Monday, 20 April 2015

Running On The Other Side

Team 2ndskin Principal, Eugene decided on a life-changing move with his family late last year and he has been living in Melbourne, Australia for the last 5 months. The team caught up with him when he was back recently for some work, and he regaled us with his experience of the running culture Down Under. We're sharing here, what he said with all of you.
Running On The Other Side
15km Done!
Having been in the Malaysian running scene since 2007, I've had my fair share of seeing races and events sprouting every weekend, more and more of the mass community taking up the sport and engaging in a healthier lifestyle. Its inspiring and motivating to see people from all walks of life and age, lace up their shoes and head out for a jaunt. I truly believe that running in Malaysia will become bigger and the response will be greater, which bodes well for the lifestyle of the future generation.

Fast forward from 2007 to December 2014. Landing on new shores and taking time to settle in, i only gradually started running again in Melbourne in January 2015, with some easy short runs to get back in the groove.
Settling down in one of the Eastern suburbs located midway between the City Centre and the mountain ranges, every direction I look outside my door, i see rolling terrain. And it is because of the terrain that I believe I have somewhat improved in my running performance. One of 2ndskin's best selling shirts has the saying "Hills are speedwork in disguise" emblazoned across the chest, and that's a fact. I say, if you want to improve on your speed and strength, take to the hills, and take them on! The harder you go, the flatter they seem after a while.

What about the running culture you ask? From my opinion, running as a lifestyle seems to have been ingrained in the community for many many years. Its a different sort of environment, where local events don't offer shirts, finisher medals or goodie bags, but runners sign up with a fee just to push themselves against their own timing and other competitors and feel good about it.

I wanted to experience first hand what "small scale" running events were like, so I signed up for a 15km challenge in February. A simple straightforward run of 3 laps of 5km with timing results and hot pancakes at the finish line pulled some 450 odd runners to the start line for 3 categories of 5km, 10km and 15km. No medal to show for it, no shirt to wear after the run, just me against my watch and the guy who would be racing me down the last straight.

My takeaway from the race? Wide-open eyes.
I started the race with a 5:15/km pace. Within 300m, I was close to the back of the pack. I thought, ok its normal for runners to go out fast due to adrenaline and then gradually slow down. Minutes ticked past and I was making no ground on anybody. I started getting a bit worried inside. I mean, at the recent SCKLM 2014, I did the 10km run in 52 mins (5:12/km pace) and ended up in the top 30 of my category. In an event like this, where there's no prize money and no medal and no goodie bag, we're talking the "non-elite" runners, right?? I couldn't comprehend the pace. I decided to push the effort a little bit more, and started doing 5:00 min clicks. I managed to pull myself further up the crowd but in general hovered around midpack.

Since we were running loops of 5km, I could see the lead runners on the opposite side of the road throughout the 3 loops and based on my calculation, if we had gone another loop, I'd probably be lapped by the first 5 leaders! So how did the outcome go? I ended up in 38th position overall, out of 103 finishers in the 15km category with an average pace of 4:52/km. 6 runners aged 50 and above finished ahead of me, with one of them doing a 4:16/km pace.
To have a better understanding of the level of running, the top 20 runners in the 10km category came in under 40 minutes. It made me wonder, is that the average performance here in Melbourne? I mean, there's nothing but PB's and fresher pancakes at stake. No limited medals, no prize cheques, nothing but old-fashioned running for the sake of running. I was pretty sure the top guns didn't show up.

So, I started being a little bit more observant. I don't believe its the food or the weather that makes them stronger runners; it has to be more than that. Little by little, I find things that probably play a part in the difference in performance.

I was at my daughter's school athletics day, when seated comfortably at the stands alongside the running track and field, I heard the announcer ask the Grade 3 students to line up at the start line for the 800m event. My ears perked up. 800 meters? 9 year olds? I thought i heard wrongly, but when the kids raced around the track TWICE, i realized that the grassroots were different. Could that be the reason why as adults, the athletes are stronger? Is it because most of them started young, and are encouraged to start young?
I realized that my daughter's school allows them 2 breaks between 9am and 3:30pm. A 40 minute mid morning break and an hour lunch break. Both times, the children are ushered out of the classrooms, and the class doors locked. Everyone is "forced" to be outdoors (if the weather permits of course) and with 2 big fields, 3 sets of play areas (monkey bars, slide, spider ropes, etc) and a very large compound, the children are allowed to develop physically, from a young age.
And maybe that's the reason. Physical activities are a lifestyle, from a very young age. 

When physical activity IS a part of your life, it becomes routine. You don't need external factors to motivate you to get moving, stay healthy, improve your performance. You don't need a collection of medals, or certificates or bragging rights. You just do it because it has become second nature. Maybe that's the reason.

I am truly enjoying my runs over here in Melbourne. The traffic is good, the motorists respect us runners and cyclists, the pavements are wide and never-ending, most if not all suburbs have nature reserves and the neighborhood streets are generally safe from petty criminals and muggers.
Let me share more stories after my next event in May. Till then, keep running strong!

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