When it comes to running, there is a well-documented and general perception that people have a love-hate relationship with it – whether it is the fear of injury or admiring the scenic outdoor views, while at the same time enjoying the health benefits.
Personally, such disciplines never occurred to be my strongest suit the moment I started putting on my first running shoes and examining the cobbled pavements or meandering alleyways of a foreign country.
Although running is considered the most basic form of cardiovascular conditioning activity as opposed to cycling or swimming which require a certain level of skill and technique, it has never been in my DNA and I quite often struggled with a perceived lack of stamina.
However, my impression of running took a turn few months ago as I began to discover more fitness-themed activities to supplement my daily routine of attending classes at the gym. In what only can be interpreted as natural progression in my weight loss journey, my newfound desire for partaking in competitions compelled me to sign up for the 21.1-kilometre (km) half marathon event in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) 2022.
Of course, there is an element of risk as it is a big leap in distance, having never broken the 10 km mark before recreationally, never mind competitively.
The competitive spirit and drive in me had nonetheless persuaded me to attempt what could only be described as one of my biggest challenges yet in the fitness world, even though the 10km category would have been the easier option.
With the Singapore Marathon signalling the recovery of sports activities from the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, I simply could not let the opportunity pass by and began to prepare for the race once my registration, flight arrangements and accommodation were confirmed.
After weeks and months of putting in the shifts and mileage, including a practice run simulating the actual event during Bandarku Ceria on the final weekend leading to the race, the time finally arrived.
After arriving at Changi Airport, the night before, I proceeded to a seafood place where, considering that I needed energy to fuel myself for the race, I went on a carbohydrate-loading diet designed to increase performance by storing energy in the form of glycogen.
It wasn’t the first time that I had done it, as the nutrition strategy approach seemed to work well during my previous Spartan competitions in Johor and Deka Fit competition in Kuching, Sarawak.
Accompanied by a close friend who happened to be on a two-week work trip there, we ordered a meal fit for a king as I dug into mud crab, lobster tail with braised ee-fu noodles and wasabi prawns.
I returned to my hotel satisfied and slept for a full two hours before taking a short walk to the venue (a five-minute walk from the hotel), where the excitement started to kick in.
Previously, I had never imagined myself as a runner, let alone attempting a half marathon, but the thought of pushing myself to new limits and boundaries drew my interest and it was something that I dreamt to achieve now my fitness levels have substantially improved.
As a novice in the competition, every single moment was a new experience, including waiting anxiously for the start of the race at the starting line.
I also felt quite excited to be one of the 12,000 runners who were involved in the race, easily making it one of the biggest sporting events in the region that weekend.
Just when it appeared that the race was about to start, the downpour forced thousands of runners including myself to seek cover, but we eventually still ended drenched. The rain eventually subsided but the race was delayed for an hour, with the emcees assuring that safety is in the best interest of the organisers.
There was good news in the end as the emcees announced that the first flag-off was at 5.30am – the race was originally scheduled at 4.30am – much to the delight of the runners who remained in high spirit despite the inclement weather.
It was finally my turn at the starting line-up as I took my first steps in the half-marathon with the skies still dark, though the streets were well lit enough for us to enjoy the spectacular views.
The thought of seeing a sea of people crowding the roads and running with no incoming vehicles, considering the partial closure of roads, while taking in Singapore’s scenic skyline is a surreal experience.
Going as fast as I could and overtaking people in the middle of the road, covering the distance and eventually contributing to my final time were among the main highlights of the long but exciting race for me.
On several occasions, I stopped short for a water break before continuing the race and even consumed one of the energy gels that I purchased from a running store in Brunei.
It was probably not the best of ideas wearing my brand-new running shoes for the first time, but it had been somewhat a ritual of wearing something new before the competition.
One of the reasons why I intended to join a half marathon was to find my threshold; where I finally break down both mentally and physically, but never at any point was I close to giving up.
In fact, the faster I breezed passed people, the more joy I felt, especially being able to speed up and find a burst of energy which proved beneficial in finishing the race with a decent time.
The thought of moving one step closer to the finish line with every passing kilometre drove me to pick up my speed, especially after learning how to manage my breathing and aerobic capacity during my countless classes at a local gym.
When I first registered, I put down my race prediction time at under three hours, but I came to realise that I could go under at least two hours and 30 minutes once I passed a group of pacers around the 15km mark.
Having only attempted a 21-km run the previous weekend, suddenly the thought of achieving a personal best time was within my reach, provided I maintained my pace.
Perhaps the turning point of achieving a personal best was when I was running along the Marina Boulevard stretch with a lightning quick pace of five full minutes.
It was the fastest I had been in my whole experience of running in general, especially coming from someone who was only able to post a pace of seven to eight minutes just two years ago.
In the final few corners and straight lines before the end of the race, I knew I was close to completion, especially since I was very familiar with the route aided by my long walks while in Singapore over the years.
To be able to see the time screen on the finishing line and crossing the line represented not only a reward for all the consistent training, but also the continuing progress that I have made since embarking on a weight loss journey.
Moments after the race, I logged on to the SCSM app and searched for my result using my bib number.
To my amazement, I found out that I finished the race in exactly two hours, five minutes and 47 seconds, a new personal best compared to my previous time of two hours, 14 minutes and 28 seconds the weekend before.
It was my third competition in four months but I still could not process the magnitude of my accomplishment seeing the finisher’s medal wrapped around my neck.
While it may be viewed as an individual triumph, I was also proud to represent my country in the international stage alongside runners from all over the world including Italy, Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Kenya and a number of Southeast Asian neighbours.
Last but not least, the organisers should also be applauded for their post-race service after supplying complimentary items such as water bottles, cold towels, banana and Himalayan salt sachets, while there were also carts with hydration bars in the race village.
Certainly, it was an experience that helped renew my interest in joining competitions and mark the start of my competitive running career.