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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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    Getting fit enough for a marathon after 50

    CNA – It all began when Benjamin Lee, also known to Singaporeans by his blogging moniker Mr Miyagi, displayed blood pressure readings that had staff at the clinic telling him he should be immediately warded.

    “My blood pressure was at 180/113, which was basically hypertensive crisis, according to the doctor,” Lee recalled. “I had been diagnosed as dangerously hypertensive.”

    “I did modify my diet – which led to a substantial weight loss – but I didn’t exercise then,” he admitted. “The weight piled back on to the 70s by the time 2020 came around.”

    It was only three years later, during the second year of the pandemic in 2021, when Lee decided to get fit, once and for all.

    “Like everyone else, my family and I had to adapt to a life of working from home, with little to no commuting. And as for myself, the lack of movement was probably doing damage,” he told CNA Lifestyle.

    But then suddenly, Lee found himself with a treadmill at home, courtesy of his wife’s pandemic online shopping.

    “Soon after it arrived, she started bugging me to use it,” he recounted. “I thought okay, just walking on it isn’t going to be too much of a commitment. It was probably around the end of April in 2021 that I started using the treadmill regularly.”

    Lee was 52 years old then. Fast forward to December 2022 and the 53-year-old ran his first ever half marathon. He also now weighs a healthy 61.5 kilogrammes (Kg) for his 162cm frame.

    Benjamin Lee, also known as Mr Miyagi after he finished his half-marathon. PHOTO: CNA


    Trying to get back in shape can be frustrating at any age, but it can be even more discouraging when you’re older, when you’re wondering whether it’s even possible.

    But examples like Lee’s prove that getting fit after 50 is absolutely possible. It may not be as easy as it was when you were 20, but the rewards will be just as great – if not more so – in your later years.

    “I think the daunting thing was the fact that I hadn’t worked out in close to two decades.

    The last time I was in a gym was in 2003,” admitted Lee. “So there was a bit of fear there… but a treadmill is pretty forgiving, because there’s always the stop button!”

    It wasn’t just the treadmill that helped Lee, but something else more ubiquitous nowadays.

    According to him, it was “the Apple Watch that made for a big change in my life”.

    “It was the culmination of being at a low point in my health and fitness, my family urging me to do something about it, and the fact that I was already wearing an Apple Watch that kickstarted the fitness journey,” he admitted.

    “I decided to plan at least 20 minutes of exercise a day.”

    He shared, “The workout app on the watch has a variety of workouts to start off with and tally up daily metrics like calories burned, number of minutes exercised, and number of hours where you’re on your feet for at least a minute.

    “All it took was 30 minutes of exercise a day, which I could split into two 15-minute workouts twice a day, and I hit my initial target of 350 calories a day quite easily.”

    He continued: “The more serious metrics on the watch keep me engaged in my fitness journey too – seeing things like VO2 max measurements going up over time has been especially gratifying.”


    After getting his fitness levels up, the next goal for Lee was the half marathon, which he signed up for in July last year.

    “At that point, the furthest I had run was 12 kilometres (km), but I thought that was an achievable target because I had been adding a kilometre or two to my long runs each week,” he explained. Using an app on his watch and phone, he started training using the 14-week half-marathon programme.

    He stuck to an early morning routine – and even did it overseas. “My family and I took a 10-day trip to Perth in September, and the first things I packed were two pairs of running shoes,” he shared.

    After 14 weeks of preparation, Lee was confident he’d finish the race. “But there’s no dress rehearsal that could ever have prepared me for the crowd – there were 12,000 entrants in the half marathon and 8,000 in the full marathon,” he said, adding that a thunderstorm meant the event was delayed and they had to wait at the starting area for an hour.

    “The mental preparation came in handy – staying focussed and calm at the start was crucial. I had to start really easy, because these old legs need some time to warm up,” he quipped. “And also, so that I could last the distance.”

    One of the biggest obstacles for him was the early start – Lee couldn’t get a full night’s sleep before, which he believed led to the massive cramps he got in his calves at the 17km mark. He hobbled most of the remaining four kilometres to the finish line.


    Ever since kickstarting his fitness journey a year and half ago, there have been lots of ups and downs for Lee, who has lost 10kg. “When I started, I couldn’t finish running 500m without stopping. There was (also) a period in 2021 where the knees were so banged up I had to stop for two weeks. I read up on running mechanics, and slowly changed how I ran,” he shared.

    “I also spend two days in the week with weight training to build muscle in the core and legs. Runners like to say that foam rollers are their best friends. So it’s that and yoga or pilates on the days when I’m not running have helped with my running endurance.”

    Most importantly, he found himself part of a community. “You never run alone, even if you prefer not to join organised runs.

    “I was running in Sentosa a few months ago and was probably grimacing trying to get through the run, when this random runner coming in the other opposite direction purposefully made eye contact, pumped his fist at me and said, ‘Come on!’” he recalled.

    Since then, Lee says he’s made it a point to smile at anyone coming his way, whether they are running or not. “I never thought I’d be the sort to say things like, ‘Working out creates energy that others can use’ or anything airy-fairy like that,” he said. “But yes, I’ve become it.”

    Next up? A full marathon this year. “And maybe run two full ones a year for as long as my legs will carry me!” he said.

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