ST: Shredding my weight to go the distance!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 14 October 2018

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.

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Banjamin Quek in his younger days. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / BANJAMIN QUEK

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.

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For Banjamin Quek, running is synonymous for overcoming the challenges in life. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

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.

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Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

TRANSFORMED LIFE

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.

Banjamin Quek is a mid-distance athlete with a 21.1km timing of 1:16:23. The NUS graduate is currently tutoring part-time to train full-time. The Under Armour Athlete will be competing in SCSM 2018. He is managed by ONEathlete.
Banjamin Quek is a mid-distance athlete with a 21.1km personal best timing of 1:16:23. The NUS graduate is currently tutoring part-time to train full-time. The Under Armour Athlete will be competing in SCSM 2018. He is managed by ONEathlete.
Despite a tight schedule with residency programme and marathon training, Mok Ying Ren tries to sleep at least 6-8 hours a day so that he can recover sufficiently, stay alert and compliment the training. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

ST: Sleeping right!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 7 Oct 2018.

#AskMok

  1. I have to juggle work and training. I try to sleep as little as possible to put in the training hours. Is this wise? How much should i sleep? – Ryan Dexter
  2. Does pre-sleeping routines really help me get better sleep? – Cindy Kuzima
  3. As the races usually start about 4am, is it okay if i run without sleeping the night before? – Anonymous

MOK YING REN – Sleep is a key aspect of recovery, although often overlooked and undervalued. It is never advertised as the “latest”, “coolest” or “best” recovery tool on the market.

But everyone still knows that sleep is essential to recovery. I am sure many of you at least feel it intuitively – when you are fatigued, every task would seem to require more effort than usual to complete.



Importance of Sleep


Sleep energizes us, but how it does so is still much of a mystery. All we know is that a myriad of hormones, such as prolactin, oxytocin, oelatonin, and growth hormones, are produced at perfectly- timed junctures throughout our sleep cycle. This then stimulates a flurry of chemical activity in our cells to repair our cells and restore our energy.

It is this wonder of the human body that allows you to wake up from a good night’s sleep feeling satisfied and rejuvenated.



Chronic Lack of Sleep


It is hardly unexpected then that a chronic lack of sleep will have negative effects on our bodies. Besides experiencing a perpetual sense of fatigue, your usual bodily functions and abilities may also be compromised.

A study was carried out on soldiers who underwent a 5-day combat course, clocking less than 4 hours of sleep each day. At the end of the course, the soldiers recorded a 14% drop in their oxygen consumption rate and an 8% decline in their anaerobic power.

The study also propounded that these adverse effects could be negated by a higher energy intake. However, to adopt this unequivocally would require us to consume more as we sleep less – not at all an ideal or practical solution given the likelihood of us putting on weight (unnecessarily)!

For runners, another pertinent issue would be that of injuries.

In a separate study conducted on adolescent athletes averaging 15 years old, it was found that those who slept for an average of fewer than 8 hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to suffer from an injury than those who had at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Although limited as a cross-sectional study, the results of this study clue us in on the profound impact of sleep on the body’s ability to recover from training stresses.

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Despite a tight schedule with residency programme and marathon training, Mok Ying Ren tries to sleep at least 6-8 hours a day so that he can recover sufficiently, stay alert and compliment the training. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE


Improving Your Sleep


Sleep hygiene is instrumental in creating an ideal environment for sleep.

Your room should be dark, cooling and low in ambient noises. If you are a light sleeper, consider using ear plugs and eye masks to help you get into the “zone”. It is also wise to avoid alcohol or caffeine too close to your bedtime, to avoid excessive stimulants which may keep you awake.

I also try to hydrate myself well 2 hours before bedtime, so that I have sufficient time to empty my bladder before sleeping and avoid having my sleep disrupted due to nature’s call.

Back when I was still training professionally, I would even go so far as to incorporate a 30-min pre-sleep routine. This routine included reading a book quietly and having a warm glass of milk to prime my body for sleep. Admittedly, it is a challenge to keep up this routine, especially as a working adult, and I hardly do so now.



Sleep Before a Race


It is common to experience difficulty in sleeping the night before a race – I am not immune to this either.

It may, however, be of some comfort to you that any lack of sleep the night before your race is unlikely to jeopardize your race performance. Experiments have found that swimmers responded well even with a single night of partial sleep deprivation (2.5 hours). For runners, their performances in endurance running remained unaffected even with 3 nights of severely restricted sleep.

Remember, running is your personal journey and race. Optimizing your sleep within your own means will enable you to train and perform better at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon!

