Letters of Life

Fit to Write: On Becoming a *Real* Runner

A regular run at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore.

A regular route at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Singapore.

Eight weeks ago, I signed up and, what’s more important, paid up, for a half marathon, or what’s known in running parlance as a half.

Prior to this, I’d sworn off joining any more races. In my last three 10K races, I’d clocked no PRs (personal records), nursed a heavy head and suffered post-race hydration headaches. On such days, I would be useless to my family over the next 24 hours. This would drive Andre nuts.

“If you’re going to feel like this every time after a race. . . ” he would say peevishly as I lay prone on the sofa, eyes closed. Silence. Then he would stomp into his shoes and not care how loudly the front door banged shut as he went out to buy back dinner.

So what changed?

Call it peer pressure. My running group, made up of mostly men who are successful in their careers and love competition, thought it would be great fun to do a 21K (13 mi) race; a half. When I told them my resolution never to run a race again, one of them said persuasively, “You can always run 10K, and if you feel like stopping, just walk off. You know, you don’t have to run the full 21 kilometres.”

Well, that sounded good. No stress, no pressure right? I signed and paid up for the half, which is slated for Sunday, September 1st. The month of July saw me step up my exercise from once or twice weekly runs to three runs a week, with some half-hearted core exercises like planks and pushups in between. I even alternated with swimming in between and became smug in the knowledge that I was ‘cross-training.’

This is when I learned several things about myself:

1. There was no way I was going to stop midway through the race if I couldn’t take it. Me drop out? I would sooner die of heart failure than not finish what I’d started. This applies to all of life as I see it.

2. If this was true, then I would have to buckle down and get serious about the training schedule: One short run (5km), one hill run, and one endurance run (up to 12km or 7 mi) in a week.

In July, I clocked a total of 79 km (49 mi).

Inadvertently, in my own eyes, I became a runner. What becomes a runner most? When you:

a. Start buying more fruit to make your own protein- and calcium- and fibre-rich smoothies.

b. Notice an ever-growing pile of sweaty Dri-fit clothes on the floor.

c. Can choose between at least two kinds of sports drink powders in the kitchen and when you buy your first granola bar for the endurance run this weekend you choose the brand whose packaging has the triumphant words ‘Ironman food.”

d. Think about running when you’re not running.

e. Buy your very first issue of Runner’s World. This really makes you feel like a runner.

f. Key in search words starting with ‘run’ on Google.

g. Refer to the Army Half Marathon that you signed up for as the Alpha-Male Half Marathon because your running mates are running annoyingly faster and faster.

I realized I was becoming a running bore after I finished telling an anecdote about a friend’s run and Andre finally said, “I don’t wanna hear any more running stories.”

A bore tends to boast. To the chagrin of my running mates who are hellbent on increasing their pace times, I’ve taken to not apologizing for running slowly. I keep thinking it’s better to be the tortoise than the hare in the upcoming race. Case in point: Yesterday, I took one hour to run 5 km (3 mi). I call it my Zen-state run.

Last night, I was at the stadium track for a coaching session. The coach, a former Ironman and accomplished triathlete, patiently explained the techniques of running cadence and how to do it properly. I had long ago thrown out cadence running in favour of running slowly and below maximum heart rate.

Now I was back to square one: learning how to run.

What’s frightens me now? The race is in 18 days’ time.

Advice? Leave a comment!

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fit to Write

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