Running is soul work for me.  Long runs are the best – feeling the wind on my face, stretching my legs, pushing myself, perhaps seeing a new city.  No music and not just for exercise.  Running is my meditation and my time alone when I can just be and think… or, completely fall into the zone and not have to think at all.

Anything big happen in my life?  Go for a run to process it.

Anything sad?  Go for a run to work things out in my head.

Mad at someone?  Go for a run before I say anything stupid.

Running is my go-to and companion to help process life.

The first time I stepped offshore, I went straight to the gym to scope out what my next two weeks (and beyond) would entail.  There it was, the treadmill.  Standing before me, defiant and sturdy, the treadmill sat as if waiting for me to give up.  “Come on,” it taunted, “Sita, how could you EVER run more than 1 mile on this thing?”

I didn’t know what to do.  I was convinced, working offshore (and this treadmill) would kill the passion and comfort I had found in running.

Being my stubborn self and not taking no for an answer, my next thought was: What better way to combat a potential running slump than to sign up for a marathon! No big deal, right?

So there I was, a newbie operations engineer, new to the offshore rotation schedule, and looking to sign up for the Chicago Marathon.  Deciding to sign up for a big race always takes me through three mental stages of decision-making and this race was no different.

Stage 1 – Confidence: I can train for this, I can do this.  I can hang with the big leagues.  I’ve done other races, how different can this one be?

Stage 2 – Uncertainty: Maybe I can’t do this.  It’s too long of a race.  WHY did I think I would have the time to train.  Am I crazy??

Stage 3 – Exasperation: Okay, I have thought about this race for way too long.  I’m just going to sign up and walk (or crawl) the race if I have to.  SIGH.

Needless to say, I promptly signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

Then began the training.  I turned to my trusty internet pal, Hal Higdon, for my training plan and my not-so-trusty pal, the treadmill.

I’m a morning girl, but WOW did this training make me an early-morning girl:  Wake up at 03:30, run until 04:30 or 05:00, shower, get to my desk by 05:15 to check email and get ready for the day, and attend pre-tour meeting at 06:00.  Work a whole day, go to bed at 20:30, repeat.

I started out with some nice 3-mile and 5-mile runs.  It started out all right. I had my trashy pop playlist to listen to and I started to get in my zone. Me vs. the treadmill.  I could do this.

I was generally good at saving my super long runs for when I was home, but inevitably I had to do some long runs offshore.  Pretty quickly I got to the 8-miler, which was the most difficult distance of the whole training plan.  There’s something about crossing 1 hour on the treadmill that made me question, “Why am I doing this?”  It’s not something I could answer, so I just kept going.

I became known as the Energizer Bunny.  Guys would come into the gym and I would be running, complete their workout and leave, and I would still be running.

I can’t tell you the number of times I got the question, “Why in the WORLD are you doing this?”  Again, no answer – just keep running.

My favorite running story was during a hurricane evacuation.  During the evacuation, everyone went to a town away from the coast to post up and wait the hurricane out.  I was thrilled, because I had run 16 miles and now I was able to do it on land!  However, me being the smart one, I forgot that hurricane coming offshore means weather that is not so conducive for running on land.  I had no choice but to buddy up to my friend, the treadmill, and pump out 16 miles.

Little by little, I got better at running on the treadmill and began to conquer my offshore running fears.  It’s funny how running became my metaphor for my job offshore – as I got more comfortable running longer distances on the treadmill, I slowly got more comfortable in my operations engineer role offshore.  When I had a ‘mountain’ to climb in my job, I ‘climbed that mountain’ on the treadmill to sweat it out and put my mind in the right head space.  By giving myself a running goal to work toward while simultaneously jumping into a new, unfamiliar work environment, I connected so many lessons from my running – adaptability, perseverance, baby steps to success – to make me a better engineer and a better person.

In the end, offshore hadn’t killed my fiery passion for running.  In fact quite the opposite:  Working offshore helped me strengthen my passion and redefine what running means to me.

Epilogue:  I ended up running the Chicago Marathon in October that year and actually set a personal record!  Moral of the story, I challenge everyone to not let offshore get in the way of your hobbies, passions, and interests, but to help strengthen them.  You may have to adapt, but keep doing what you like and you’ll be successful no matter what you do.

Sita Syal

About The Author: Sita Syal

Sita Syal is a guest blogger for Women Offshore. Sita graduated from the University of Michigan with a BSE in Chemical Engineering and a MEng in Energy Systems Engineering. She spent time in the Houston area working for a major oil company as a process engineer and then transitioned offshore as an operations engineer on a production and drilling facility in the Gulf of Mexico. She and her fiancé, Zach, now live in the Bay Area where she is working on her PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Sita hopes to use her experience and perspective from working in non-gender diverse areas to change the demographics and empower women to pursue their careers in all spheres.

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