ST: Remember The Poor

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 30 September 2018

JED SENTHIL – Over the years, and especially in recent times, our society has evolved to become more sensitive towards the needs of the less privileged and more supportive of philanthropic causes. While MNCs and big corporates enthusiastically engage in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, social enterprises have also sprung up, promoting sustainable charitable causes. Riding on this momentum, there has also been a significant effort within the local sporting community to mobilize active individuals and runners to commit to a larger good while keeping fit at the same time.

So before you put on your shoes and go for your next run, there are ways that you can help contribute too:

Support a worthy cause

To send our future generation to school and ensure that they are in the best physical, mental and emotional state to learn while at it. This is exactly what The Straits Times Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) endeavors to do – to give every child the gift of knowledge, and an opportunity for a promising future. SPMF works with various mainstream schools, VWOs, and NGOs to identify school-going children in need and provide them with the resources to do well in school, primarily by helping them meet basic physiological needs.

Since its inception 18 years ago, SPMF has disbursed more than $60 million and supported over 160,000 underprivileged children and youth by providing them with monthly school pocket money. As someone who came from a low-income family background, I can vividly recall filling up application forms for funding when SPMF had just been rolled out. I would use the funds to pay for my meals during recess, transport, and uniforms and books.

If you were one of the 13,000 runners who participated in The Straits Times Run 2018 last weekend, then you have also made an important contribution in supporting this worthy cause.

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Jed participated with his nephew and niece in The Straits Times Run last weekend, with an aim to inculcate the habit of giving back to social causes. Photo credits: RUNONE / MOK YING REN


Impact ‘one starfish at a time’

While serving in the social services sector, I met a  primary school boy who stayed in a one-room rental flat with his single mother and four siblings. His mum was working multiple odd jobs and was unable to commit to full-time regular employment as she had to take care of her children who were frequently ill. As a result, the boy was undernourished, slept poorly, and clearly lacked the energy a young boy should have. Later, we discovered that he had been bullied and mocked at school due to his family circumstances. He refused to attend school henceforth.  

While this boy’s situation may not necessarily be representative of all underprivileged children, he is certainly not the only one. Perhaps one might be tempted to think that youths are at a stage in life where multiple stress factors are part and parcel of their maturing and that we as adults are not able to make much difference to their situation. But nothing can be further from the truth. In the case of the schoolboy mentioned earlier, with a little support, he was able to overcome his odds courageously!

As the saying goes, you might not be able to save every starfish on the beach, but to each starfish saved, you make all the difference. You too can help contribute indirectly by participating in a community run like the Straits Times Run, or directly by rallying your running group to befriend/mentor the children and youths through the VWOs (as mentioned in the 29 July article). You will be pleasantly surprised by the resilience and courage these children embody, in pursuing a life of dignity and independence.

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As the saying goes, Jed believes that you can make a difference to one starfish at a time. Photo credits: RUNONE / MOK YING REN


Give (what you can) eagerly

While more than 10,000 children and youth benefit from the SPMF every year, I also learned from my interaction with social workers that current funding support is insufficient. Furthermore, in recent years, the SPMF has revised the criteria and expanded application touch points, to support more needy households and ensure that help is readily available, especially for those who might fall through the cracks. As a result, the need for support and funding is expected to increase.

While a majority of charity and social causes depend on the donations from big corporates and philanthropists, we as individuals can also give what we can. It could be a widow’s penny, but it’s truly the thought that counts. Do consider championing a cause you feel the tug for in your running club, or your company.

If you too have the opportunity to do good and are eager to remember the children and youth from low-income families, you can also donate through SPMF’s website (www.spmf.org.sg/how-to-donate). Don’t forget to encourage your running kakis to give too!

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Jed takes part in runs that champions social causes regularly. He believes that every runner can play a part in giving back to altruistic causes through running. Photo credits: RUNONE / MOK YING REN
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Jed Senthil is a former civil servant who serves professionally in the social and social enterprise sectors. The avid runner and youth advocate is also the co-founder of the RunONE running community.

RunONE – Straits Times Run 2018 Official Training Partner

22 Sep 2018 – Returning back with RunONE as the official training partner for the Straits Times Run 2018, ONEathlete Mok Ying Ren had tailored a 16-week-long series of a training program and running-related columns to prepare runners for this event. In partnership with Straits Times, Mok also hosted a #RunWithMok column which incorporated, for the first time, an interactive #AskMok segment that invites readers and runners to ask Mok any running-related question. To cap off the series of preparation leading up to the race, Mok also hosted a race clinic on 22 Sep at the Straits Times Run race expo where he took to the stage and shared his running and training experience.

