How Was Your Summer?

If I had the time the time to go around asking people what their summers were like I totally would have done that. But of course, I didn’t have the time, nor was I going to meet someone just to ask how their summer was. People have lives to live.

Instead I imagine alternative summers and make mental notes of them. And here they are. (One of them is actually me) 


“Summer was intense. It came and went pretty fast because I was always on the move, always doing something. It was somewhere in the middle of May when I was flown off on an internship in Mumbai, India. It had to do with telemarketing, and I thought I would be fine with it when I signed up. But that was back then, in my foolish past. I remember packing the night before and frantically texting my friends, practically panicking, worried that I wouldn’t be okay out there. There are a lot of bad things that could happen to one when they are overseas, and I didn’t want to be one of those foolish enough to try and get hurt. But of course, here I am now, safe and back home. None of what I imagined happened. I must admit, India was exactly how I thought it would be, except there was no Holi festival at that time (Laughs). But no, seriously, I went to work everyday feeling more and more confident, though I knew I had a lot to catch up on. The streets were dirty compared to back home, but everything functioned spectacularly. The locals are way more hardworking than I ever could be. Granted, they don’t have the same reliable resources that I did back home, but something about them spoke of limitless desire. I still can’t place it till today, and since I’m already back maybe I never will. Also, remember to eat only cooked food in India. Not that it’s spectacularly unhygienic, but it’s quite a leap for our immune systems to go about eating fresh vegetables there. I suffered the consequences, but I’m okay now.”

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“There was a one month period during my summer that some may say was sort of wasted. I don’t know, it doesn’t look like I did much, but it felt like little steps towards growth for me. During the whole month I would wake up every day at about eight, cook breakfast for myself (usually scrambled eggs on toast with cherry tomatoes), then read a few chapters of a book in the mid morning. Then I would visit the local supermarket, buy some groceries, then cook pasta for lunch (always pasta, nothing else). Afternoon will see me either writing something personal, reading more, or going for a long run. What I’d do without those long runs. At night I may meet my friends who have gotten off work, or spend time with my family. It seems like a total waste of time but in those months I learnt something important; to give time to myself and slow down to an almost halt. I felt a lightness that I’d never known before, and it was great. Also, I mastered 6 different pasta recipes (Carbonara, Aglio Olio, Bolognaise, seafood Marinara, prawn basil cream and Vongole) and got myself back to consistently running again. There’s no other way I would have spent that portion of summer; cooking, reading, running.”

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“Summer was terrible. I spent my three months in an internship that I didn’t like at all, with people I am certain I will never see again in my life. Worst of all, I mixed up the submissions and got allocated an internship in Woodlands when I lived in Bukit Timah. I wake up at seven every day just to get to work by eight thirty, squeezing onto that sardine can of a bus. I flounder about pretending to get myself a hot beverage at the pantry before work finally reaches me. It’s not that I’m paid a whole lot too, only about nine-hundred a month. My friends are earning much more, and tell me that this isn’t worth it. But exposure is important, everyone says. I mean, to be fair, I still don’t know what I really want, but I all I know is that this doesn’t feel like it. But yet I have to do it, because who knows? Maybe life is going to be like this for the next thirty years, just me cooped up in an office job that I don’t like, with a group of bitchy people that I can hardly talk to about anything other than the weather and traffic. It sucks, but this may very well be the rest of our lives. Passion can only bring you so far, and summer has shown me that.”

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“I spent my summer largely travelling. I saved up quite a lot from a bunch of odd jobs I did over the semester and so I had some to spare. My parents even offered to sponsor some cash for the trips, but I politely declined. Anyhow, I travelled with a few friends at first, and then myself. We did a little round trip first around Europe, starting in Germany then hooking east to Austria, Czech republic, Hungary, Poland, France then London. Most memorable was the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial, where some of the most horrific events in human history occurred. In World War Two Jews were treated like cattle, herded efficiently into large gas chambers where they were tricked into thinking were large showers. The entire ground looked like an army camp, sanitised and inconspicuous. It showed me that evil can exist in any form, and called for tremendous reflection. I was humbled by how small I was in the grand scheme of things, just one life that was lucky enough to have an opportunity to thrive. We walked around for hours, none of us uttering a word to each other.

