How I Became A Better Runner
Cherlynn Sim / @chechepompom
Casual distance runner, big fan of running gear, not as big a fan of running (or trying to keep up with) her husband
The longest race I have run is 65km. I have covered distances across the globe in various countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, New York, and of course, Singapore. I have raced on different types of terrains, with one of the most challenging being a mountain trail in Hong Kong whose peak was close to 934 meters. Despite these seemingly superhuman achievements, I am not what usually comes to mind when you think of someone who is looking forward to doing her next 50-kilometre run. I am, admittedly, not very competitive; I will not run until I have to throw up, contrary to many athletes’ accounts of training till their lunch comes up the wrong way. I also prefer running with my friends instead of my husband who has lightning heels, Instead, my friends indulge me by going at a slower pace so we can chat while running.
During races, I am as human as the next person who is struggling through their workout, wondering what possessed them to do it in the first place. In these tough times, I find motivation in human comforts. Get to the next checkpoint, I tell myself, and you can have a Coke. Or I make promises to reward myself with a hot shower, indulgent dinner and maybe even some wine and cheese after I finish the race. Sometimes I turn to the real superhumans I look up to, like elite ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter who runs ten times the distance I do. If she can run ten times more, then why can’t I do ten times less?
I also made mistakes, some of which resulted in injuries, when I first started running. I’m a heel striker, which means that when I run, I tend to land on my heels, which hits the ground first followed by the rest of my foot. It becomes a problem when you land with your knee fully extended and your heel hits the ground in front of your body instead of squarely underneath your hips. This is called overstriding. I noticed that I do it sometimes after my friends started taking photos and videos of me running. When you overstride, you tend to hit the ground with a straight knee, which leaves the joint vulnerable in the sense that it absorbs most of the impact of the landing, This repeated stress on my knee, coupled with me failing to stretch at times, probably resulted in the iliotibial band syndrome or ITB syndrome I suffer from, a build-up of inflammation in my outer knees. I still want to be able to continue running for a long time, so I try my best to run with the correct form - that is, I make sure my strides land within the hip area when I run, not over or under, and roll out the knots in my injury whenever I can.
I also was not aware that I should do strength training to complement my runs when I first started running. Since I intend to run for a long time, I cannot rely solely on my legs to take me through my runs and races. I have to train other parts of my body like my core, quads and glutes so they can shoulder some of the impact when I run, which saves my knees from absorbing all the shock and getting injured. My dad, a 70ish-year-old ultra marathon runner who still runs over 100 kilometers now, says the reason he has managed to keep running for so many years is because he does a lot of strength training. If I had known strength training was essential, I would have done it earlier, but as they say, better late than never - I now do barre training, dance and light weightlifting to support my running.
I may do some superhuman things that many people wouldn’t dream of or even want to do, but I’m as human as they come. I’ve come a long way from my very first run, an impressive 400 meters on the treadmill before I gave up. But I still struggle during tough races, and I make mistakes that have resulted in injuries, some of which still haven’t gone away. But I learn from my mistakes. I’m chasing the feeling you get when you do something you love, that motivates you to learn from your mistakes so you can continue doing it for a long time. That’s how I feel about running. That’s what keeps me going.
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