ST Articles 2018

Wk Title / Description Writer Themes
0 ST: On your Mok, set, go! Mok Ying Ren Launch >> ST Run 2018
1 ST: Importance of a Good Training Plan! Dr Ivan Low Training Plan
2 ST: The relevance of pre-participation screening Dr Yeo Tee Joo Risks & Injuries
3 ST: How do i manage my training sessions? Mok Ying Ren Training Plan
4 ST: Preparations to tackle an overseas run! Ashley Liew Overseas Runs
5 ST: How to maximise your recovery period? Mok Ying Ren Recovery
6 ST: Minimising risks in running Dr Malcolm Mahadevan Risks & Injuries
7 ST: Music to the ears! Mok Ying Ren Music
8 ST: Why runners run … away Ben Moreau Overseas Runs
9 ST: To outlast … run in a community! Jed Senthil Community
10 ST: Outdo yourself with proper hydration! Mok Ying Ren Hydration
11 ST: Running the right way Sharon Lim Running Gait
12 ST: Getting into the right kicks! Mok Ying Ren Footwear
13 ST: Master running as you age Evan Chee Inspiration
14 ST: Not an uphill task! Mok Ying Ren Slope Training
15 ST: Back in the days Dr Low Cheng Hock Inspiration
16 ST: The Final Countdown Mok Ying Ren Pre-race Tips
17 ST: You have done it! Mok Ying Ren Post-race Tips
18 ST: Remember The Poor Jed Senthil Community
19 ST: Sleeping right! Mok Ying Ren Sleeping
20 ST: Shredding my weight to go the distance! Banjamin Quek Inspiration
21 ST: Journeying through pain and injuries Mok Ying Ren Risks & Injuries
22 ST: Taking a (sick) break from running Dr Wang Mingchang Risks & Injuries
23 ST: Every drop counts! Mok Ying Ren Community
24 ST: Reflections of a runner’s wife Mrs Belinda Mok & Mok Ying Ren Inspiration
25 ST: Take a deep breath Mok Ying Ren Breathing
26 ST: Mastering your self during a run! Edgar Tham Sports Psychology
27 ST: 3 Important Factors to Ace Your Race! Mok Ying Ren Pre-race Tips
28 ST: Preparing during the next 24 hours! Volker Herrmann Pre-race Tips
29  ST: The Finish Line Mok Ying Ren  Inspiration

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Mok Ying Ren

ST: The Finish Line

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 16 Dec 2018.

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MOK YING REN A huge congratulations to all who completed last week’s Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, especially those who finished the arduous 42.195km full marathon!

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In the blink of an eye, 2018 has come to an end and so has this year’s #RunWithMok column, which was in partnership with the Straits Times Run and the Singapore Marathon. It feels like only yesterday when we embarked on this journey together to train up for two major races in Singapore.

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Over the span of just a few months, my fellow contributors and I have touched on a myriad of running-related topics. Many of these had also piqued my curiosity when I first started on my running journey. I hope that we have been able to address your doubts and queries adequately, as you #LearnWithMok. (Recap all articles for 2018 HERE!)

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It is also an opportune time for me to thank the ST Sports Desk Team for their support and inputs; fellow columnists who were generous with their experience and expertise; all the readers and race participants who were very forthcoming in writing into #AskMok to ask questions and attending the various talks and run clinics. A big pat on the back for those who diligently followed the RunONE training programme and our Sunday columns for 30 weeks! You have truly made the journey memorable! Thank you!

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Double SEA Games Gold Medalist & 7-time SCMS Local Champion, Mok Ying Ren against a common but scenic backdrop for local races. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

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To conclude this column, I would like to share 3 takeaways that can be applied to your running journey henceforth, so that you can continue running!

 

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Be consistent

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Mok Ying Ren, Double SEA Games Gold Medalist & 7-times SCMS Local Champion. Photo credits: ONEathlete 

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Consistency is essential to any life pursuit, be it relationships, studies, work and, of course, running. Consistency means maintaining a certain level of frequency over an extended period of time.

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Consistency in your running journey would mean, for example, running at least twice a week, regardless if you are training for a specific event. This will prevent your fitness and muscular adaptations from degenerating and allow you to bounce back to high-quality training within a shorter time. It will also reduce your risk of injury risk when you step up for your next training programme.

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Be conservative

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Mok Ying Ren, Double SEA Games Gold Medalist & 7-times SCMS Local Champion. Photo credits: ONEathlete 

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Always adopt a conservative approach to your training programme. It is very easy, and almost natural, to allow our haste and impatience to hijack our plans. On days when we feel good, we tend to want to do more or push ourselves that bit harder. Sometimes, it is wiser to hold your horses and allow your body to adapt and enjoy the fitness it has achieved at a methodical pace.

