How it all started
I’m a relatively new runner having only been doing it since July this year. I started running for several reasons. One: to keep up with my 6 year old daughter; two: in a lapse of judgement I registered for a mini-triathlon that required running and; three: to overcome the belief that I held for a couple of decades that I can’t run.
In a very short period of time I had to develop sufficient skills to swim, cycle and run. I’ve been swimming laps in my condo since the beginning of the year. With my buddies we engaged a swim coach who drilled us in the pool weekly and trained us in open water on Saturday mornings. By July I was pretty proficient and comfortable with open water swimming. It was a mere 250m that I had to deliver. So swimming skills – CHECK.
In December last year, hubby and I bought ourselves entry level, hybrid racing bicycles. Mostly for pleasure but to be used in a race if necessary. I didn’t have strong legs and easily settled into approximately 21-22km/h for 10km stretches (the fastest marathon runner keeps the same speed). For serious cyclists this speed would be their warm up but to be fair, I’m only just returning to physical activity after a 6 year hiatus (what with a newborn and lack of sleep, any parent would understand). So cycling skills, not awesome but passable – CHECK.
And then there was RUNNING. I only had to deliver 1.8km but that was 1.8km longer than I had ever trained for, especially after an open water swim and a 10km cycle. I knew I would have to walk half of this at the triathlon. I registered on a whim but I was cautiously optimistic. I knew the distance for running was short, which meant that even if I had to walk it wouldn’t take me forever. So running skills – WORKING ON IT.
During those moments of wisdom on a Friday night, having poolside drinks along with my buddies, we persuaded one another to register for races that at other more logical moments we would probably reconsider. Lo and behold the next thing I knew, I was signed up for a mini triathlon with my hubby, plus two 5km runs, one 8km run and two 10km runs before the year was out.
Then reason and common sense flooded me. I could barely knock out 1km without passing out. I’ve paid for the races though and there was no backing out now. Without further ado, I strapped on my running shoes and commenced my running training. It came with lots of pain, anguish, “I can’t do it”, “why am I doing this”, and “I’ll never get better”. It was a mental war that I think was much more catastrophic than the physical trauma I was experiencing.
The triathlon date finally arrived. Buzzing with excitement and nervousness, I had my strategy in place. Swim the best you can, cycle without burning out my legs and run/walk – whatever worked. And that’s exactly what I did. I happily came out 3rd from the swim, and then promptly dropped to 13th in cycling and running. Doesn’t sound too bad but then my gender representation in the mini triathlon wasn’t that big and my “veteran” category was even smaller.
And now for running
With the triathlon under my belt, my focus turned to running. I had a mere two weeks to train myself up to 5km for the SAFRA event. Hubby and daughter entered the Father and Child category (loved the Superkid and Superdad t-shirts along with the jigsaw puzzle-like finisher medals). My first couple of practice runs were around the East Coast Park cable skiing lake which equated to about 2.5km. Within a short time though, I swiftly increased it to 5km. My pace severely suffered taking me from 6.5km/h to 7.5km/h, yet I was satisfied that I had completed the distance without walking.
The race day was spectacular. An endless sea of NSmen in their very cool singlets. My daughter kept referring to them as Minecraft singlets. On a brilliant Sunday morning, the sun just barely making its presence atop the Esplanade Bridge, I took off amongst thousands of other competitors of all ages, gender and nationality. With a slight detour through the business district, the race mostly centres around the Marina Bay precinct.
Fatigue was kicking in quickly, possibly because I took off too fast (I’ve been warned that adrenaline will have me running faster than usual) and I hadn’t learned to pace myself yet. The idea of climbing stairs on the way to the Helix Bridge, however short, was most unappealing and I ended up walking it. As I carried on, I entered the bottle neck that joined the 5km & 10km participants. For several hundred meters it was hard work trying to weave my way through the crowds and quite honestly I stopped trying and just took the opportunity to rest my legs and lower my heart rate. As the bottle neck opened up again, I was left with about 600m to the finish line. Somewhere along the way my hubby and daughter cheered me along with my girlfriend whose husband had just finished his half marathon. Crossing the finish line at 32min was sweet as pie. Though hot and sweaty, I felt accomplished. I’ve just completed my very first running race. Ever. At the ripe young age of 44. They do say it’s never too late.
Once is not enough
The next race was the SMU Mile Run in Fort Canning Park. Possibly my favorite park in SG which was my main reason for registering. I was aware of its hills and I knew it was going to be a difficult run. What I didn’t account for was how life got in the way that limited my training schedule thereby having only three running sessions between the two races.
Once again I had my strategy in place. I know my body well enough to push but not too much. I have a child to be responsible towards and injuries due to foolishness is not in my character. I fully expected that I would run the straights and downhills and walk the uphilsl. The course looped three times. I managed ok on the first loop but got progressively slower around the next two. The stairs usually did me in. Regardless of the slower effort, I was in good spirits and yet again happy and accomplished, finishing the race at 36min.
Storing another finisher medal in my cabinet, it was time to take this whole running thing a little more seriously with the 8km NorthPassion run from Yishun to Sembawang in October. Not quite sure of the best way to increase cardiovascular and physical endurance, I started cross-training and strength training. I had a number of emotionally demoralising training runs that left me a little stressed about my ability to participate well in the race, until a dear friend gave me a book on the subject of Mastery. Unbeknownst to her the first 17 pages were just the words I needed to read that readjusted my state of mind and provided me with an understanding of what happens to the body when under duress. I learned about homeostasis – a condition of equilibrium that resists change and boy were my legs resisting change. I resumed my training with a new understanding and peace of mind.
The turning point
The afternoon race started on a grey and cloudy day that was threatening to rain at any moment. Relieved I wouldn’t have to run in scorching sun, I started with an easy pace that I hoped to maintain as much as possible. I didn’t anticipate the hills though. Lots and lots of hills. Not quite what I was looking for in a supposedly flat Singapore and certainly not on my first 8km run. I employed the usual walk the hill strategy in order to run the flat and downhill sections. Fifty-eight minutes later I crossed the finish line a little out of breath and sore legs but otherwise in good form. I managed to place in the top third of the race settling in at 109 out of 335 participants with an average pace of 7.20km/h. Read the full article here: My first 8km race from Yishun to Sembawang [Photo credits to Running Shots team – cheers guys for your efforts]
I was curious enough to see how I would fare if I was to run 8km on a flat surface. Three days after the race, shoes back on, I tackle the track on East Coast Park and succeeded to run the entire distance non-stop with an average pace of 6.54km/h, followed by another round today with an average pace of 6.47km/h. It’s a slow yet progressive journey but things are looking up. In the words of George Leonard: “Mastery is the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice”. Couldn’t agree more.
What next? The 10km Great Eastern Women’s Run followed by another 10km at the Standard Chartered event. Both are very large events and very early in the morning. Wish me luck.