It started quietly, this runners’ group.
If you happened to be free on Wednesday evenings, you turned up at the athletic track at the NIE. Dominic, an outdoorsman, initiated the idea for the weekly run. He helped organize previous Amazing Races for the church, and various treetop walks and hikes for interested members. Christina and Cindy, also with phys-ed backgrounds, co-lead and bring up the rear for the group.
The seven o’clock sky would still be a wash of azure blue, with clouds glowing from the defiant rays of the departing sun. The basketball courts, the tennis courts, the track, the field, are teeming with squads and platoons of the young and the athletic, running, training, playing friendly matches, doing presses and pushups. It is breezy out here, and the wind is suffused with energy emanating from people in perpetual athletic motion. Shrill game whistles, shouts and cheers add to the energizing buzz on the track.
It is here you would also see us, this group of runners from New Life Christian Church. The workday is done, and everyone is anticipating a good workout around the green glades of the Botanic Gardens.
We start off on a prayer and hit the asphalt at a gallop. It’s true. In a minute, I am overtaken first by a few, then all the members, but I don’t mind. It will be a fairly long route, with a bit of heavy going in the middle.
Cindy paces me. She chats leisurely as though we were taking an evening stroll in the Gardens, admiring the tall trees darkening as we pass them by in the fading light. As my breaths get shorter and shorter, she points out a tiger orchid plant along the way, which apparently only blooms once a year. I should feel privileged to catch the bloom at this precious random moment, but my mind is distracted by the heaviness in my legs and I’m feeling breathless.
We run pass the open-air concert grounds, the pond where the ducks are falling asleep, and on towards the grand wrought-iron gates of the Garden facing Cluny Road. We bypass fellow members who by now are circling back. I have a favourite part—obviously downhill—but that means first running up a path with a slight incline for 200 metres.
Going downhill offers me less resistance and helps me pick up a little speed for a while, but I need to save my energy for the last leg, when we run through the annexe of the Garden that borders Bukit Timah. Reach the annexe and I know I will make it [without stopping].
A strong breeze greets us full force there, and Cindy says it’s like eating air. I forget my aching calves and throbbing head. Finally, we reach the deserted entrance to the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. I can stop now. Everyone is exhilarated at reaching the destination, and the jokes, the affirmations abound as we acknowledge each other for having made it, for running well. Cheeks glow, forearms and legs glisten; it’s a sweaty affair as Dominic leads us in the warming down stretches.
Soon, we find ourselves at a hawker center. Perspiring profusely and burning off 400 calories (or more) is justification to order 1000-calorie delights swimming in lard or sugar. Oyster omelette appears alongside carrot cake. Stingray with belacan, kway chap and noodles find company with bowls of cheng tng topped with glaciers of shaved ice.
The runners eat. We chat with an affinity that stems from a common bond forged first by the agony, and then the ecstasy.