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As you progress in your training, you should aim to increase your training volume and intensity incrementally. Take baby steps and avoid sudden ramp-up. Doing too much, too soon, is really a recipe for disaster. As the saying goes, ‘more haste, less speed’.

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Be unique individually

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Mok Ying Ren, Double SEA Games Gold Medalist & 7-times SCMS Local Champion. Photo credits: ONEathlete 

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You would appreciate that we have placed great emphasis on each runner ’s individuality. This applies, not only to training programmes and routines but also to smaller details like hydration and nutrition needs. Truly, one man’s meat is, and can often be another man’s poison.

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I myself am guilty of having committed the cardinal mistake of replicating and religiously following training programmes of top runners in the world, only to be saddled with injuries and disappointment.

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This is not to say that you cannot draw inspiration from the best athletes or should not adopt practices that your well-intentioned friends have recommended – you can, and you should. However, you should first put some thought into what you have read or heard and then make a considered decision on whether to follow through and embrace them as yours. Blindly following the group may do you more harm than good.

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Photo credits: RunONE

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With this, the RunONE Team and I, are signing off! We would like to wish all of you an early Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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See you again next year on #RunWithMok!

ST: Preparing during the next 24 hours!

This article was first published in The Straits Times on 8 December 2018

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VOLKER HERRMANN – Race days are often the highlight of an athlete’s career. You have invested weeks and months, and made substantial sacrifices in every area of your life, for these precious moments of racing. When so much is on the line, naturally you would want to make every moment count, and every step you take prior to your race day is crucial.
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D-1: Take it as just another day

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One of the biggest secret to succeed is to, ironically, approach race day as an average training day. While it is important to prepare well, you should not try to make the day an unusual one, especially if you are thinking of experimenting or trying something new.

If you are sharing your experience with your friends and supporters, remember to give them instructions beforehand, especially to be stationed at the parts of the race you would need their support and morale boosters the most!

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IAAF lecturer, Volker Herrmann sharing his race tips with National Marathoner & ONEathlete Ashley Liew, who will be running the SCSM 2018 tomorrow. Photo credits: RunONE

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H-18: Prepare early

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Prepare your equipment the night before, like your shoes, socks, shorts and singlet (pin your number bib). It is important not to wear anything you have not worn at least three or four times before, preferably for your training sessions. You would not want to experience any unusual (unexpected)  discomfort during your race. Tapes and lubricating gels should be used to cover sensitive body parts which are prone to abrasions.

If you are listening to music, prepare the playlist beforehand.

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H-12: Get some sleep

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It is normal to be anxious before your race –  all your hard work culminates in this one day. It is usual to not have the deepest sleep the night before your race. Even top athletes are not spared the sleeplessness and anxiety  before race day. It is actually the sleep several days out that plays a bigger role in your performance on race day. So, try not to think about your race on that night! If you are racing at a time that is not during your usual training hours, it is best to slowly adjust your sleep and training patterns accordingly, at least eight to ten days before the marathon. This will also greatly help in your sleep for the night before the race.
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H-3: Have a simple meal

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Try to have breakfast at least three hours before the start of the marathon, preferably food with a low glycemic index, so that  your blood glucose level will rise slower and more steadily. Avoid acidic fruits and fruit juices, and go for bananas. It will be best to stay away from dairy products too.

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H-1: Make your way to the start line

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Always be early for your race, and plan your way to the starting line taking into account road closures, long queues, and huge crowds!

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Get in your dynamic warm-ups.

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H: Stick to your race plan

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Facing competition often raises adrenaline levels, and naturally, you would  have a tendency to run too fastin the first few kilometers. It would be prudent to hold off in the first ten minutes and start slightly slower than  your planned race pace. If you are using fixed splits for different intervals (e.g. the 5k, 10km, or half marathon mark), write them down on your forearm. Having a quick look makes it easy to check whether you are following the race plan.
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Have a blast at 2018 Singapore Marathon!

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Volker Herrmann is an international high performance sport consultant and an IAAF lecturer. He was the former Technical Director for SAA, and works with athletes and coaches on a global scale.
Volker Herrmann is an international high performance sport consultant and an IAAF lecturer. He was the former Technical Director for SAA, and works with athletes and coaches on a global scale.

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ST: 3 IMPORTANT FACTORS TO ACE UR RACE!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 02 Dec 2018.

