When food is a passion, thank goodness for exercise!

Top L-R: Chwee Kueh, Tiong Bahru Market; Crab Bee Hoon, from my mom’s kitchen; Banana and Walnut Pancakes with Gula Melaka Syrup, Food for Thought; Bone Marrow stuffed with Snails, Esquina Tapas Bar
Bottom L-R: Kway Chap, Serangoon Gardens Market; Clams in Tomato and Herb Broth, Pietrasanta; Beef Carpaccio with Rocket and Shaved Parmesan, Pietrasanta; Chocolate Cake, from my kitchen

Apart from cooking, the other thing that gives me a high is a good long run. This is ironic coming from me, since I used to abhor any activity which caused me to break into a sweat.  I especially disliked running, which made me feel inadequate because I was never any good at it.

It’s been about two years since I got into running.  It was January 2010. I’d just been through what must have been the toughest year of my life.  I’d switched jobs, moved the family and all our worldly possessions out of our flat and into a rented apartment, seen my mom through an emergency heart surgery and then bothparents through cancer treatment, all within the space of 8 months.  I was emotionally exhausted, and had started to feel somewhat numb from all of it.

One evening after work (the new job meant I’d get home from work with at least an hour’s worth of daylight to spare), I suddenly decided I needed some fresh air and exercise.  So I dusted off my Adidas trainers which I hadn’t seen in about a year, and went out for a jog.  I had no idea where I was going when I walked through the door.  I just ran, emptying out my mind, admiring the homes in the neighborhood and daydreaming about what our new home would look like when it was finally completed.  It felt good. So in a day or two, I did it again.  And again.  Until it became something of a habit.

I didn’t run fast. In fact, sometimes my pace would have been comparable to that of a brisk-walker.  I was probably covering no more than 3km initially, my only goal being to keep running, and to only stop when I got home. But being the ‘Type A’, result-oriented personality I am, I eventually needed a longer-term goal to keep me from getting bored (I am working on a cure from this condition).  So I signed up for a 5km race.

By then, I was probably running 3 times a week.  On the days I didn’t have to be at work, I would run in the morning.  And when it was wet, I’d run on the treadmill. There were days when I’d complete the 5km route I’d intended to run, and feel like I hadn’t gotten enough, so I’d just continue to meander my way through the housing estates and just run till I felt tired.  I began to love how running made me feel so free, yet in control. And I knew the turning point had come for me when one morning, having awoken with a migraine, I chose to try running it off instead of sleeping it off.  For a girl who used to feign menstrual cramps in order to be excused from P.E., this was significant.  And considering that I could barely manage 2.4km in the past, being able to run a 5km race was quite an achievement. Especially since I didn’t even come close to finishing last.

I did a 10km race 3 months after that 5km. Then I went on to do a 12km with the H (who’d been a middle-distance and cross-country athlete in school), which further boosted my confidence because I’d finished faster than a significant percentage of the male participants. I’d planned on doing my first half marathon in December last year but by the middle of the year I was restless, so I began training for the Army Half Marathon scheduled for September, completed the race in a respectable enough time, and went on to do another in December.

I’m never going to be among the fast runners in a race. But that’s hardly the point.  The personal challenge is what this is about.  I mean, who would have thought that the girl who once struggled in her 3-inch heels to keep up with Senior Counsel on the way to Court would one day be running half marathons? Certainly not that particular Senior Counsel, I know that for a fact.

Running gives me a sense of liberation which I’ve never experienced.  I strap my Timex around my wrist, lace up and just go. With no bag, no phone and nobody else.  For that hour or so, I tune out and relax. I love it best when there are no fixed routes, no target times, no schedules, and I just go wherever my feet take me.  Like this morning.  I’d planned on a slow 12km, because I’ve been nursing a sore foot and haven’t run longer than 9 or 10km since December. But I ended up doing something like 19 or 20. Three whole hours to myself.  I didn’t even take my iPod. Instead, I listened to the sound of my own breathing, my footfall, and the street noise; and enjoyed the quiet calm along the canal. At some point I even managed to lose my way.

Sometimes when I am preoccupied with other demands on my time or other pursuits, I start to put off running.  I’ll admit that the main reason I’ve never allowed myself to let up completely, is that I don’t want to have to replace my whole wardrobe when finally nothing fits anymore!  This is the reality, with slowing metabolism.  And because I am incapable of going on a diet to lose weight.  Yup, I wouldn’t last 3 days on a diet.  And so I come back to it even if I’ve been on a lull for awhile, and have started to forget how good it feels to be out there running.  And once I start, the high keeps me coming back for more.

Running is something I do for myself. Not because I have to, but because I want to. It makes me feel strong and free. And it leaves me believing I could take on the world.