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The Sunday Times 23 Sep 2018 

As many among the audience were racing the Straits Times Run the next day, Mok peppered his talk and Q&A session with behind-the-scenes insights on the preparation he himself had gone through before his races. He also addressed queries on race day execution and provided his personal perspectives and helpful tips on training, hydration, injury prevention. Questions on running shoe selection and foot striding styles seemed to be popular too.

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Mok Ying Ren using his New Balance shoe to explain on foot striding styles.

Through his sharing, Mok hopes to help more individuals overcome their fear and reluctance and encourage them to be a part of the growing running community in Singapore. He has observed, over the past few years, a healthy sign that more Singaporeans are taking to sports as part of an active lifestyle, and wants to do his part to help promote and encourage this movement.

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The talk by Mok Ying Ren was attended by more than 60 ST Run participants.
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Mok Ying Ren with some of the non-camera shy participants who attended his talk.

RunONE would like to take the opportunity, to thank #STRun2018 Chairman & Committee, New Balance, 100PLUS and Infinitus for their support in making the session possible!

 

Read more about the ST Run 2018 race event HERE 

Read more about what you can do-post ST Run, on this week’s #AskMok HERE 

 

ONEathlete Ben Moreau wins ONE at Straits Times Run 2018!

23 Sep 2018 – ONEathlete Ben Moreau took home the top honors in the Straits Times Run 2018 Men’s 18.45km category, winning in a time of 62 mins 46 secs, which was over 1 minute quicker than last year’s winner, Kenyan runner James Karanga. It was his maiden run in this race! (Top featured image by Straits Times Run Facebook)

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Article was published on Straits Times on 24 September HERE 

Ben, a previous Commonwealth Games representative, has steadily chalked up a series of race wins in the past few months, such as the Performance Series 10km as well as the inaugural ‘King of the Hills’ race, and demonstrated that he still has the legs to not let age (and his rivals) catch up with him.

 

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The trio ONEathlete who finished the race with no sweat!
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Evan (centre) sharing a post-race moment with fellow ONEathlete and national marathoner Ashley Liew (right), with RunONE co-founder Jed (left)

 

In the Men’s 10km category, ONEathlete Evan Chee finished as the fastest Singaporean and 4th overall with a time of 37 mins 7 secs. Evan, who is turning 38, is also showing no signs of slowing as he heads into peak race season in Singapore. He placed 3rd (Local Men’s) at Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2017 and is looking to better his results this year. He has also recently shared his thoughts on Masters running where he hoped to promote and encourage the idea of running as an inclusive sport for everyone, regardless of age, gender and athleticism. This was also echoed by Guest-of-Honour, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who praised the event for being inclusive, and said: “It is great to see people of different backgrounds coming together here today.”

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ONEathlete Ashley Liew who also ran his maiden ST Run, finished 7th overall, and 3rd local in the 10km category, was in high spirits post-race. Ashley’s last marathon was at the Gold Coast, and it seems like he will now have some tips for his counterpart who will be participating in the 2019 Edition, as part of his Champion prize! The prize was sponsored by Tourism Queensland for the Straits Times Run 2018!

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Minister MCCY Ms Grace Fu together with National Marathoner Mok Ying Ren (right), Ashley Liew (middle), Evan Chee (right) and RunONE Co-founder Jed Senthil (2nd fr right). Photo by Ming Ham

In returning to the Sports Hub after a 2-year hiatus when the race venue relocated to the  F1 Pit Building and Padang, the 6th edition of the race saw over 13,000 participants, most of whom were eyeing the uniquely memorable opportunity of being able to finish the race inside the 55,000-seat national stadium.

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The ONE Family at the Sports Stadium

Kelly Latimer and Ross had the uphill task of getting the moods up on the early Sunday morning! Despite the 5am flag-off, the mood at the start was lively and electrifying as participants got ready to enjoy the scenic route. Unlike in 2017 where the race started on the Esplanade Bridge, this year’s route was a nod to its original venue at the Sports Hub.

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The 10km runners at the start line! 

 

Read more about the STRun Festival & Mok Ying Ren’s Race Clinic HERE 

Read more about what you can do-post ST Run, on this week’s #AskMok HERE 

ST: You have done it!

This article was first published in The Straits Times on 25 Sep 2018, post-race of Straits Times Run 2018. 

MOK YING REN – Congratulations on completing your race! 

I hope you have all managed to achieve your goals! Now, it is time to treat your bodies to some well-deserved rest. 

Back in 2013, right after my SEA Games marathon race, I remember having to catch the first flight back to Singapore to return to my Medical Officer Cadet Course. Within a matter of days, I was back to carrying field packs and simulating casualty evacuation casualties with an incredibly sore body. It was definitely not an ideal recovery plan, but inevitable as I was still serving my national service then. 

Unlike what I had gone through, you need not, and should not, undertake physical stress so soon after a long and intense race.

