My running journey

My gosh…i found this image of myself with my secondary school mates on the internet. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nan_Chiau_High_School_Combined_Sports_Meet_2013.jpg My school teachers took this photo for a bunch of us who competed in the school’s first combined sports meet with 2 other secondary schools. Prior to taking this photo, I had competed in the 4x400m event and won a silver medal. What a pleasant surprise to discover this photo 8 years later.

Even though the name of my Medium account is “LiveRunGrow”, I have actually never published anything related to running. Unknown to many, Running is actually one of my biggest hobby to date. And today’s article will be all about running and my thoughts on it.

(1) My running “history”

I have been running on a regular basis since I was 12/13 years old. It started out as a Sunday recreational activity that I would do to improve my stamina and also so that I could get a good grade for the 2.4km run in the NAPFA assessment for Singapore students. Later on, when I joined the Basketball team in my secondary school, for 3 times in a week, my coach would often make the team run 6 laps (roughly 2.4km) around the school (my school didn’t have a running track and we would literally run rounds around the school compound) at the end of every training.

Even though the distance 2.4km doesn’t sound like much now, it felt like a respectable distance back then. I enjoyed the aerobic + anaerobic challenge it offered as well as the chance of competing with other girls and trying to run as fast as I could.

Every year, I looked forward to Sports day, Cross Country events.

Some of the “top highlights” in my running endeavour in secondary school included coming in 6th position for the annual cross country internal school event (4.5km run? I cannot remember the exact distance as it changes every year — for some unknown reason), winning a silver team medal at the school’s 4x400m track event (top image in this article), and scoring the best grade for my 2.4km run in the NAPFA assessments every year.

Of course, I was never the fastest runner. Neither was I on the school’s track and field team. I was just an average recreational runner. However, at the end of each run, no matter the distance, I always felt like an accomplished athlete and it was a good refresher from my hectic studies.

After I graduated from my secondary school and entered Junior college, my running frequency unintentionally dropped. In a different school, unlike my previous secondary school, there weren’t as much sporting events for me to look forward and train for. To my disappointment, my Junior college didn’t have the tradition of organising sports days and cross-country was cancelled in 1 of the 2 years I was there, as it coincided with a national grieving event.

However, in University, I began running more frequently out of boredom and the desire to regain my “fitness”. I spent almost all of my free evenings at the track opposite of my hostel. My main goal for each run was just to complete the distance I set out to run and then I was happy. Back then, I didn’t really time myself nor worried about my pacing. I was mostly running based on “feel”.

(2) A recount of my most memorable running experience

In 2019, I embarked on an overseas university exchange and internship program to Beijing for six months. The climate in Beijing was vastly different from what I was used to. However, I was determined to continue running and maintain my fitness. Initially during the summer, I went to public parks such as Chaoyang park and Beijing Olympic Forest Park where I did my runs on the weekends. Occasionally, I also went to Peking University’s track to complete my runs.

Coming from a high humidity country, I was very unaccustomed to running outdoors at the lower humidity conditions of Beijing. I found the air to be super dry and with each breathe I took, I felt my throat getting dryer. It made the runs tough and I had to make more efforts to swallow my barely existent saliva down my throat in an attempt to soothe it. The only good thing was that I didn’t sweat as much as I did in Singapore. As the climate slowly transitioned to Winter, I stopped running outdoors entirely and switched to running indoors in the gym. The experience was much better as I no longer had to worry about air pollution or whether I was wearing enough clothes to keep warm or worry about whether the park’s lockers had space for me to place my belongings.

Somewhere around July, after hearing that some of my friends from my university were taking part in a running event at Hangzhou Qiandaohu in December, I got interested too and signed up on the spot for the 9.2km fun run. The half marathon event was fully registered and the full marathon event was something I definitely was not considering given that I had never even ran more than 10km before and didn’t think I had the time to commit myself to training for it. The registration fee for the 9.2km run was around 110RMB, which is equivalent to around 20+SGD. As Hangzhou is at the south of China while Beijing is at the north, I also had to fork out roughly 1000–1200RMB roughly 200–250 SGD for the train transportation back and fro.

I prepared for this event entirely by running on the gym treadmill where I would spend close to 30 minutes, which slowly increased to 50–60 minutes for each session. Running on the treadmill was much more mundane than outdoors. I would be entertained by the TV in the gym or the workouts and weightlifting activities that other gym-goers were doing. Fortunately, my indoors preparation turned out sufficient and the humidity at Hangzhou was not as bad as in Beijing.