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#AskMok

  1. Is it advisable to eat a snack while running the race to replenish energy? – Anonymous
  2. I hope to achieve a certain time goal. Is it better to run my own race, or run together with someone? – Anonymous

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MOK YING RENIn just another week, you will be taking on the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon which you have been training so hard for over the past few months. Compared to the Straits Times Run 18.45km race, the marathon is and will be a whole different ball game altogether!

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If you recall, I had shared 3 race tips prior to the Straits Times Run – start slow, prepare well, and have a good race etiquette. To build on these, I will now focus on 3 important factors.

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Mok Ying Ren (seen here answering questions and preparing runners during the ST Run 2017 – Festival Village), hopes the #RunWithMok column has prepared you sufficiently for SCSM 2018. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

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Race Nutrition – Run at your best

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The marathon is an incredibly long race, and no matter how fast a runner you are, you will have to top up your energy regularly.

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One of the best ways to replenish your fuel during the race would be to consume sports gels. These gels resemble baby food and are packed with high glycemic index sugars which are easily digestible. A good rule of thumb to follow would be to consume one packet of gel every 45 to 60 minutes, and accompanied by plain water for hydration.

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There are also many brands of sports gels available in the market. Ideally, you should get used to the specific brand of gel which you intend to use on race day to avoid any unforeseen tummy upset.

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Mental Game – Run with focus

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Standing at the start line and thinking about the 42.195km that lies ahead may leave you feeling extremely daunted. This is a feeling that even experienced marathoners may not be able to avoid.

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One way to overcome this is to break up the race into smaller segments, and aim to achieve “mini-goals” for each segment. This then forces (helps) you to focus on the process, instead of just the end goal which may seem like a bridge too far.

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Your “mini-goals” can be as simple as remembering to  take a small sip of hydration (drink to the point of thirst, of course!) at every water point. As you progress, these goals may be more performance-oriented, such as checking off each 5km within a specific split time.

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Another aspect of the mental game is to be prepared for any potential mishaps that may occur during the race so that you are not thrown off guard. If something unexpected happens, turn your focus to the things that are within your control.

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For example, there have been instances during my races where I had fumbled with my hydration bottles when grabbing them off the table and ended up dropping them. Instead of being disheartened, I focussed on getting hold of my hydration at the next water station.

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ONEathlete Ashley Liew and Evan Chee, and other Singaporean elite athletes at the start lines of SCSM 2017! Photo credits: RunONE

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Camaraderie – Run as one

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You may think of running as a team sport – ultimately, everyone racing on the course shares a common goal of finishing the race safely, and speedily. Just as how teammates in a sports team draw inspiration from one another, you can form impromptu running groups while running the race!

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During the 2017 Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, where I went on to set the Singapore half-marathon record, I was fortunate to have the company of fellow runners who were also gunning for the same finishing time. I managed to work with them, and we took turns to lead and break the headwind, not unlike a Tour de France race. This allowed us to perform better than if we had all been running our races individually. Our “team” members also changed as the race went on. As some runners got tired and dropped back, we also caught up with runners ahead who still had the legs under them and started running together as one.

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Such team dynamics can help you to achieve your goals, as well as others to meet theirs!

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With this, I wish you all the best as you undertake the biggest race on Singapore’s running calendar – remember to enjoy and savor every moment of it! 

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100PLUS Ambassador & 7-time SCMS Local Champion, Mok Ying Ren shared hydration tips with about 200 runners and joined them in their final preps (on 1 Dec, sat) for the Singapore Marathon. Photo credits: ONETHLETE

ST: Mastering your self during a run!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 25 November 2018

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EDGAR THAM – Fatigue, boredom in training, mistakes, and the lack of progress are common challenges highlighted by runners of varying, and all, levels. These issues do not just pop up on race day, but they can also manifest in the training leading up to it. Research points to a few tricks that athletes can use to overcome these mental barriers.

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Be one with nature

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A recent study concluded that runners who ran with sunshine, trees and flower beds felt happier. Running with nature can help improve your mood, leaving you more excited and refreshed than before. To enjoy your next race to the fullest, take in the greenery of our garden city. For example, if you are running at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, look out for pretty or unique flowers, plants, and trees as you make your way to The Float @ Marina Bay.

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Training indoors, battling the rainy season or is the weather not working in your favor? Watching a video tour of a garden or public park while getting your workout in the gym can also give you a similar positivity boost!

