Sub3 (拾3) part 1

Early December usually is a period of rest & relaxation. It is even more so in the last few years because the Singapore marathon always happens on the first Sunday of December. With some variation, runners typically ramp up their training to the maximum in volume and intensity until 2-3 weeks before the event and they rest a lot for 1-2 weeks after a tough race. With a very happening 2020 (trade war, Covid-19, elections in Singapore and the USA, drastic reduction of international travel, etc.), time has flown by and it has taken me awhile to realise December has arrived. Since we have no race to run, it may be time to write about it, shall we?

Running has been part of my life since junior high at St Louis school. My school had a very strong football culture, excellent basketball teams and top of the league table tennis players too. In the 70s and 80s of the last century, we were always on the podium in the three interschool sports in the Division 1 arena. On top of that, we had very formidable interschool quiz teams for the book smart boys too. Many of the quiz team boys eventually became doctors and professors later in their life.

I was not born big – I was always known to be skinny. Friends and family alike used to tease that I was not fed well enough. My hair also stood up as I usually sported a very short haircut for economic reasons. When I started kindergarten, one of my dad’s business acquaintances, Mr ST Mok, used to fondly called me ‘pineapple head’ or the ‘big head boy’. I hated those names then but now I believe I understand he was only trying to befriend his colleague’s son. He and his wife were frugal and had great family values. I had a lot of respect for them.

Being a rather inquisitive boy, I quickly came to the conclusion that I was not good enough for any of the popular sports in my school. I also noticed that runners were far and few between with almost no one expressing any specific interest in running, especially the longer distance events. In running, I also found that being a skinny small sized kid was not a disadvantage – size mattered in another way. Most importantly, I was free to experiment with training on my own terms – when, where, and how. My ex cross-country teammates will probably hate me for the following point – I found runners were odd balls and misfits in my school. Unlike ball games, where the ball players were the cool dudes and they have many rounds of competitions, cross-country competitions were far and few between. One chance only with  no redemption and no repentance. Tears were worthless.

Most schoolmates never paid too much attention to us when we headed off for training or competitions, as we were not the golden boys from other top sport teams in the school. We trained together and pretty much were on our own throughout the week, below the radar screen. Things only changed when our team went off and came back with individual 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th placing and ended up second to another better school. Hard work paid off. That became part of my value system!

Running a marathon had been a wish in my head for a long time. I had a very busy time in dental school, which was followed by another decade plus of academic and professional pursuits.  Running a marathon under 3hours had never been in my head. ‘Sub3’ pronounced like ‘拾3’ in Cantonese, was never in my thesaurus. ‘拾’ also means ‘pick up’, which in a way made ‘拾3’ sounded like an easy task.

By 2015, my kids’ running coach predicted that I was capable of running a sub3 marathon after I completed a half marathon in under 1.5 hours earlier that year. To a novice, I had little understanding of what it meant and what it took for this thing called ‘sub3’!

The mathematics was simple – 1.5 hours for a half marathon (21.1km), 3 hours for a full (42.2km). In a moment of impulse (aka weakness), I signed up to run the full marathon in December 2015 in Singapore.

(Read Sub3 part 2 here, and Sub3 part 3 here)

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