Beating The 10K Monster

A year ago, if you told me I was going to complete a 10-kilometre run, I would have laughed till my stitches burst.

So it is with no small measure of gratitude and amazement that I completed my first 10K run last Saturday: the Marina Bay 21K Run.

Pre-race at the lovely Marina Bay Gardens East

I have God to thank, and the incredibly awesome Mr Threez, who has not only encouraged me all these past 13 months since my surgery but has, since May, picked up running to keep me company.

It felt amazing to be running a race with my husband. It’s been many years since we pursued a sport together (pizza and beer don’t count, right?). We used to kayak every Saturday, but running was never my thing. He was the marathoner before we got married; I was the step aerobics fan.

So to be able to discover and share a sport 17 years into our marriage feels incredible to me.

Okay, so how was the run?

The run was organized by Epic ESR and flagged off by MP for Mountbatten Lim Biow Chuan. (Okay, I don’t really know why I wrote that, just that reading other runners’ blogs, it seemed the thing to do!)

I won’t pretend to be a hero and tell you that I breezed through it. It was tough going! But there was a lovely energy about the crowd, and what could beat the beauty of the riverside sights?

The women runners were flagged off at 5.30 and the men at 5.40, to give us chicks some room on the narrow tracks, I suppose. “All the elite and fast runners, please come to the front,” said the host. Being neither elite nor fast, I nevertheless squeezed as close to the Start point as I could because I just feel less discouraged when I don’t see a sea of people in front of me!

The women runners had a 10-min headstart.

One lovely perk was that the National Day Parade rehearsals had begun so we were privy to some of the colorful river-borne displays on the water as we ran. At 8pm that evening, after the gun went off for the 21K runners, the fireworks took place!

The route was a main attraction for many of the runners. Marina Bay East Gardens has a running track leading to Tanjong Rhu, so you literally are running along the river for most of the time. 23 July was, apparently, the first time that track was open to the public.

The downside to this route was that it took runners through some extremely narrow points – some that forced us into single file. There were also parts where we had to run on uneven grassy patches. For the full battery of complaints, including the lack of km markers and the not-very-well-trained marshalls (poor kids), you can probably Google “Marina Bay 21K” and read your fill. In the words of my “women’s run friends” who did not sign up for this race, “The goodie bag was useless and the T-shirt is bleah.”

But I tend to run for the route, not the goodie bag. And I loved 80% of the route. Of course, there were the dreary parts along Jalan Benaan Kapal where we had to loop around to make up the kilometres to hit 10K, but getting back along the river, and especially the final stretch from Tanjong Rhu back to the Bay East Gardens, was sheer joy.

I actually felt a great urge to sprint the last 50 metres toward the Finish line! And “sprint” is not even in my vocabulary! But seeing the seconds tick – and knowing that my personal best was 1:15 for 10K during my own training – I ran like a cat on fire to cross under that yellow gantry in 1:13.

The official results came out yesterday. I ranked 189 out of 898 women runners.

Compared to the Nike Goddess 5K, this was tougher for various reasons (aside from the obvious one that it’s double the distance!). While the Nike race was hard to run because of the prohibitive heat, the Marina Bay run took a toll on my body. For the first time I felt my quadriceps ache. My back started to niggle somewhere after the 7K mark and I had to stop to stretch at one point because it just got too achey to continue. And the exercises really helped because I could clear the final 2K without much issue.

The finisher's medal. It's rather cute with the Flyer and all...

I am so, so grateful that what seemed impossible months ago has actually come to pass. God is good! Now I know how Moses felt facing that big fat ocean with 1,000,000 children of Israel as the thundering hooves of the Egyptian army bore down on him and his motley crew. And how he must have been beside himself when striking the water with his rod, the seas parted. He couldn’t have been shouting “woo-hoo!” and taking his time to saunter across. He would have been more like “Thank you, GOD! Now quick! Finish crossing this sea bed before those chariots catch up! Hurry up!”

As for Mr Threez, who, unlike me, breezed through the run without as much as an “ouch”, the flame of long distance running has been fanned into a furnace. We’ve signed up for the Standard Chartered half-marathon at the end of the year.

As I write this, I am nursing a sore left foot. The run had left me with an inflamed foot but I didn’t realise it, and happily went for Zumba on Monday and Body Combat on Tuesday. By Tuesday night I was in agony. By Wednesday I was calling Chris my physio begging her to see me even for just 5 minutes and tell me what to do. I have a plantar fasciitis-type inflammation in my foot. Chris taught me two calf-stretching exercises to do, and told me to throw away the ballet flats I was wearing because they’re killer for foot injuries. She told me to look for “stability shoes” for my Zumba/Combat classes — obviously wearing my son’s cast-off New Balance cross trainers was not doing my feet any favours.

