “Run Squad” on Facebook Messenger, excited whenever someone new eagerly joined in. With blossoming membership, Clare and I started to design a training plan for the Sporting Life 10K and Lululemon 10K. Our philosophy was to create a training group that was fun and accessible to people of all levels. So, we planned workouts with defined training sites so that everyone could stick together; and we implemented a “satellite” rule for longer runs, where more seasoned athletes could orbit around more novice runners. We got started, and quickly ramped up the mileage. The training was brutal, but exhilarating. New friends joined here and there. I even managed to convince this cute girl named Jessica Nguyen to run with me. And all together, the QRS got better, faster, and stronger.
Then came September anew, and a whole new class came to QMed. A fresh new cohort of people to lure into my kilometer crushing frenzy. Our membership shot up to 33. We had people from 2021-2023 join in. It was an amazing community, everyone ready to get sweaty and tired together. It spurred my inner social athlete on, having a group to rely on. Catching sunrises and boosting our VO2max became my escape. I loved the sense of purpose, rising before the sun, going out to meet my fellow crusaders, ready to combat any terrain or weather. QRS truly became part of my enormous pride in QMed. I was ecstatic. It was February 2020, I created a new 10K training plan, and had just started convincing people to sign up for races. Then, suddenly, we were met by our greatest adversary: the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The COVID-19 Era
Everyone had to go home. To fight the virus, we couldn’t see each other. It was a complete 180. We couldn’t run together anymore. All our plans to run races and train together – gone. I tried going on runs by myself. It felt like crap. My motivation was shot. Where before I could run any distance with QRS by my side, I could hardly finish 5km by myself. It felt like I regressed to that first run in 2018. I was crushed…but I wouldn’t be defeated. And I wanted to keep the group alive.
We started to post updates of our workouts in the group chat. A quick selfie and Strava post here and there. It soon started to feel like I was running with everyone again. I guess that’s the great thing about running: it’s portable. It didn’t matter that we were all pushed to our own little corners of the Earth. We were as connected as ever – and the loneliness of social distancing began to fade.
Eventually, we had the idea of seeing how many kilometers we could run cumulatively. And thus, the Run Bank was born. It started initially as a group effort to rack up distance. But leave it to Queen’s medical students to turn it into a fierce (but fun!) competition.
Our membership almost immediately doubled to 62, with athletes diligently updating their spreadsheets with every workout conquered. People who had never run before started to join. Others set new goals, drew up plans, inspired their families, and broke through past limits. I can’t express how bizarre of an experience it is to look teary-eyed at a spreadsheet, bubbling in pride and joy.
In just 2 weeks, the Run Bank demolished 2506.6 kilometers. The average runner contributed 40.4km.
I’d created a monster, and I’m determined to keep feeding it. Harnessing our invincible inertia, we decided to take it to the next level. Set near the end of April, QRS is hosting a virtual 5K and 10K race. I can’t wait to see what our athletes can accomplish.
This pandemic has sunk its teeth into the very way we as humans live our lives. Each and every one of us is making sacrifices in our own way, whether it be by serving on the front lines, volunteering to help those in our communities, or simply staying home to curb the virus. It’s hard, and it’s taxing. Amidst all this, we can’t forget to take care of ourselves and each other. Maybe we all run for different reasons. Maybe we’re all at different fitness levels. Maybe we’re all in different places. But hopefully, by running, we can escape the weight of the dread. We can welcome the surge of endorphins. We can embrace the crisp fresh air of the outdoors. We can bathe in the warmth of each others’ company. All together. All apart.
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