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Mok Ying Ren running past the Sports Hub, where the Straits Times Run 2018 finishing point and festival village was held. He recommends that the participants take a break to recover and catch up on other commitments. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Recovery 

It is key to recover well from any bout of strenuous activity. 

I know that some of you may be feeling great now and you may even be tempted to think: what is there to recover from? Well, the bad news is that any soreness which you may experience will only come to bear, much later! (my guess is probably Tuesday)! 

If you recall the supercompensation theory which we had introduced earlier, you would be aware that your body is currently undergoing a major overhaul to bring you to the next fitness level. However, this can only happen with sufficient rest and recovery. 

Sleep plays a huge role in this process of supercompensation. It should not be a problem for you to sleep a little more now since you no longer have to wake up for early morning runs (for a while at least)! 

Once the soreness wears off, you may feel a natural urge to get back to running. Instead of falling into that temptation, do some other non-weight-bearing activities, such as swimming or cycling for another week (or two).  This will help to enhance your recovery and reduce the risk of injury. 

Even when returning to running, always err on the side of caution, and keep your initial runs to 20 to 30 minutes long at a conversational pace.

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Remember to stretch all the aches on your body! 

Work out niggles 

During the training season, you may also have suffered from various aches and pains which were simply ignored. Now is the best time for you to sort out all these issues and allow your body to heal. 

If necessary, you may also wish to visit a physical therapist and have a biomechanical assessment to identify specific areas of weakness. You may then work on these specific areas to prevent recurrence of pain or injury. From my experience, small deposits of therapy and pre-rehabilitation work on a regular basis can bring you huge gains, in terms of the number of your “running years”.

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Show appreciation

I am sure that you have spent countless hours training in preparation for your race. But I am also sure that it would not have been possible without the support of your loved ones – it is time to reciprocate their support for you. 

Too often, we take many things, like having a warm meal waiting for us at home after a long day of work and training, for granted. Show your appreciation to those who have cared for and supported you.

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Happy to take overall 7th (local 3rd) at my maiden @straits_times Run 10km yesterday. It was a great outing with fellow #ONEathlete @evanchee also placing well in the 10km and @ben_moreau on fire with his overall win in the 18.45km! 🔥 Thanks to the @onemanagementsg family including manager @jedsent (also ran the 10km) for the race opportunity and Dr @mokyingren for the support, as well as @runningtan for the write-up (see https://runone.co/2018/09/23/runone-wins-one-at-straits-times-run-2018/). Massive shoutouts to fiancée @sandrafaustinalee for now being able to keep up with me on my final 100m sprint, fellow #KampongRunners who just conquered respective marathons, sponsor @asicssg, and Dr Kelvin Ng of Family Health Chiropractic Clinic for actively checking and adjusting my spine to keep me performing optimally! Last but not least, it was an honour reconnecting with Minister @gracefu.hy, the last time being after the 2015 Southeast Asian Games Marathon when I was still a chiropractic intern at @shermancollege. Next up, starting the season towards the @sgmarathon! #STrun2018 #STrun #TheStraitsTimes #RunONE #TeamASICS #ASICSSG #IMoveMe #FamilyHealthChiroSG #SingaporeAthletics #OneTeamSG #MCCYSG #SGsportsHub #ShermanPride #SCSM2018 #OakleySG

A post shared by Ashley Dominic Liew, DC, CACCP (@ashleyliewchiro) on

Length of recovery

How long should you be engaged in the above recovery process? That really depends on each individual.

I would generally recommend a recovery period of between 1 to 2 weeks for a half marathon and between 2 to 4 weeks for a marathon. However, what is most essential is for you to listen to your body – do not be afraid to adjust your recovery plan according to how your body feels and responds.

As my then-deputy headmaster in Raffles Institution, Mr. S Magendrian had always emphasized, “there is a season for everything”. Now is the season for recovery.

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@mokyingren

Read more about the ST Run 2018 race event HERE 

Read more about the STRun Festival & Mok Ying Ren’s Race Clinic HERE 

ST: The Final Countdown

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

#AskMok

  1. What’s your secret to training for a sub 3hour marathon? – Jason Tan
  2. I’m a 47-year-old runner, running about 30-40km a week, for 10 years. I run a marathon in 4.5hrs. What changes to my diet, training programme or pace should I make to become sub-4hrs? – David Pong

MOK YING REN – Wow, time flies! Race day is just a week away! If you are feeling nervous, don’t worry – I can assure you it’s normal. I still get the nerves even though I have completed about 100 road races in my lifetime. Here is some of my key advice to having a positive race experience.

Start Slow

Most runners make the mistake of starting the race at a pace that is too fast.