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Sport & Performance Psychologist Edgar Tham, sharing with ONEathlete Banjamin Quek, on how he can hone his mental muscle/toughness ahead of the latter’s half-marathon at SCSM 2018. Photo credits: RunONE

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Psych up with music (and even video!)

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Not just about the latest trend, running with earbuds or headphones on can help you do better too. Researchers found that athletes who ran with their choice of entertainment, i.e., favorite music, had more positive attitudes and performance overall. Having considered the benefits, some may ask “what type of music should I listen to?” The answer lies in the tempo. Fast-paced music gets one pumped up and running faster, while slow-paced music relaxes. However, if, listening to music is not allowed during your race, grooving to your personal hits during your warm-up could also help get you in the right emotional state, and therefore help you get ready for your race. For some, the music might still be lingering in your head — use it to help you in your actual run!

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Running on a treadmill but not a big music junkie? Research has shown that streaming a show or movie can bring similar benefits too. The next time you are looking to achieve a new personal best and cover a longer distance while training, try setting up your playlist or your favorite show before you start! Caution: Be careful and remain fully alert when training on the treadmill. Safety first!

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Hone your mental muscle

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Training your mind helps train your body too! Research with world-class athletes points to mental toughness as pivotal to peak performance. Athletes who are calm, focused and confident are better prepared, and more likely, to overcome race challenges and mistakes.

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To train like a champion marathoner, have your own race plan and rehearse it both physically (through training) and mentally (by going through the race over and over again in your mind). It can help you approach the actual event with more poise and confidence. To design your own race plan, study the race route and consider how you will run and motivate yourself during the race. How should I start? When would I pick up my pace? What are some potential challenges I may face (e.g., uphill, fatigue) and how can I cope with them? Anticipate the times you may “hit the wall” and prepare yourself with possible workarounds (e.g., keep your mind on your running form, adjust your breathing). Explore and identify what works for you, and be prepared to charge ahead the next time the burn kicks in!

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IMG_3737 “It was a good reminder to reignite my passion for running. Edgar reminded me to enjoy the process rather than to just focus on results. I walked away with very useful tips, e.g. on how i can do a visualization exercise, and split the workouts into parts; prior to a tough workout.” Banjamin Quek, who will be running his half-marathon at SCSM 2018.  

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Find your running tribe

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Athletes with stronger support networks tackle stress and challenge better. Research also shows that the stress-support relationship works in two ways. One, we seek out others when stressed. Gather your own tribe – trusted people you can turn to for love and support. Share with them about the difficulties you face, and celebrate small wins too! Struggling during training or the actual race? Turn to your running buddy for some encouragement and support. Two, supporting others helps lower their stress levels and yours in return too! Keep your stress levels healthy by lending a helping hand to support your running buddy, particularly when the going gets tough. The next time you hit a plateau during training or need an extra boost during the race, lean on your family and friends or consult with a mental toughness coach for more support.

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Whether you are a professional athlete or weekend warrior, try out some of these tips to bring your running performance to another level! I hope these would come in handy as you run the SCSM 2018 on 9 December!

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Edgar K. Tham is Singapore’s pioneer Sport & Performance Psychologist, amongst many other diverse accolades. Edgar was the founding Head of the Sports Psychology Unit of the Singapore Sports Council in 1996. He was team consultant and traveling psychologist to numerous national teams preparing for major world games/championships, including the Olympics and World Championships. Edgar is the founder and chief sport & performance psychologist at http://www.sportpsychconsulting.com.  He is an associate lecturer in sport psychology at the Singapore University of Social Science, Edinburgh Napier University (UK), and University of Wollongong (AUS). He is the co-author of Mental Toughness Strategies of the World’s Greatest Athletes and In the Zone: The Mindset for Peak Performance in Sport.

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ST: Take a deep breath

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 18 Nov 2018.

#AskMok

  1. I understand the need to breathe into the diaphragm but my chest will feel a little compress and breathless meaning I have to take a deep breath into my chest to feel better. Any way to overcome this? – Jason
  2. Breathing – I can be running at zone two but why am I always feeling out of breath? – Anonymous

MOK YING REN – How should I breathe when I run? This is a question often posed to me at forums.

Our first breaths were taken in at birth and the act of breathing now comes naturally to us. Sometimes, we do not even realize it when we breathe although it becomes (painfully) obvious when we run and our speed appears to be limited by our breathing as demand for oxygen intake increases.

Breathe Like You Swim


Before embarking on my competitive running journey, I was heavily involved in swimming and triathlon for about 10 years.