On the day of the actual run, the temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius and it was quite cooling. It was one of the best outdoor runs I’ve ever had in China! I remember feeling the adrenaline rush as I heard the gun go off at 7.30am and all the runners started dashing across the start line. The first segment of the run consisted of running on flat roads and inside road tunnels that was shut off to the public. Along the route, there were spectators looking on and cheering. For a while, I felt grand 😂. Halfway through the run, there was an extremely long windy hill section. I felt that the uphill was as long as 1km, though I am not certain if it really was because I didn’t have any gps tracker with me. Being a novice, I had not bothered checking the running route and I was not expecting it! My treadmill runs were all done on flat grounds. Before I commenced on the arduous uphill run, I took a deep breath and braced myself for what was to come. Needless to say, the run uphill was quite taxing. I felt that my thighs did not have the strength to go on and my heart was beating at maximum rate. My pace slowed down considerably and in my mind, I just wanted to reach the top as soon as possible. I persevered and was rewarded with a beautiful view of the lake at the top of the hill. I stopped to take photos of the scenery, and then quickly got back to resume my run. Afterwards, It was another section of downhill running and eventually back to running on flat roads. Through the entire run, I would take photos at different sections so that I could relieve the moments at a later time.

Overall, It was a very enjoyable and novel experience for me and it sowed the desire in me to want to take part in a marathon someday.

(3) What advice would I give to my “younger” self as well as people who are starting out in this sport

After graduation from University this year, due to having more free time, I started to read up more on how to run “smarter” as well as understand about the science of running. Here are some tips that I have found and wished I had found out about earlier.

(a) Mix up your runs

Rather than running the same pace and same distance for each run, as I had been doing for years, it’s good to mix up the types of runs you do if you want to get faster. Incorporate interval runs, tempo runs, hill training, easy runs and long runs into your weekly mileage. However, for the conciseness of this post, I will not elaborate on what they are. You could do a quick search on the internet to find out what each type of runs entails.

In short, each run that you log should have its’ own purpose and it is important to realise that you don’t need to run every run at your target pace. Otherwise, it would lead to overtraining and injuries.

(b) Record your runs

It’s a good habit to record every run that you do. Think of it as a running diary where you record down the miles ran, timing and your thoughts. This helps you to track your running progress.

Recently I’ve started using Strava app as my “running diary” where I will sync my runs on my Garmin watch to the app and add short descriptions about how I felt about the run etc. It has many visualisation features for me to understand my running pace, heart rate and distance ran etc. Additonally, I like it that Strava is a running social app where I can follow other runners and see the miles that they have logged. Personally, I find it to be a good motivator and the app allows me to access my “fitness” compared to others and look at the types of trainings that other runners are doing.

Google image of Strava App

(c) Do strength training

I used to think that to get faster in running, all I had to do was to keep running. However, in almost all the resources that I have looked at, one common suggestion was to incorporate strength training to complement my running sessions. Strength training serves as more effective and direct means to target the muscles needed for running. Surprisingly, running more does not necesarily help to build the muscles that are needed to run fast.

I particularly like the following workout video from The Running Channel.

This is one of my favourite youtube channel

(d) Find your running inspiration

I find that in whatever I do, it’s always very helpful for me to have role models whom I can look up to. The same applies to running.

In my recent quest to understand more about the world of running, I’ve come across many female runners whom I greatly admire. They include Sarah Sellers, Shalane Flanagan, the author of the book “Your Pace Or Mine? What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last” and many more…. To share a little, currently, my Top 3 running role models are:

YiOu Wang

To be frank, one of the big reasons why I follow her is because of her ethnicity — her being a Chinese American runner. I have always noticed that the field of running is dominated by East Africans and even Caucasians and personally, I have not heard of many elite Chinese runners. This has led me to get the impression that perhaps Chinese were not as “genetically gifted” in the sports of running. Therefore, the first time I came across YiOu, I was intrigued. I thought that since we are both of the same ethnicity, if she can do well in running, then so can I. To me, she is one representation of the Chinese race in the world of elite running and it is inspirational to me.

As I learned more about her, I realised that while she is a professional runner, she also holds a full time job as a science teacher. I admire her ability to juggle her commitments as it is definitely not an easy feat! Furthermore, I like her unique story of how she started running. As quoted from the article linked at the top of this section:

She had no connection to running — until she went out to spectate the Boston Marathon with friends. Wang was immediately captivated by the energy of the race and decided that she, too, wanted to run the Boston Marathon one day.

Wang didn’t waste any time; she did some research on the Internet and downloaded a training plan. Not long after, she crossed the finish line of the 2005 Cape Cod Marathon in 3:33:37, and then completed her first Boston Marathon in 3:28:36 in 2006. Just four years later, she broke three hours at the 2010 Napa Marathon, running 2:54:59.