As you take your position behind the starting line, you can expect there to be loud music booming in the background, and the atmosphere during the countdown before the start of the race will definitely be hyped up and emotionally-charged. Once the race horn goes off, you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by a throng of other excited runners.

The unfamiliarity of the whole situation may elevate your adrenaline levels, and you may even feel rejuvenated, akin to having a fresh breath of life. Suddenly, the impossible no longer seems impossible.

Experienced runners will, however, tell you to hold your horses, and to take it easy for the first half of your race. This is sound advice, but by no means easy to heed.

To ensure that you start the race at the correct pace, seek out the pacers who will be running at your goal pace. Follow these pacers right from the start of the race, and try not to get ahead of them, especially in the first three-quarters of the race!

Unfortunately, if there are no suitable pacers, you will need to be your own pacer. To do so, calculate your race pace, and note down the split times that you will need to achieve at each kilometer marker. You will need to be extremely disciplined and stick as closely as possible to your planned splits.

This method, of course, depends on the accuracy of the race markers. To help with pacing accuracy and precision, you may want to use a watch with GPS capabilities, which can help keep you on target every step of the way.

If ever in doubt, go slower – there is always time to catch up later in the race!

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Mok Ying Ren during the ST Run race clinic in July 2017. This year, he will be available to fire some last minute tips at the festival village! Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Prepare Well

Assemble your race equipment well in advance and check that they are all in order.

It is unwise to try out new equipment (such as shoes or socks) on race day. It is also a misconception that wearing a brand new pair of shoes with a fresh grip and fully intact cushion will help you earn that personal best time. Instead, you are taking a risk for blisters to form, and for blood (literally), sweat and tears to flow.

Wear only shoes and socks that have been properly broken into (i.e. you have done a few runs in them). So if you have just bought a pair of shoes with the intention of wearing them for the first time on race day, please think twice!

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Mok Ying Ren answering questions and preparing runners for a recent race at a similar race clinic. He will be available to fire some last minute tips at the festival village! Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Race Etiquette

Your consideration for other runners will make the race experience a positive one for all. Small thoughtful acts, such as keeping to the left to allow for others to overtake on the right, will go a long way towards helping everyone achieve their personal bests.

While listening to music is a great way to stay motivated during the race, it may be best to turn the volume down a notch so that you remain aware of the situation around you at all times.

During long races, gestures of encouragement are always welcome and, sometimes, a godsend. Giving a thumbs-up or cheers of encouragement to a fellow runner while you are overtaking or making a U-turn can vastly uplift his or her spirit.

Remember, everyone is in the same boat and share the same goal – to complete the race in as short a time as possible and in the most enjoyable manner.

#AskMok Live! 

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If you might have any last minute questions, do come down to The Straits Times Run – Race Clinic on 22 September at 3.30pm! If you will be there to collect your race packs at the festive village, please be seated at the stage area by 3.15pm! Sign up HERE!
I’m looking forward to meeting all of you who have been following the #RunONE Training Plan for 16 weeks!

Otherwise, do race smart, stay safe and be considerate! See you on race day!

ST: Back in the days

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 09 Sep 2018

PROF LOW CHENG HOCK – My friends from primary and secondary school still meet up frequently to catch up and stay active by going for walks together. While we talk about anything and everything under the sun, a large part of our conversations revolves around nostalgic memories of our younger days spent outdoors.

In fact, when we look back, the only vivid memories for me are often of my experience doing sports, or just being out there in the great outdoors, in general. Looking back at my younger self, I could describe myself as a ‘jack of all trades’ because I would readily take on the challenge in any sports, even though I was never quite proficient in any. It is still a fond part of my memory that I’m glad to share with readers of our #RunWithMok column.

Memories of enjoying life

Running or just merely being outdoors has always been a big part of my life. During my time in primary school, our teacher would bring us running at 5.30am. Unfortunately (or fortunately), children nowadays are so busy studying around the clock that they no longer can afford the luxury of time for such simple ‘pleasures’ of life.) At that time, running was totally voluntary and, judging from the turnout, we all simply enjoyed it! In fact, our teacher and his wife were inspirational figures who led by example They coached us to run, motivated us to train, and rallied us to do our part for society and raise funds for charity (through running, of course).

I was an avid sports fan, just not the spectator-kind. I had an eye for the graceful footwork of badminton and also enjoyed the rigors of a heart-thumping soccer match. I have also cycled to Malaysia with my cycling ‘kakis’. In fact, the bicycle was my go-to choice to commute during medical school. I started exercising and playing sports to keep fit, but the leisure and pleasure of good company kept me going. Being the non-athlete I am, the social undertones of sports took some (not all) pressure off me and allowed me to immerse myself in whatever sports I had chosen as my poison.