For those who swim, you would know how important it is to regulate your breath properly in the water, lest you inhale a huge gulp of chlorinated water. Regardless of your swimming speed or stroke, you have to maintain a controlled and regular breathing pattern. Your breaths should follow the rhythm of your strokes as much as possible.

It is also important to take deep breaths when swimming. If you take short, shallow breaths, you will not be able to keep your face submerged underwater for long. But once you start taking deep, full breaths, swimming becomes a lot more comfortable.

The same regulated and deep breathing technique used in swimming should be employed in running.

What if you do not or are unable to swim? Fret not, there are some other strategies which you may try out to help you to breathe better.

Counting Steps


A strategy to regulate your breath when running is to consciously count your steps while running for each breath that you take. There is no science behind establishing what your breathing/running tempo should be. In all likelihood, you should be able to find your most comfortable tempo through a process of trial and error.

We naturally inhale longer than exhale –  check in with your own breathing right now as you read this article!

For your easy runs, you may start off with a tempo of 4 steps for inhalation, and 2 steps for exhalation. As you speed up, the inhale-exhale step ratio is reduced to 2:1, or even 1:1.

Being aware of your breathing rate also allows you to gauge the intensity that you are running at. If you are unable to catch your breath or hold a conversation during your easy runs, it is likely that you are running too fast! Slow down and regulate your breathing to a comfortable inhale-exhale step ratio.

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Mok Ying Ren recommends that you fill in your lungs adequately and naturally while running. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Breathe Deeply

 

It is easy to misunderstand the phrase “breathing deeply” in the context of running.

To breathe deeply does not mean that you take in a huge amount of air and hold it in as if playing a game of “How long can you hold your breath for?”.

What it actually means that instead of taking small gasps of air, you should fill your lungs in, adequately and naturally. There should be a slight rise in your chest with each inhalation, but your abdomen should not bloat. This may be difficult to understand and execute, but if you follow the recommended inhalation-exhalation step ratio of 4:2 for your easy runs, you should be able to achieve nice, deep breaths.

Mouth or Nose?


The mouth and the nose are mere openings to the same space – your lungs. Regardless of how it enters, air will go through your windpipe and into your lungs. Essentially, there is no difference to your respiratory system, whether you inhale through your mouth or your nose.

You may, however, experience a physical difference depending on the weather climate. In cold and dry climates, it would be advisable to breathe through your nose as it moistens the air which you inhale. In contrast, if you breathe through your mouth, your throat will dry up quickly, and possibly inducing dry coughs.

Despite this, you may find it more natural to utilize your mouth for breathing when running at high intensities. This is because the mouth allows you to inhale much more quickly, due to its larger surface area. Do not fight this tendency to breathe through your mouth and let it occur naturally.

I personally inhale through my nose during easy runs, and through my mouth during faster runs.

The most crucial aspect of breathing is self-awareness. When you are in the “zone”, you will experience a harmony between your running steps and your breath, which will definitely make your runs more enjoyable.


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ST: Reflections of a runner’s wife

Featured image (above): Mok Ying Ren and Belinda during their marathon-themed wedding gatecrash. Photo credits: RUNONE

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 11 November 2018

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Part 1: Reflections of a runner’s wife

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She says …

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BELINDA MOK – Over the past 5 years that we have been together, friends have often asked me what it’s like being in a relationship with a competitive marathon runner, especially when I initially didn’t even enjoy running. The truth is that I didn’t think much about what I was getting myself into! That may be why it felt, occasionally,  that the relationship required quite some effort to work (which we did!). But looking back, it has also been such a fulfilling and enjoyable journey as we grow and learn to support one another.

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When we first got together, Mok was training to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He was so committed and focused that we would have to plan our dates around his training and work needs. Because he was training after work every day, it also meant we didn’t get to meet up much. This was also a rocky period for our relationship as we had to navigate our different interests and expectations in this relationship. For example, we hardly shopped together as he wanted to save his legs for training. Saturday night dates were also often an early affair as he would have to do a long run the next morning.

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Thankfully, with the experience from previous disagreement and advice from our friends and mentors, we now have something which works for us.

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Things would appear to be comparably worse now. Mok is doing his Orthopaedic Surgery residency, which is stressful enough as it comes with exams and overnight shifts. Add in daily training and other running commitments and there is even less “couple time” as his schedule perpetually packed!