I like how she could be so inspired to run a marathon just by spectating one and then quickly decide that she wanted to run a marathon. She was “game” enough to set a goal for herself and work hard to achieve her goals.

google image of YiOu — though there are 2 figures here, i’m pretty sure that everyone knows i am referring to the first runner in the image ;)

Molly Seidel

I actually started following Molly Seidel a few weeks before she won the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Though it may sound weird, but I got interested to know more about her after I saw her running in this video. I was impressed by her running strides and running form — straight posture, relaxed facial expression and fast strides. It seems like running and her are One.

google image of molly during the Tokyo olympics 2020 award ceremony

As I got to learn more about her story, I found that she is a tough spirit. She managed to battle OCD, depression and anxiety to eventually become an Olympic medalist. It’s inspirational to see how her perseverance and hard work eventually paid off. I can certainly take a leaf out of her book.

In many online articles and videos, Molly shares many tips and running knowledge that I find really helpful (check out the hyperlink at the heading of this section) and applicable to my own life. To give an example, as transcribed in this article:

What she hopes people will remember about her, beyond her running titles, is that “when things got tough she didn’t give up,” she said.

“That’s probably what I would want to leave behind,” Seidel said. “It’s not about going out and killing one workout or doing incredibly well in this one race. It’s about the weeks and the months and the years you’ve been steady and consistent.

“There are going to be really tough times and it’s about getting through those and pushing on, because if you can keep at it anything can happen.”

Aside from this, I follow Molly on the Strava app where she will post daily updates of her training. From her posts, I must say she has quite an entertaining and funny personality.

Gerda Steyn

Gerda Steyn is a South African marathon and ultramarathon athlete where her most notable achievement included winning the 2019 Comrades Marathon (89 km) and becoming the first woman under 6 hours for that race. Contrary to many other elite runners, she is a late bloomer who didn’t show much running talent during her school days.

In 2014 she went to work in Dubai as a quantity surveyor and joined a running club, where she discovered her talent for running. Stories like these are rare and few but it makes me wonder how many people have a hidden talent for something but they never realised it because of the lack of opportunity?

She is quite entertaining on social media where she frequently post about her training, races and shares her reflections. To me, it’s interesting to understand more about how elite runners think and reflect about their running careers. Aside from this, from her posts, I also get a glimpse of how hard she trains everyday and her accomplishments shows me that “anything is possible”.

I enjoy reading articles and following other runners’ running journeys. During a middle of a hard run, when I feel like giving up, I’ll draw strength to continue by thinking of my running “role models”. It really helps to keep me motivated as I remind myself that there are people working harder than me and if I want to be a better runner, I will need to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Of course, the above mentioned 3 individuals are elite runners. Running at an elite level takes a great deal of hard work, genetic blessings and strategic planning. I know that no matter how hard I train, the chances of me being an elite runner one day are virtually non-existent. However, this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try my best. My biggest hope is for myself to be able to push hard, maximise my potential and run my best without comparing myself to others.

(e) Don’t be too ambitious

Initially, I’ve made the mistake of pushing too hard and increasing my mileage by too much too soon. For example, I would push myself to run 10km everyday when my fitness level wasn’t at that level yet. This has caused me to feel really tired and I couldn’t perform well during my subsequent runs where I suffered from sore legs and risked injuries.

If you are a beginner runner, it is important to schedule rest days and also build up a decent fitness base before increasing your mileage by too much. As a rule of thumb, increasing mileage should be done little by little — maximum of 10% up from the previous week. In addition, not every run has to be done at a hard pace. There are some runs that you should aim to do at an easy pace and some other runs that will require you to push yourself a little. By running every run at a hard pace, there is a risk of pushing yourself too hard and you might become burned out.

(f) Show up and enjoy yourself

As with everything, there will be good and bad days. For example, you might have had something spicy for lunch a few hours ago and had to stop in the middle of a run to go to the bathroom. Perhaps, you drank too much water and it led to a side stitch during running and slowed you down considerably. Or you just got into an argument with a friend/family, which impacted your mood and you couldn’t stop thinking about it during the run, and it led to you running slower than usual. These are common scenarios that any runner can face.

However, don’t worry too much about it. As long as you show up and do your workout, there is no need to feel bad. At the end of the day, it’s just running. You just put one foot in front of another and run your best.

Sharing a quote by an American long distance runner, Des linden:

(4) Future goals

While I am still a far way from being able to run a full marathon, I am glad that I’ve made the conscious effort to improve how I approach running. While not putting too much pressure on myself, I hope that within the next 5 years, I can finish a marathon with a Boston marathon qualifying time! Additionally, it would be a dream come true for me to be able to complete all 6 world major marathons one day.

The End! :)

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