ST: To outlast … run in a community!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 29 July 2018

JED SENTHIL – As a runner, I was a late bloomer. In my childhood and even during my national service days, I faced a myriad of health conditions which impeded any form of structured training.

Against Odds

Thanks to my mentors and friends who dragged me to conquer Mount Kinabalu in 2007, as well as my first 10km at the NB Real Run 2011 and 21km race at the SAFRA AHM 2014, I was slowly and unknowingly inducted into the tightly-knit running community. I learnt what it meant to will the mind over body when I conquered my first 42km at the 2015 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, completing it in under 4 hours despite having suffered a rib fracture just 3 months earlier. The story gets better when an inspiring top national marathoner – a then-acquaintance, now turned buddy – encouraged me to improve as a runner.

Over the last 8 years, even though I wasn’t fast, I signed up for multiple races to keep myself going. For the beginner runner that I was, the shiny finisher medal and catch up with my runner friends at race events, provided motivation for me. I eventually collected over 50 finisher medals that now serve as a reminder of a time characterized by resilience and perseverance. In recent years, I have discovered the strange phenomenon of like-minded runners and friends who come together as a small group/club and eventually form a community they call their own!

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Jed running across the Helix (DNA) bridge. The DNA is akin to a strongly bonded running community functioning as a whole to serve its purpose. Photo credits: RUNONE/ CLAIRE YEE

Running can be a lonely sport when it feels like it’s just you and the pavement. But as I look back on my years of running, the memories were rarely mine alone. I was fortunate to have enjoyed the company of friends/community who brought out different elements and perspectives of running, which made it much more enjoyable and meaningful.

Here are my four reasons to run in a community:

1. Establish accountability for growth

Firstly, a running community urges you to be accountable and focused. During trying moments when you feel you are too busy with work or /school, it provides a platform to check in with one another and keep the discipline. While some might argue that such support is unnecessary, this the same can’t be said of runners who are either new to the sports or who see running as a long-term undertaking to improve and maintain fitness.

You also have the safe space in which to grow without being impeded by undue fears of inadequacy, receiving feedback and well-intentioned advice to improve your running. It is largely relational and a practical way to spur each other on. Thus, we know that this is a sustainable approach for a runner to continuously improve and maintain fitness i.e. growth.

2. Create memories with one another

Secondly, a runners’ community allows each and everyone to journey together through the seasons of, training, injuries, and races. Lessons learnt and shared help members avoid repeating the growing pains unnecessarily. Your friends will also be the ones who constantly help you discover and rediscover your aptitude for running, by being your encouraging pillar of support or challenging motivation. As you build on each other’s experiences through the highs and lows, it creates a tapestry of memories that enrich and elevate the running experience.

Jed running at The Straits Times Run 2017

3. Learn to look out for others

Within the communities, I have been a part of, everyone looks out for one another, and often will go the extra mile to ensure that everyone is taken care of. Sometimes, it could be as simple as buying additional hydration bottles for the other runners or picking each other up during the wee hours of the morning to go for a training run or race. These seemingly small acts of kindness and expression of care for one another form the scaffold upon which the community develops and flourishes.

4. Serve others beyond running

Last but not least, being in a group helps to redirect and drive the group’s purpose outwards, towards the community and the people around us. Recently, I got to know a group of runners who come together to run every Saturday. Eventually, they start asking themselves what more they could do with their time and love of being active and outdoors.

This sparked their volunteering (to assist children with cancer) after their training sessions. They were able to look beyond their group’s needs and serve the needs of another community, through simple acts of planning games that helped these ill children be more active. One of them mentioned that Saturdays were “deeply satisfying” as a result.

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Communities in Singapore

In Singapore today, there are more than 430 running groups on record. These running groups might share different commonalities, such as an anchor sports brand sponsor,  proximity to work/home, similar backgrounds and ethnic/national identities, or even have their unity underpinned by common causes or values. While every group is likely to identify with its own sense of purpose and motivation, a unifying theme that binds them all together is their love for running itself.

Running can do a great deal for oneself. Running in a community can bring that benefit to the next level and be a powerful force that drives social good. Driven by this belief, #RunONE hopes to unify and mobilize the various running groups as a whole community that strives towards fitness and social good.

Running a race also strikes a parallel with journeying towards attaining our goals in life. The next time you gear up for a run, remember that you are running as one with your community! Both in life as well as your race!

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Jed Senthil is a former civil servant who serves professionally in community work and social enterprise sectors. The avid runner and youth advocate is also the co-founder of the RunONE running community.

# LEARN WITH MOK

Week 9 Question:

How did the runner who volunteered every Saturday with the children with cancer, describe the experience? 

Submit your answer to the question on #LearnWithMok and stand to win a race slot for ST Run, happening on 23 Sep 2018!

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