Memories of adventures

In my younger days, I liked sailing and would sail in the waters off West Coast Park with my medical school classmates. I remember  Dr. Ben Tan, who introduced the sport to me and taught me the basics. On one such voyage, our rowing boat (with a makeup sail) had capsized somewhere near Pulau Bukom, at a particularly high-traffic part in the middle of (apparently) nowhere! But being young, we were fearless in that situation and just calmly floated in the choppy waters, until rescue came to some 30 mins later.

Some years ago, I went to visit an old friend who was a surgeon-turned-missionary and ran a rural hospital at a dizzying altitude of 5000 feet up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. During this ‘holiday’, I helped out at the hospital and treated a Masai (local native) patient with several wounds, some of which even needed surgery. I later found out that he had wrestled with a lion that had attacked his cattle. Fortunately, he recovered well enough to return to his hometown up in the mountains. It was a blessing in disguise because I got to accompany this gentleman on an unforgettable long and scenic hike through some of the most breathtaking views and wilderness Mother Earth can offer. I’m glad I had scaled Mount Kinabalu with a group of young doctors, as the experience came in handy too.

Being able to even conquer such challenging terrain at my age, was a blessing, that allowed me to meet fellow explorers who, more often than not, would have adventurous stories to share. I used to tackle the trails at Bukit Timah, starting from the dairy farm side and leading up to the summit. On a good day, this would give me about an hour or so to catch up with my friends. Till today, I still swim, walk and hike whenever possible.

Mok Ying Ren (seen in picture) was inspired by his medical teacher and mentor, Prof Low’s life philosophy, shaped by the latter’s experience with the outdoors and active lifestyle. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE
Mok Ying Ren (seen in picture) was inspired by his medical teacher and mentor, Prof Low’s life philosophy, shaped by the latter’s experience with the outdoors and active lifestyle. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Memories of being time efficient

The time we have is for us to decide, but definitely within us to manage As a doctor, I would always try to finish rounds and necessities so that I can have time for exercise. I didn’t want to be too desk-bound and would try, schedule permitting, to slot in a visit to the beach, arrange a picnic or a camping trip over the weekends.

Looking back, it was really about setting priorities. If something was important, then it would only be logical to make time for it. Being physically active is one of these things. But you think you have time and can wait for important things, it will one day become urgent. When you are lying on the hospital bed clutching your chest, suffering from a heart attack, your health becomes an urgent condition that needs to be treated. Taking care of the important things regularly prevents them from becoming urgent.

Memories of running my race

In my years as a doctor, I remember vividly there was once a runner and conquered a marathon 3 months after completing his chemotherapy therapy for leukemia. This despite finishing last, and in visible pain as he crossed that finish line. He did his level best and won HIS race! He taught me that winning the race is not always about coming in first, and we can’t be first all the time.  Finishing the race is also winning the race. It’s just as important!

The story of Rick (who suffers from cerebral palsy) and his ‘triathlon’ dad, Dick Hoyt, is equally inspiring. To fulfill his son’s wishes, Dick had completed a triathlon, his first, while towing Rick along with him. A race completed to the best of his own abilities, no less and the pair were later inducted to the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008.

In both cases, neither age nor physical ability was a limiting factor in running their race. My experience and belief have shown me that there is no ‘right’ age, but a correct mentality for anything and everything we seek to accomplish and achieve. Every age is the right age, in its own way. Whether one chooses to run, jog or walk, as long as you enjoy ‘running my race’ leisurely and complete or compete, to the best of your abilities, that’s what matters the most.

Conclusion

So you can see how running, sports and the great outdoors can be physically beneficial, as well as memorable in more ways than one. Don’t worry about getting old; worry about thinking old. Regardless of age, the outdoors hold much in its promise, as it is for you, and me.

Professor Low Cheng Hock is an Emeritus Consultant for General Surgery. The 73 year old educator leads an independent and active lifestyle, and is renowned for inspiring many young medical students/professionals, like Mok Ying Ren.
Professor Low Cheng Hock is an Emeritus Consultant for General Surgery. The 73 year old educator leads an independent and active lifestyle, and is renowned for inspiring many young medical students/professionals, like Mok Ying Ren.
The article was scribed by Mok Ying Ren and Jed Senthil for Professor Low Cheng Hock.
The article was scribed by Mok Ying Ren and Jed Senthil for Professor Low Cheng Hock.

ST: Not an uphill task!

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

#AskMok

  1. Do we really need to do slope training? My coach wants us to do this often but I’m wondering if it might cause injuries. – Anonymous
  2. In what way is slope training beneficial? Or how can we use this to our benefit? –  Yulin

Champion of the 1972 Olympic marathon, Frank Shorter, once said,“Hills are speedwork in disguise”. Hills training was introduced to me by my training partner, Jason Lawrence, early in my running journey. Since then, we would then integrate hills into our weekly training programme without fail.