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As my way of showing him support, I would watch his training sessions, which led to me deciding to join him on his runs. I also started cycling and rollerblading during his long runs at East Coast Park. As I got better, I started to enjoy running more and now we actually go for runs together! Also, the more I run the more I am impressed by what  Mok puts himself through every day. As a physiotherapist in a restructured hospital, I know how hard it is to drag yourself out of bed to run before/after a busy hospital shift, but Mok still does it anyway. He has the uncanny ability to be very focused and determined on the task at hand, be it running or at the hospital. While this was initially a point of contention for me, it is now something that I really admire about him, and that makes our relationship even stronger!

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He says …

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MOK YING REN – The biggest lesson I have learned after being married is how selfish our pursuit for excellence can be. For many years, I was so focused on challenging limits and breaking barriers on the track (and road) that I  left everything on the sidelines. It was like a game that can never end. But I have come to realize that excellence in any field, when achieved at the expense of loved ones, will invariably by a sense of emptiness in our hearts.

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Success in any form will never be able to fill this void. As I learned and recognized the sacrifices Belinda had to make, I found myself trying to prioritize her needs in my decision making. While some might think that this may cause my performance to suffer, on the contrary,  this has allowed me to do better, both at work and running. It’s interesting how things actually work contrary to what we have been conditioned by society to expect and it’s worthwhile for all to spend some time to ponder on what the purpose of life and marriage is.

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Part 2: Her tips to make a running marriage work!

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1. Be open to new experiences

I used to be someone who disliked running – I found it too hot and dirty. However, as I accompanied Mok to his training sessions and running clinics, I met so many passionate runners that I decided to join in too! As I got better, I also started to enjoy it and finally understand Mok’s passion for running!

Taking part in run events also gives you a chance to make new friends. Unlike other more specialized sports, anyone can walk/ jog/ run and runners come from all walks of life so you will easily meet people outside your social circle.

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2. Be flexible

We have had to change our plans countless times because of Mok’s schedule. Sometimes he might be asked to go into work early at the last minute and not have time to run in the morning – we will then have to cancel our dinner plans so that he can run in the evening. As a supporter, I try to be flexible to support him in meeting his training needs.

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3. Be running together (couple time)

Our running standards are vastly different, but we still try to go for a run together fortnightly. We plan it such that he does his easy runs when I’m doing my hard runs. It works for us both as I have Mok who can push me while he also has me to avoid overdoing his easy runs too quickly.

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4. Be encouraging

Being an athlete is tough;  sometimes they may have a bad training session or an injury to deal with. They may try to not talk about it but they will definitely be feeling down, so try to empathize and encourage them to continue with their rehab.

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5. Be positive

Instead of grumbling about losing your precious morning sleep because of a run, see it as a healthy lifestyle change that you’re making. For me, I like that we can get so much done before noon. In fact, Mok usually starts and finishes his long runs so early (because it would be too hot otherwise) that we usually end up beating the weekend brunch crowds!

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Mrs. Belinda Mok is the wife of high-achiever, National Marathoner and Surgeon, Mok Ying Ren. She wears different hats, as his biggest supporter, meticulous events organizer and physiotherapist at a restructured hospital. She has grown into an avid runner herself. 

ST: Every drop counts!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 04 Nov 2018.

#AskMok

  1.  Can runners donate blood? Will it affect my performance? – Anonymous
  2.  How long will i take to completely recover and run again, if i had donated blood? – Anonymous

MOK YING REN – Every hour, the hospitals in Singapore require 14 units of blood to save lives (one unit is equivalent to about 450ml). As a surgeon-in-training, I have seen how easily blood is lost – patients bleeding from wounds, in their internal organs, and even through long and complicated surgeries. Unfortunately, the national blood supply is not as easily replenished.

Why is blood so important?

Purpose of Blood

Blood delivers oxygen from our lungs to all other parts of our bodies. Our red blood cells contain a key protein – haemoglobin (Hb). Oxygen cells in our lungs bind to Hb in red blood cells, and are transported to body cells for metabolism.

During metabolism, oxygen reacts with glucose and other chemicals obtained from food to produce energy. This also helps cells to grow and reproduce, and stay healthy.

Carbon dioxide produced during metabolism is then carried back to our lungs by blood, where it is exhaled.

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Mok Ying Ren encourages everyone including runners to donate blood, as its not necessarily a barrier to their running performances. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Impact of Blood Donation

Our body holds about 5 litres of blood. For every blood donation, 1 unit (or 450ml) of blood is withdrawn.

According to a 2016 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Blood Transfusion, the Hb concentration in our bodies is reduced by 7% after making a blood donation. The Hb concentration in our bodies then gradually returns to normal over the next 2 weeks.

This is expected, but how exactly does this impact your performance as a runner?

