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Running Therapy by Joline Tang Imm Lee

These days, I wake up by 6am almost every morning to go for a run. I'll be in bed by midnight. Not very unusual some may say, especially for those who run. Seasoned runners have been doing this for years. This has been my routine for only the past 2 and a half years, since I took up running in September 2009. That is a far cry from my former life - going to bed in the wee hours of the morning and crawling out of bed in time for lunch.

Needless to say, running has turned my life around, a 180 degree turn for the better. You may wonder what made me pick up running in 2009, or why so late, as I have a younger sister, Jessica, who is a running fiend and my dad, Jerry, who has been running for years, since his days in the air force, until today. Event though I started running quite late in life, I'm just glad I did.

Before 2009, I was unhealthy and unfit, to put it mildly. I ate only junk food and drank way too much coke and coffee. Working insane hours, the days and nights just passed me by. Running was not something I ever considered, the only running I did was running and dashing in and out of mindless meetings and coma inducing brain storming sessions for work. Climbing up stairs was a pain – a serious physical pain as I smoked too much. My lungs would hurt as I wheezed like an asthmatic patient by the time I reach the landing. It was during one of this asthmatic episodes that I thought to myself, this is sheer madness. I was wheezing so hard and struggling to catch my breath, death seemed imminent. To make matters worse, it was a particularly mind numbing day at work and my 30th birthday was looming. My physical health was shot and my fitness level was zilch. Also, I had just got news that a good friend of mine had died. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, seeing the shrink and going on anti-depressants was not an option I considered. Me, my colleagues and many people around me were in some alternative forms of therapies, which includes one or more of the following - illegal substance, liquid therapy, retail therapy, food therapy etc. Sigh. Perhaps running was therapy. My sister seemed very happy after every run. It was not one of those genius aha moments, rather more like a brick falling on my head kind of instance. Something had to give, this was definitely not the way to live anymore.

So, I got home and announced to my family, “I want to start running”. My sister made arrangements for me to join Runners Malaysia that Saturday. And the rest, as some might say is history. I've not stopped running since. In running, I've met great friends and fellow running enthusiasts. Running clubs like Runners Malaysia and great running friends have made running extra fun. The sharing and exchange of running information, as well as encouragement and motivation has proven to be necessary and useful. Although the advice given to me has been varied, such as “the talk test” - being able to run and talk at the same time means you are doing alright. However, my sister says the complete opposite, “if you can still talk while you are running, it means you are not running hard enough”. Also, I've inevitably picked up runningspeak; arguably a new language which warrants a dictionary of its own, with many new words and phrases, and previously known words that have now taken on different meanings such as pace, pacer, carbo load, fartlek, threshold training, hit the wall, glycogen depletion etc. And a whole slew of acronyms VO2 max, PBs, PRs, LSD, R.I.C.E. etc.

Like many runners, I've taken part in road races; starting out with 10km and later the 21km. As for the full marathon, not just yet but definitely in the next couple of years. The milestones in running has been a fantastic journey and will continue to be. In the beginning, I was struggling to complete 6km and then the 10km double hill. Once I could complete 10km, I trained hard to complete 10km in sub 60 minutes, sub 55 minutes and now I try to maintain that. Later, together with my running friends, we attempted the half marathon. I've also started trail running with my sister, taking part in a few trail run races, like the Perhentian Island Challenge and Yam Tuan Antah Challege. It has certainly been a fun adventure indeed.

A fun day out with running friends at the Pacesetter Relay 2012, Padang Merbok, Kuala Lumpur.

In running, I've had the opportunity to meet many interesting characters and personalities. Running moms and dads who run despite juggling their hectic and chaotic schedules, balancing their work and home responsibilities like well oiled machines. Marathon and ultra marathon maniacs who run long distances in spite of the pain, both physical and mental. The weekend warriors who pound the roads, come rain or shine on Saturdays and Sundays. Newbies, who run and persevere despite the initial struggle. Colourful and daring runners who dress to kill, leaving little to the imagination, showing off their fit physique. Running couples who flaunt their relationships by holding hands while running. hardcore runners who measure every training session down to the seconds with the ultimate goal of performing at races. Technical runners who can talk to you about running shoes and all things running in such detail at the drop of a hat – you suspect they are walking encyclopaedias on running. Generous runners who coach other runners on weekday mornings and weekends. Volunteers and supporters who give of their time and effort during races, such as taking photographs of runners, just so that we can have images of ourselves running – to fondly look back and reminisce races. And despite all our differences, we have one thing in common – our love for running.

With running friends after PJ Half Marathon 2011, Petaling Jaya

For all these reasons, I'm so glad I started running. I look forward to my solitary runs on weekdays and weekend long runs with my sister and friends, when we pound the roads together. We all run, encouraging each other with quick waves as we pass each other, shouting quick words of encouragement or even just quick nods and smiles knowing that the other runner knows and enjoys his or her run just as much as you do.

So, yes, running has indeed changed my life to say the least. I eat balanced meals, just so that I would have the energy to run the next day. Copious amounts of sugary soda are now things of the past. These days its water, recovery and protein drinks. Smoking is now a former vice replaced by the penchant for the runner's high. Running has taught me so much; determination and patience when training and keeping my ego in check. I had coffee with friends and ex-smoking partners from my former life recently, “So, you like running now, yeah?” they asked quizzically. I nodded affirmatively. “Waking up at ungodly hours, pounding the road in the rain and getting drenched or in the hot sun and sweating like a pig, getting ugly blackened toe nails, blisters on your feet, all this makes you happy now?” they questioned persistently. So, I assured them and smiled. “Yes, it does, running makes me happy.”


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