Some of the more “memorable” hills I have tackled –” in terms of the pain level – are Mount Faber, Vigilante Drive (a small slip of road off South Buona Vista Road), and just about every other corner within the National University of Singapore.

I was once told, “When you are fit, every hill is flat”. Truth be said, no hill has ever felt flat to me, not even when I had just won the 2013 SEA Games marathon. So, either I was never truly fit enough, or that statement was meant more to encourage than motivate. Regardless, hill training does greatly benefit runners. Here’s how:

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1. Increases your speed

Running on short hills between 50 to 80 meters long allows you to work on your power and speed. For this kind of workout, begin by leaning in, and then sprint up the hill at your maximum speed. You may walk back down the hill slowly until you feel ready to repeat the sprint. Repeat them for 5 to 10 times as you progress over the weeks.

Do note that this workout may be rather intensive and, to avoid muscle injury, should only be tackled after completing a thorough warm up.

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2. Enhances your form

Running on hills forces you to focus on your running form in a natural manner. When running uphill, your body’s natural response is to lean forward and run “into” the hill – it is quite impossible to run uphill with your body leaning backward. Over time, this optimal natural running form may be adopted and carry over to your regular runs on flat surfaces.

For this workout, find a hill between 100 to 200 meters long and practice running smoothly uphill with your body leaning slightly forward. Focus on running tall, while driving your knees forwards and swinging your arms. Do not worry about your speed!

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3. Builds your endurance

Hill training builds great muscular endurance in your legs and boosts your overall physical fitness levels, as you are required to work against gravity. Gradually, these improvements will become apparent in your runs on flatter routes. s.

My preferred hill to perform this type of workout would be  Mount Faber. I usually start from the bottom of the hill at Morse Road, and run all the way up to the peak of Mount Faber, before jogging back down slowly. This cycle is repeated 3 to 8 times, depending on my training stage.

Do expect to experience some soreness after each of your first few workouts! But fret not – by your 5th visit to the hill, you should not feel as much fatigue after the session.  However, do not get your hopes up (too quickly) and expect each run up the hill to feel easier within a short period of time – it took me a while and even then I still had a healthy respect (and fear) of hills! Your progression can be measured against the amount the time taken to tackle the slope or hill, all while running at the same level of intensity.

Safety Tips : Its a double-edged sword!
Despite its immense benefits, hill workouts may result in onset of injuries if not executed sensibly, most commonly strains to the muscles and tendons.

It is key to ensure adequate recovery between each hill workout session. I would strongly advise that you engage in intensive hill training only once every fortnight.

All that said, it’s evident that hill training injects variety into your training programme and causes less trauma and stress to the joints with its upward motion. Do it wisely and you will reap great benefits from the arduous workout sessions!


Week 14 Giveaway:

Running on short hills between _____ meters long allows you to work on your power and speed. 

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

Evan during his Gold Coast Marathon in July 2018. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / CHEW JEE KENG

ST: Master running as you age

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 26 Aug 2018

EVAN CHEE – Running for me is a sport and a journey that started in 1990. Changi Airport Terminal 2 had only started operations that year, and our East-West MRT line was just completed. That also happened to be the year I raced with my Primary 4 class 4x100m relay team, in what felt like a lifetime ago.

Fast forward 28 years later, I still put on my racing shoes and compete regularly in both local and overseas races, taking on distances which include the fabled 42.195km marathon. At this age, it is natural to ask whether one can be too old to run a marathon, or do better results await in the days (and miles) ahead? Unfortunately for those young-at-heart, existing literature and research seem to suggest the former. Seize the moment. Time and tide wait for no man, let alone an athlete. While a runner’s aerobic capacity, muscles mass, and recovery inevitably decline with age, not all is lost. At least that’s how my story would read.

Believe that it’s possible

At the age of 35, I clocked my (then) personal best marathon timing of 2:56 at the 2015 Singapore Marathon and placed 3rd in the local men’s open category. Barely 12 months ago, I lowered that mark by 14 mins to attain my current personal best record of 2:42 at the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Today, my passion for running still burns strongly as ever. Just as I am clocking faster timings across all race distances, than my legs ever did in their youth, I’m looking forward eagerly towards sub 2:40. Benjamin Button is real, as it would appear.

My sister, Yvonne Chee, similarly ran her personal best marathon (3:23) last year at the age of 37. I recall that she was visibly pregnant during the Straits Times Run 2017. Even after giving birth to my niece this year, she is becoming fitter than ever and even ran the 2018 London marathon 5 months postpartum.

