As running grows increasingly popular, it becomes clear that the success of this sport lies in its accessibility to anyone and everyone. Age, gender, and one’s starting fitness level are no barriers to taking up running, nor are they predictors of one’s subsequent growth and performance as a runner. Sometimes, the most successful runners break all stereotypical notions of what a runner is. For instance, take our next interviewee Jenny Huang.

Mother of two, physiotherapist, and a “late bloomer” who’d only taken up running after her two children started in school. From her humbling beginnings of tackling small distances on Singapore’s Park Connector Network, she became the fastest woman in the 2013 Sundown Ultra Marathon, clocking an impressive 10:38 performance for her first 100km endurance race. In this interview, she shares with JustRunLah! her thoughts on training and racing, the ultramarathon experience, what inspires her, and some words of advice to runners contemplating an ultramarathon themselves.

Read on for more details…

JustRunLah!: We know that you are a chirpy and an inspiring runner. How will you introduce yourself to Singapore running community?

Jenny: I grew up in Texas, born in Taiwan; I am truly a ‘banana’.  Basically, I’m a hybrid of being a loud Texan and a very studious Taiwanese.  Here in Singapore, I’ve been called a ‘kantang’ (Hokkien for potato) – that nickname always makes me think of carb loading. I speak American English, Taiwanese, basic Mandarin and basic Spanish. I try not to tell others that I can understand Hokkien or Mandarin here in Singapore so I know what they really think about me!   My life revolves around my two kids Zoe age 14 and Austin age 11; but I also make sure I find time for my own-self in running.

JustRunLah!: What inspired you to start running? And run so far?

Jenny: As most parents know, we live to serve our kids and when my kids were young, I had no time for myself until my youngest started at local preschool.  And I chose running to lose the last 7 kg of the last pregnancy weight!  That said, I have always loved the idea of running especially when my mom shared her stories of her competitive track days.  I started with short distances but I ramped up the time when I needed the runner’s high to kick in.  I started running farther and farther when my endorphins would kick in later.  I suppose I’m an endorphin junkie.

Image credit: Jason Huang
Image credit: Jason Huang

JustRunLah!: What would you consider to be your biggest running achievement so far?

Jenny: My biggest achievement in running thus far is finding myself IN running.  I suppose I can’t really put a measure on one race vs any other as I love every single one.  And quite honestly, I love the whole journey in training that leads to each race.  And from these races, I find myself, I find my focus, I find my body being pushed to what it has been trained to do on that day.

JustRunLah!: What is your favourite running route in Singapore?

Jenny: I love running MacRitchie Trails and I love the Singapore River-MBS-Gardens by the Bay route.  I always feel ’reborn’/cleansed in sweat after finishing those runs.

JustRunLah!You ran a very impressive 10:38 for the Sundown Ultramarathon, and were the only woman to crack the 11 hours mark! When and how did the idea coming into your mind to tackle a 100km race? And how long did it take you to prepare for that?

Jenny: The whole idea of doing an ultra came from Steven, my fiancé who wanted to conquer the 100km that year.  So I decided I would take on that same challenge.  When I signed up for that race, I didn’t know my dad was sick and by the time I did, my training days became my way to deal with my dad’s stage four liver cancer.  It took me six months to train for the 100km ultra, but I started with an aerobic base to run a marathon.

JustRunLah!: In your opinion, what are the biggest differences between a marathon and an ultramarathon?

Jenny: Both distances are to be respected:  a 42 km and a 100 km both have walls.  But the biggest difference is the training and the mental focus.  The strategy is the same:  pace yourself.  The ultra requires more focus to know both how the legs feel and how the mind will pull you through after the 50km mark.

JustRunLah!: What advice would you give to someone contemplating an ultramarathon? Just Run Lah?

Jenny: Train well.  Train every day.   Injuries will happen but keep the stamina up by cross training pain-free.  Rotate 3 pairs of shoes.  Use anti-chafing sticks every run.  Run trails at least twice a month to challenge different running muscle groups and reduce injury risk.