BANJAMIN QUEK – When I was a primary school student, life was good – sedentary, and revolving around gaming and 3am suppers. Looking back, I was 68kg, 170cm, and neither very proud nor concerned about how my appearance. I was also encouraged, and offered, to eat more during meal times because that was how a traditional Asian family showed care and concern.
The turning point came when I was 13 years old and had just entered Secondary 1. I was deemed unfit (figuratively and literally) for my CCA (NCC Land) and that was my first real setback as a result of how I looked. I was sidelined during team games because no one wanted a player who couldn’t pull their weight. Needless to say, I did not have much success with relationships because of my ‘chubby’ appearance.
As a result, I became really upset because I felt unfairly judged based on superficial qualities. That got me started to read up more on food and nutrition and I realized how consuming food high in fats presents higher risks to our health and mortality.
Thus started my decision and journey to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle so that I would be able to fit into social circles and feel less inferior about myself.
DEVELOPING GOOD HABITS
I decided to pay more attention to my diet. No more 3AM suppers, less fried food, and I opted for more vegetables and lean meat instead. The obvious choice was to cut down on sugary drinks which I had loved – each can of Coca-Cola contains 10.6 grams of sugar.I replaced soft drinks with low-calorie soft drinks, or juices, which are healthier alternatives.
My meals began to comprise more carbohydrates (rice) since I was beginning to exercise more and needed the glucose to perform, and more dietary fiber, such as vegetables and fruits. Not only does eating more vegetables and fruits help facilitate bowel movement, but it also gives the immune system a much-needed boost. I would try to have 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruits at every meal. Instead of deep-frying meat, I would choose to steam or broil it.
Besides all this, I tried not to eat past 10pm. Our body’s digestion process slows down as sleep time approaches. (Not) having supper played a big part in my weight control.
I started to have better quality sleep too because I learned that inadequate sleep upsets the balance of hunger hormones such as leptin and ghrelin. Sleep deficiency increases the production of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.
CHOOSING TO RUN
I chose to lose weight through running, mainly because it allowed me immense freedom – rain or shine, fast or slow. Ironically, I used to hate running a lot because I never felt suited for it. My auntie would drag me along when she goes for a jog and I would find all sorts of excuses, just not the time.
It certainly took a lot of discipline to get started in running. In my sleeping shorts, white tee and my father’s oversized running shoes, I looked the part of a struggling runner barely able to complete 2.4km. However, as time went by, I was able to progress on to longer distances and with increasing ease. The key to running is consistency and to be willing to put in the hard work every day. The more you run, the better you get and it is really that simple.
Of course, it was (is) never easy to run every single day. In order to cope with the monotonous repetition in this endurance sport, setting the right mentality is important as well. Running is supposed to be enjoyable and I remind myself of this all the time. On days when I was tired, I would run at an easier pace or explore a new route. Setting milestones along the way also helped keep my motivation up. I was proud to check off the little boxes as I progressed from 2.4km to 10km, and beyond.
I would go on to represent Victoria Junior College and the National University of Singapore in competitive Cross-Country.
Over the years, at different phases of my life, my purpose in running changed.
When I started, it was about keeping fit and losing weight. Coupled with the change in diet and lifestyle, I lost 10kg within a year and had become visibly more toned. It bolstered my self-esteem now that I was running further and faster than before. My 2.4km timing improved from 13 minutes in Secondary 1 to 8 minutes before I graduated from NUS.
In junior college, running helped to clear my mind when I was preparing for my ‘A’ level examinations. Since Victoria Junior College sits right next to East Coast Park, I would go for a run whenever I felt overwhelmed studying. The running break allowed me to focus better and be more productive when I hit the books again.
During my NS days, I used to stay in a 13-men bunk. It was hard to have time to myself but running around the camp gave me the opportunity for a few cherished, quiet moments.
Later, I joined the varsity team with the National University of Singapore. Running at a higher level of competition forced me to manage my time efficiently amidst a hectic academic schedule. It also taught me to persevere when the going gets tough and to have the discipline to stay the course to reach my goals. It was challenging to train during my undergraduate days. I would feel sore the morning after an evening workout, attend classes, train again in the evening and revise at night. I have had to turn down social gatherings and friends because I was simply too tired. Most of my peers stopped running after a year or two but I am glad that I didn’t, even though the temptation to do so was strong at times.
Besides this, running also taught me to keep going in the face of failure. There were moments when I thought I was on the verge of breaking down because of the overwhelming study load. However, every satisfying workout I have had on the track was a poignant reminder that I am more capable than I think I am. It gave me the courage and strength to deal with my doubts and insecurity.
In 2018, I decided to take a gap year to pursue my dream of running in Kenya and work towards realizing my long-held aspiration of becoming one of Singapore’s top distance runner. I hope that through my running journey, I will be able to inspire and motivate others to dare to dream and dare to chase after their dreams too.