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The Chee Siblings, Evan, and Yvonne. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE

Be aware of potential challenges

As we age, our muscles and tendons become more injury-prone due to accumulated wear and tear. Recognising this helped me manage the issue before it gets out of hand. I would always allow time for my body to be conditioned during the start of any training cycle before ramping up the intensity. It also helps if you can build up a strong aerobic base with 3 months of easy runs (conversational pace) under your belt. Here are some of the key training principles that have guided me along the way:

  • Progressive – Increase your weekly mileage progressively till you reach your target peak training mileage. Rule of thumb for weekly increment – about 10%. The ceiling to which you increase your mileage to will be dependant on your fitness and experience level. It will be wise to seek help from a coach if in doubt.
  • Effective – 80% of training should be easy runs. Mix in good quality speed sessions with enjoyable easy runs. You don’t have to always run hard.
  • Variety – Vary the terrain you run on and don’t stick to the same type of running surface. Adding gravel, trails, and grass to your list is good for training and also helps with fitness maintenance.
  • Consistency – Make regular running a part of your lifestyle. This is key to improving and building up fitness. Find time to run, not excuses.

As Dr. Malcolm Mahadevan had mentioned in his earlier article, an aged body is less forgiving to intensive training and therefore it is important to know your body and not overstrain it. Here are some training safety tips, especially for masters/senior runners in the box insert, by Associate Consultant of NUH Sports Centre, Dr. Wang Mingchang.

SAFETY TIPS FOR SENIOR RUNNERS

  • Undergo Pre-participation Screening

Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is more common in older athletes, especially if there is a preexisting family history. It is recommended for older endurance athletes to undergo pre-participation cardiac screening. They are also advised to seek medical help if they develop exertional chest pains, unexplained breathlessness or fainting spells during exercise.

  • Tweak your running volume

Degeneration of articular cartilage(e.g. in the knee joint) occurs with age and is the most common cause of musculoskeletal pain and disability in senior runners. Running can still be done with adjustments in running volume depending on symptoms. By strengthening the hip and core muscles, improving running biomechanics and reducing stresses to the knee joint, physical therapy may also help to alleviate and/or address the symptoms.

  • Maintain muscle strength

Tendons, such as the Achilles’ tendon in the heel, tend to become stiffer with age and are therefore more prone to injury. Older endurance athletes are encouraged to maintain muscular strength through resistance training and flexibility routines (e.g. stretching after runs) to reduce the risk of tendon injury.
Dr. Wang Mingchang

Associate Consultant, NUH Sports Centre

Be conscious of recovery

Over the years, I have come to realize that my recovery has become slower while taking up more time and mindful attention. What has greatly benefited me is a keen knowledge of my body, and its limits, and the clockwork-like recovery sessions in my training regime. For as long as I can remember, there would always be a rest day (usually Monday) after an entire week of training. On occasions, I have also replaced training runs with cross training sessions such as cycling or core strengthening exercises when I have felt the need to afford more rest for my fatigued body. In triathlon, there’s a saying that besides swim, bike, and run, recovery is the 4th and most important discipline. Having a regular recovery maintenance regime is definitely an integral, and important, part of training. Let’s not forget – your body also needs to be ‘pampered’ regularly and this is why I make it a point to arrange for a sports massage session fortnightly.

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Evan during a training run with the Adidas Runners. Photo credits: AIK SOON / Adidas Singapore

Make time for personal commitments

As we grow and mature, our lives are hardly run single-mindedly with a child-like insistence and innocence (much as some of us would have preferred). Instead, we have come to realize, and for reasons good and bad, that there is more to our lives that exist outside of the track, like friends, family, food, and work (unfortunately). For me, I have a habit of scheduling most of my runs first thing in the morning before everyone else is awake. This way, I allow myself quality time during later parts of the day to bond and socialize with family, attend to work commitments, or simply to relax and unwind.

If this story of one (mine) is of any encouragement, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel for runners to keep chasing, whether you are 35 years old, or young! In fact, hitting the tracks and roads regularly might just help to slow down your body clock or even wind back time. Age is nothing but a number. Someone once told me that running is a game of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter. So lace up and run on!

Evan during a training run in July 2018. Photo credits: ONEATHLETE / LIM SHU ZHEN
Evan Chee is a National Marathoner and was the 2nd Runner-up at SCSM 2018. He works as an engineering manager. The 37 year old runner has a personal best of 2:42 hrs and is managed by ONEathlete.

Week 13 Question:

“Barely 12 months ago, I lowered that mark by ___ mins to attain my current personal best record of 2:42 at the 2017 Berlin Marathon.”

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