And I thought running was a low-maintenance sport, haha!

Can’t wait to get well and get back on the road…

The Girl Who Makes Me Scream

There’s one professional I haven’t had the chance to thank for aiding me in my recovery — and that’s because I kept forgetting to take a photo with her all the months I went to see her last year.

This is my physiotherapist Chris. She is the only person who has full permission to make me scream.

Me and Chris at Physionique, where she sets me straight!

After my surgery in June last year, I could barely walk. My radical TRAM Flap forced my body into a deeply uncomfortable pose — I was bent over and my right shoulder was thrust forward. I felt kind of like this:

After three months I’d had enough. It was torture sitting down and being unable to straighten up. It hurt at night to sleep. I couldn’t lift my right arm to get my clothes off my wardrobe rack.

Chris came to mind. It’s a story too long to tell but we had done a Nuskin business together many years ago in our lives, and I recalled she was a physiotherapist. I had never been to her professionally, but I knew she had an amazing bedside manner, and hopefully wouldn’t be too hard on me.

I hunted for Chris’ number in my phone — and amazingly, even after nearly 7 years, I still had it. Even more amazingly, she was still at the same number, and yes, she was now back to being a physio.

I went to see her at Physionique, a really cool, brightly lit physio and sports therapy centre at 8 On Claymore. I shuffled in through the door, and she was like, “What happened to you?!!”

Seeing Chris was great — she had not changed one bit. She is tiny but the woman is super, super fit. Toned arms, tight butt with the face of a 10-year-old. And she always had the best hair—funky, colored and spiky!

Chris eyeballed me with some sympathy—but not enough to go easy on me. She taught me to stretch my right arm using the wall (“Owwwww!”), to bend to one side till I felt like my really-tight-torso was going to rip open, and she would massage my stiff right shoulder with that mix of pain and comfort that only she can. She may be small but she is strong!

As the weeks progressed, she gave me “homework” to do—after every session she wrote down a list of exercises for me to practise daily. I would diligently do all the stretches she gave me because, truly, they made me feel more flexible and my posture did begin to inch back to some semblance of normality.

What a departure from my teen years when I was forced to undergo physio for two years at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. At the age of 12, I discovered I had scoliosis — a wedge-shaped vertebra twisted my lower back into an S-shaped curve (it’s still there) — and had to quit all my extra-curricular activities (including my beloved National Cadet Corps) because marching, running, jumping, etc was deemed to be harmful to my spine. On top of that, I had to wear a prosthesis in my left school shoe, because my left leg was an inch shorter than my right. And every Wednesday I would go with my Dad to his workplace at TTSH, do revisions till 10am, then walk over to the Physio department where my stern (but pretty) physio made me do an hour of excruciating and seemingly “stupid” exercises. I hated physio – I felt like a freak. But being forced to do the exercises did actually reduce the degree of my spinal curvature, and to this day there are a few of those exercises I still do whenever my lower back seizes up.

Chris brought all those memories back for me, only this time I was much better motivated to obey my physiotherapist! After seeing her for about three months, she released me. I had improved over the weeks, and as long as I kept practising the exercises I would keep getting better.

Yesterday I went to see Chris because I’m training for a 10K run in 10 days. I’m running up to 8km now, which is pretty good for me, but am experiencing stiffness in my right lower back, and a painful lump in my left heel. Chris was pleased and surprised to see I had been keeping fit — to hear it from her was gratifying! I mean, not many of us can tell “toned” from “skinny” but she’s a pro.

Chris said I’m just not stretching enough. She took me through some deep stretching exercises — I need to do them after every run — to help me decompress my lower back. For my heel — my Planta Fascitis — it’s a matter of not stretching my left calf enough. She made it sound so simple, but those 40 minutes I spent with her yesterday will serve me well for the weeks and months to come (if I do sign up for that Standard Chartered run…).

To begin with I was really, really happy that Chris did not tell me, “Sorry, Threez but running’s not for scoliosis patients,” which is something I have heard over and over again throughout my life. She’s a runner too, and she laughed when I told her I was glad she was greenlighting me to run.

As an extra treat, yesterday she made me lie on my face as she worked the hard knot out of my lower back — I ooh’d and owww’d a lot! Only Chris gets to hurt me like that, haha.

So, Chris, if you’re reading this, I credit you for my recovery. Whenever people ask me how I got back on my feet I always tell them I have an amazing physiotherapist who knows just what to do. You’ve been a pivotal part of my getting all better, and I’m so grateful for you.