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Mok Ying Ren trying to smile for the photos amidst the process. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Effect of Blood Donation on Performance

A reduced Hb concentration will result in lower oxygen carrying capacity. There is no doubt that your running prowess will be affected.

In 1995, a study published in the American Heart Journal evaluated 10 male cyclists before and after donating blood to test the effect of blood donations on exercise performance. Results showed a decrease in the maximal performance of all the cyclists for at least a week.

More recently, in 2016, a randomised controlled trial published in the Sports Medicine Journal found that maximal power output, peak oxygen consumption and Hb mass all decreased for up to 4 weeks after making the blood donation.

Interestingly, both studies found that the submaximal performance of their test subjects was not affected. Therefore if you are a recreational athlete exercising at submaximal intensity, you should not have any negative experiences other than a higher than usual heart rate.

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Mok Ying Ren still looking fresh towards the end of the 60min process. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

 


Recovering from a Blood Donation

To recover faster after a blood donation, you may consider taking iron supplements.

A randomised controlled trial was conducted to investigate the effectiveness of iron supplements post-blood donation. The results were published in the highly-regarded Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2015 – it was found that with iron supplementation, Hb recovery time was halved from a mean of 78 days to 31 days.

More drastically, for people who usually have low iron levels, their Hb recovery time dropped from a mean of 158 days to just 32 days!

Making a Blood Donation

As you can see, your running performance is not necessarily a barrier to donating blood.

If you are a competitive runner aspiring to set personal records, I would still encourage you to make a blood donation. You can plan your blood donation based on your running calendar. For example, you can do it right after a major marathon, as you would need down-time to recover from your race anyway! Once you are physically ready to get back into training, your Hb levels should be ready too!

However, if you any reservations about blood donation, an alternative would be to make a plasma donation, which will not affect your Hb levels at all.

You can run and donate blood. Let’s give our precious blood to someone who may need it for survival today.

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You can make a blood donation at any of the 4 blood banks or at a community blood donation drive near you! Click HERE to find out more! (Photo credits: Redcross Website)

ST: Taking a (sick) break from running

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 28 October 2018

DR WANG MINGCHANG – You’ve meticulously drawn up a weekly training plan in the lead-up to your race, diligently following it and clocking the mileage. The weekend’s long run is coming as you near the end of the work week. But alas, your plans are blighted when you wake up with your throat feeling like sandpaper and your nose leaky as a tap. Undeterred, you carry on with your scheduled run, dismissing your symptoms as minor.

Should one continue exercising when one is ill?

The neck check

A neck check is a quick way to determine if you should continue to train/run when unwell. If your symptoms are above the neck, e.g. teary eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or a mild cough, then it is probably okay to continue. However, if your symptoms occur below the neck, e.g. fever, chills, body aches, malaise, chest congestion, nausea/vomiting or diarrhea, then I would strongly encourage you to give your body a much-needed rest.

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Dr. Wang Mingchang advises that, depending on one’s symptoms, one can continue light running even on sick days. Photo credits: RUNONE

Running with a cold

Exercise may be beneficial when one is suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection, commonly known as the common cold. Symptoms include a runny or congested nose. Adrenaline, a hormone released during exercise, is a natural decongestant and helps in relieving nasal congestion as well as the widening of our airways. Research suggests that heart and lung functions (and hence exercise tolerance) do not appear to be altered by an upper respiratory tract infection. This means that the common cold will not affect your ability to run at your usual intensity. If you’re running in a group, do be mindful that sneezing or coughing in close proximity to others can lead to their not remaining your friends for long.

Running a fever? Do not run

Exercising with a fever is dangerous. Exercise further raises one’s body temperature and heart rate, which are likely already elevated, to begin with when one is having a fever. Our heart rate increases by about 10 beats per minute for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature. Running whilst febrile can result in excessively fast heart rates. Viruses are a common cause of fever and side effects may include inflammation of heart muscle. This inflammation, coupled with a fast heart rate,  presents much more stress and strain to the heart than the intensity of exercise would suggest. Ultimately, this can precipitate abnormal heart rhythms and, in severe cases, even result in sudden cardiac arrest and/or death.

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Photo credits: RUNONE

Protecting your immune system

It has been well-established that regular exercise can boost one’s immunity. On the other hand, too much exercise can have the opposite effect. Prolonged high-intensity endurance exercise (e.g. running a half or full marathon) can cause one’s immunity to be weakened for up to 72 hours. The cause is not clear but one plausible reason could be the excessive free radicals and stress hormones produced during intense exercise which can suppress one’s immune system.

