Ever wonder about a group of runners on the side of the road perfectly in sync with a pacer guiding them? Fret not, as this is a group of recreational and competitive runners alike converging for an interval run session.
Similar running exercises significantly help build VO2 max and conserve oxygen consumption as well as the ability to control one’s breathing, which in turn lead to optimal levels of performance.
The encouraging number of road runners reflects the strong interest and demand for the sport in the country, despite the perceived lack of athletes in major competitions.
In the sporting arena, the nation quite often celebrates milestones in the sprinting format, highlighted by the achievements of athletes Muhammad Noor Firdaus Ar-Rasyid bin Haji Mohd Idris, Muhammad Fakhri bin Ismail and Maziah binti Mahusin in recent years.
But when it comes to long distance or even middle distance running, the country has perhaps enjoyed little attention beyond these shores amid efforts from past national coaches to provide exposure to hidden talents.
Though local long-distance running specialist Sefli Ahar is unarguably viewed as a household name within the running community, the absence of global representation cannot be ignored.
Also, whilst trail running and road running competitions remain widely popular in the country owed by their huge participation rate, the country has yet to make a name in a recognised international multi-sport meet previously enjoyed by their short-distance running counterparts.
Every Tuesday at 5.30pm, a group of runners will assemble along a long stretch of road nearby several ministries’ buildings in Berakas to partake in a community-oriented interval run.
These interval runs mainly cover a pyramid session – a structured run for a specific time in an ascending order until they reach their peak, closely followed by several bursts in a descending order; Kenyan Hills – an incline run before going downhill done repetitively; as well as moving up sessions and descending reps.
Each group is typically led by a pacer – a designated runner assigned to determine the pace of the run. All are welcome and encouraged to join the session complimentarily. It aims to suit one’s needs, whether training for a competition or simply finding out their estimated speed and pace as an indicator of their performance.
The Bulletin caught up with Asari bin Abdul Rashid, the brainchild behind these interval run sessions, which are attended by enthusiasts specialising in various disciplines.
The avid runner said, “While pursuing further studies, I joined a running club and realised there was a whole running community.”
“I trained with a group and connected with all kinds of other runners and have been training and gaining coaching qualifications and experience in one of the running clubs in Newcastle, United Kingdom (UK).”
Reminiscent of times in the UK, Asari mooted an idea of reliving his experiences when he returned back to his hometown to introduce a similar activity.
“When returning to Brunei for good, I missed the vibe of training with the running club, so I started inviting a few friends if they were interested in joining my interval sessions,” he said.
From a modest number of runners in October 2016, he steadily received a favourable response and interest, as was notably evident with an encouraging number of participants.
“From there, word spread from mutual friends to social media, and many show interest to join the interval session, starting with four and peaking to more than 80 runners (before the COVID-19 pandemic) attending the session.”
“It has been fantastic to see the community come together, make new friends, and run with some incredible people,” he highlighted. “So, in the end, I decided that this would be my service to bring the community together through giving and trying to inspire new runners to exercise for health and mental well-being.”
The uniqueness of the session stems on the diverse individuals who primarily hone their crafts normally associated with running, such as Spartans, triathletes, ultra-marathon runners, swimmers, cyclists and others.
“The Tuesday Interval is not a running club but for anyone from other running communities to join and enjoy.
With this diverse background, it creates a good intermixed community discussing experiences and everyone for upcoming events.”
Asari also highlighted that running as a whole carries vast health and lifestyle benefits as well as a positive outlook in one’s way of life.
“Simply put, running makes you feel good. Running has tons of positive effects on your mental and physical health, but that is not all. Running can help improve your overall quality of life. All it takes is a few minutes out of your day, a pair of running shoes and casual runs at a moderate pace will boost the mood.”
“The stress-relieving effects of running results in feelings of calm, reduced anxiety and even mild euphoria,” he continued. “Over the long term, running may also improve your memory, focus and task-switching abilities.”
Physical benefits, he said, include burning calories or increasing cardiovascular fitness, adding that running on a regular basis can prevent certain diseases and can contribute to consistent weight loss. For instance, losing weight can help lower blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol.
Asari, who started running at a young age, said, “There is no denying the benefits of a running community. There are too many to list.”
He added, “Socially, it can build new friendships who can help support and motivate others.
The running community in Brunei has been expanding for the past six to eight years.”
He also noted the growing number of running clubs in the country, highlighting that staying competitive in the international scene can be achieved with the right training and mental attitude.
“Running nowadays starts from the grassroots to the adults. There are more established running clubs nowadays; our local runners have improved drastically since then. Previously, 19 minutes was considered fast, but now we have runners running 15 minutes for a five-kilometre race,” he said. “That is how running is improving drastically in Brunei.”
The local runner, who was part of the track during his secondary and tertiary school heydays, also provided words of advice to aspiring and prospective runners.
“My advice would be to start small and easy. Eventually, small steps turn into a mile, five miles, 10 miles and further,” said Asari. “As the famous saying goes, “You might not be as fast as someone in front of you, but you’re definitely faster than those who never started.”