My name is Stephen Yuen. I’m an engineer who’s maintained a moderate level of fitness throughout my 30 years so far, mostly playing basketball and a fairly stereotypical bodybuilding phase in my early 20’s. I’ve always described myself as a sprinter rather than as a runner, mainly because I never had the patience to run long distances.
I moved to Singapore with my wife in 2018 after having lived in Sydney for the first 29 years of my life, and struggled to find a form of exercise that fit into our new lifestyles. Then in August 2018, my company offered us the opportunity to take part in the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, at which point I decided (with much self- and peer-pressure) to sign up for the 10km race. This was longer than I could ever remember running, at least continuously, and I knew I would have to train to give myself a chance at doing the distance.
As with most new things I decide to pick up as a regular activity, I researched. A lot. Unfortunately, knowing everything is never quite the same as acting on it and starting training for the first time is always the hardest. My Strava profile will show that my first training run was for 1.94km on October 2nd, roughly two months from the race. Also unfortunately, I would only run 6 more times covering a maximum of 5km (though some lack of training was due to attending a funeral and it’s proceedings).
As you might expect then, the 10km race was a bit of a challenge for me and at the time, it felt like the hardest thing I’d ever done.
The first 5km were manageable and I was in good spirits as I was keeping up with some athletic-looking people.
After 6km, my hip flexor started tightening up.
At 7km, my back tightened up.
At 8km, my feet felt like I was running on knives. And not the good kind of knives.
At 9km, I had to stop and walk as I was completely gassed, and the accumulated pain of impending injuries were nigh on unbearable.
Crossing the finish line at 10km at a show and painful jog, I wasn’t feeling so much a feeling of accomplishment as I was feeling relief – relief that it was over; relief that my brief foray into distance running had told me what I’d always known about myself: I wasn’t a runner, I was a sprinter.
The week after didn’t exactly inspire me either.
I had colleagues who had entered the marathon and valiantly completed it, displaying their gargantuan medals as proof while limping around the office (well-deservedly) regaling everyone with their hard fought physical and mental battles.
Thanks to my various injuries and splitting feet ache, I was also limping around, and while I amused myself by deprecating my injuries in a humorous light, something clicked inside me and I felt a deep sense of dissatisfaction with my performance. I was reminded that what I had done was a great achievement given my athletic background, though this really only helped to fuel what happened next.
A week later, I decided that running those 10km in $40 Puma “running” shoes was probably an ill-conceived idea and set out to buy a decent pair of running shoes. I ended up with a pair of Nike Free RN 2018, which was the rekindling of my love for premium sports shoes, though that’s a story for another time.
Two weeks later in Sydney while visiting my family, I decided to start running again, this time aiming never to be as injured or frightfully unprepared for a run as I was for that first 10km. For whatever reason, I was determined to make this work as my regular exercise, and while that took some time, it’s been a tough, but rewarding, journey so far.
Fast forward to today, I’m running about 30-40km a week, with 3 more 10km races under my belt, fighting to be consistent week in and week out, and targeting to complete a full marathon by the end of November this year.
While I’m still reluctant to call myself a runner, I think I can safely say that I was wrong about myself: maybe I wasn’t just a sprinter.
All I needed was a little push.