If you find yourself frequently falling ill on the days after an intense training, it may be helpful to take in more foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as green tea, dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries and beetroot as part of your recovery diet, to give your immune system a boost.

Sufficient rest and sleep are also needed for a healthy immune system. Depending on how fatigued you feel, it is prudent to always listen to your body and schedule a rest day or two after a session of hard running.

Dr Wang Mingchang
Dr Wang Mingchang is a Sports Medicine Associate Consultant with the NUH Sports Centre. He has completed around 10 full marathons and continues to train for distance running. 

ST: Journeying through pain and injuries

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 21 Oct 2018.

#AskMok

  1. I have adjusted my running style and pronation. But recently I suffered pain on my calves and achilles. Is there a better way to run? – Rahul
  2. I have been trying to get back to running like before, but it’s difficult with the muscle loss. Do you have any tips for me? – Ernest
  3. I experience pain in my joints and think I cannot run. What is your advice for me to pick up running? – Malik Mehmood

MOK YING REN – In a time before I was born, the results from the 1984 Bern Grand-Prix study showed that 45.8% of 4358 runners sustained injuries over a 1-year period. Fast forward to 2014, the trend and figure remain the same, if not worse. It was published in the British Journal of Medicine then that up to (shockingly) 79.3% of runners sustained injuries within the year!

Given scientific and technological advances, why are we runners still in so much misery?

Let’s take a look at a few possible culprits.

 

Training Intensity and Volume

 

The abovementioned studies found that high weekly running volume was the biggest risk factor for injuries in running. This seems to suggest that the more you run, the higher the risk of injury. While this sounds rather intuitive, it cannot be the blanket truth – otherwise, Kenyan runners who typically run more than 200km a week would be on crutches by now!

There may be certain factors which are not accounted for, or attributed sufficiently, in scientific studies. Factors such as how one progresses into high training/running volume and the intensity of runs at such high running volume are almost impossible to measure in a consistent and objective manner.

The chase for results is also a strong, but not necessarily good, driving force – we all want to improve (quickly) but often is the case when more haste makes less speed. There may be periods in your training phase in when you will feel strong and seemingly insurmountable. It is easy then to cave in and push yourself a lot harder than planned.

I am also guilty of this, having run 2 marathons in a month in 2011, which resulted in me suffering from plantar fasciitis in both feet.

A coach once told me, “Discipline is not just in doing the training, but also in not training in order to recover.” The solution, though easier said than done, is to follow a reasonable training plan, seek help from a coach and, most of all, listen to your body.

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Weakness and Imbalance in Muscles

 

Weakness and imbalance in muscles have long been identified as a potential source of injuries in running. Studies have shown that runners who suffer from anterior knee pain appear to have weaker gluteus medius muscles.

However, this issue is made further complicated by the difficulty in determining whether the weakness and imbalance in the muscles are the cause or result of an injury. If you are already suffering from an injury, some of your muscles may be inhibited and appear “weak” during physical testing, even if it’s not directly related to or caused by such injury.

In such situations, you should consult an experienced therapist to guide you in your recovery. You may also wish to engage in pre-rehabilitation (as a preventive measure) to identify and work on your areas of weakness before the onset of any injury.

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Running Gait

 

Whether the technique of your running can cause injuries is controversial.

One school of thought is that if a proper running gait is adhered to, injuries can be eliminated or, at least, reduced. The other school of thought is that the gait should be adjusted to suit the runner’s body structure and configuration – in other words, there is no absolutely “correct” gait. Proponents of the latter would argue that no two elite runners run alike.

My personal belief is that there is possibly an “ideal” running form to adhere to, subject to variations within certain limits. If you are injured or keen to improve on your performance, it may be beneficial to have your gait analyzed by an experienced therapist. If there are any glaring abnormalities, such as overstriding, these should be adjusted. Moreover, some gait abnormalities may also be a result of weakness and imbalance in muscles, again demonstrating the interconnectedness of these factors.

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Others

 

Many medical and healthcare professionals have also suggested other risk factors, such as over-pronation, weak core muscles, imbalances in the spine, shoe types, and tight fascia. Due to the complexity of the human body, even with vast medical and technological capabilities available, it is incredibly difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for a particular injury.

Thus, your journey through pain and injury is likely to be one of humility and self-discovery.

 


Watch the video below for some tips from Mok Ying Ren on how you can prepare to prevent injuries/pains. But if you do, you could do with some support from 3M Futuro products!

Also, trackback on Singapore’s first Male Marathon Gold’s journey here: