Friday, July 5, 2013

#fastfriday: first running steps

Last week, running-gear company @Oiselle asked its usual #fastfriday question on Twitter. This one was: When were your first running steps?

I thought about answering, but the 160 characters that Twitter gives you just wasn't really enough for the whole story.

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy defines flying as 'learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss'. When you're really tiny, running is throwing yourself at the ground and catching yourself on your feet. You could say we all start running before we learn to walk - lurching from the arms of one parent into the outstretched arms of another.

So, my dad's always been a runner. On Sunday mornings, back when we lived in Marine Parade, he would lace up and go to East Coast Park nearby for a run. When I was about five, I started clambering out of bed just as early and asking to tag along, while my mother looked after my little sister. I probably ruined many a run, but how could he say no?

When I was seven the 1992 Barcelona Olympics took place. My cousins and I watched Linford Christie and Gail Devers and had sprint races all around the neighbourhood until we nearly threw up. My grandmother would watch us, laughing, recalling how she too, at twelve or thirteen, would run at school sports days, long skinny legs flashing, pigtails flying. There aren't any pictures of us, alas. We were a motion blur.

When I was ten we moved to an area that had a 400-m loop and a roughly 600-m loop, undulating up and down over hills, and my mother started doing laps on these because she could stop at home any time.
The same year, I had my first school fitness test which included a 1.6-km (1-mile) run. I went out fast on the high school track next door to our primary school, tripping over someone else's feet or perhaps just my own, taking a tumble, and finishing the run near the front of the pack with blood running all down my leg from a scraped knee. So yes, I've been a klutz my entire life.

In Secondary One, the tryouts for table tennis and cross-country/ track just happened to be on the same day at the same time slot. My family played ping pong, but I'd never run competitively, so I went for the table tennis tryout - better the devil you know, right? It was a move I'd regret for years afterwards. I spent four years on the table tennis team warming the bench. I still hate playing table tennis. I would probably have spent four years on the cross-country team warming the bench (or maybe not because they needed every single point they could get including participation points), but at least I'd have had fun.

In secondary school, the fitness tests went up to 2.4km: twelve minutes around and around the school field.   I'd go for the occasional run with my mum, or on my own. Not often, because I was still doing plenty of ballet and dance, but perhaps once or twice a week.

In junior college (that's high school to the rest of you) I joined the outdoors club. Its members were retired athletes who wanted to enjoy playing outside rather than give their lives to the pool or gymnastics hall (or in my case spend Saturday mornings scurrying around picking up table tennis balls); Boy Scouts and NPCC cadets tired of regimentation; and students looking for adventure. We ran for training. You can't climb mountains without some sort of basic fitness. Some of my fellow club members have gone on to do great things (my classmate is the super smart one working towards the PhD).

Back then there wasn't the huge selection of running events there is today. In 2002 my mum and I signed up for a 10km organised by the Singapore Armed Forces on the sidelines of its marquee Army Half Marathon, and I lost her after a few km and waited on the steps of the national stadium for her at the end. (On my second 10km Safra run, years later, I boggled at the superhumanly-fit men and women who'd just run...a half marathon!)

I was lucky enough to attend university in small-town New Hampshire, a place with stunning trails and perfect running weather for about half the year. But it wasn't till I came home to work that I began entering local road races for fun and t-shirts. First it was a 5K. Then a 10K or two. I had fun and put in OK times just jogging around the neighbourhood thrice a week and began to wonder: what would happen if I actually worked at this?

Two years ago I set foot on a track for the first time since those school fitness tests...and you know the rest.  ---

I might as well put it out here then. I'm working towards a sub-5h marathon in Perth in August. Whenever I finally make it there will be whooping and hollering. Either way, there will be crying.

There'll be plenty of crying this week too. First my little sister gets married to her best friend, who is just an all-round excellent fellow, on Saturday (tears of joy), and then on Sunday I have 25-30km to run (plain old tears).

Sorry for the complete lack of photos. To make up for it I give you this:

U of Oregon runner Alexi Pappas cheering for her teammate Jordan Hasay: YOU ARE A MERMAID. I don't know how the runners didn't just double over and fall around laughing. If I were Jordan I might have run a couple extra laps to see what she came up with next. At my next race, please tell me I'm a unicorn.

It turns out Ms Pappas was a Dartmouth undergrad. I am so proud of my school.

What's the best cheer or sign you've ever heard or seen at a race?


  1. Hahahah amazing... I will too tell you you're a unicorn!

  2. That video is gold! I love it. I would totally lose it if I were running, though.

    Good luck with marathon training! YOU ARE A UNICORN.

      I'm at Week 13 of a very Hansony plan. You know how much this hurts. Or rather, it doesn't hurt, but I would really like a nap.

      I like making people laugh (a la 'IF YOU CAN READ THIS, RUN FASTER!'). It distracts you from the pain... :)