What’s good about travelling with friends is that you end up knowing almost everything about them, even things you haven’t before. I have known this bunch since secondary school but somehow one night we had a discussion and we talked about the things we wanted to achieve by thirty and most of the answers came as pretty unexpected. It makes me wonder if we know anything important about each other at all. Travelling (and maybe summer) grants us this opportunity for reunion with the people we choose to be around. The rug is swept from under our feet and only we remain, just people floating in some weird space.

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Writing the above made me feel strangely self-centred, because like it or not, my attempts at fiction somehow or rather always revolve around me. It’s as if I can’t escape from my own humanness and truly step into someone else’s shoes. I wear my identity like a second skin. To be fair, a lot of us try. We say that we can imagine how it feels, or how someone feels but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We can only approach understanding, but never ever understand anything in its fullest. To fully understand is to attain perfection, and if this summer has taught me anything, it is that no one’s narrative is perfect. We just find our own peace with how we choose to manage our time and our relationships, and live it out. 

School starts in eight days, and the show must go on.

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What Happened on Sunday Morning

The starting gun goes off at about 6:30 in the morning, and I am excited. It doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to get past the start line from where I stand in the start pen, and before I know it, I am in full stride, with the morning wind blowing in my face. All of us are running down Nicoll Highway and I feel good, with lots of energy in my legs and my breathing is stable. I remind myself that only 50 meters have passed, and that 9950 meters lie ahead.

My pre race routine has been largely contrived out of a series of past failures involving too little sleep, the wrong breakfast, the wrong methods of hydration and improper stretching. Today I am smarter; I wake up at 5 am with 7 hours of sleep in my veins and I pop two slices of banana walnut bread, before drinking a mixture of water and Pocari Sweat. The previous night had me icing my legs and massaging any sore spots. I also remind myself that this was my first race in a little over two years. How it got to that, I will elaborate on a few kilometres down the road. Now, back to the run.

There are a barrage of runners vying to get into good positions, overtaking, squeezing and jostling about the first one kilometre or so. No one seems to be settling down to their actual race pace, because I can see in the way they run that they’re straining pretty hard. Maybe it’s the adrenaline, maybe it’s the herd mentality. People don’t want to look like they’re losing out in any way. I keep my pace in check, looking at my watch and guessing what distance I’m at, what pace I’m running. I don’t have a GPS watch so I do all this with experience, measuring out stride and distance, and with reference to the occasional distance markers that pop out every kilometre.

Passing the national stadium and across the bridge to marina barrage had me at 3km with a timing of 12:09. This is too fast, it seems, for I am going at just a little over four minutes per kilometre. Put this into a 2.4km context and you’ll get roughly 9:40. My mind tells me to slow down, but my body feels totally fine. I’m still maintaining a good breathing tempo, and the best part was, I wasn’t even trying that hard. I felt like there were tougher sections of the race still to come.

At 4km my timing was 16:12, still a hair above 4 minutes per kilometre but a good indication that I was still fine was the fact that I bothered checking my watch for the pace. I turned my head and looked at the view to my right, the sun slowly making its way above the horizon as it lit up the Singapore skyline which reflected itself off the Singapore river. Everything was in various shades of blue. The foliage on the left gave off a pleasant scent that was almost sweet, yet strangely damp. What a privilege it is to run.

5 kilometres passed in 20:10, and to my pleasant surprise I was still overtaking people. I figured that if I ran faster for the second half of the run, that I could potentially go under forty minutes. I struggled with that mindset, debating silently on whether I should (literally) make a run for it. It seems strange that I would even consider not running faster, because to the observer it’s very easy to say “Just run faster lah, what’s the harm?” But I know after some experience that running fast too early in the race can incur the greatest of harms. You could slow down at the end, be overtaken by a few runners and end your race disastrously. Or worst, you could hit the wall altogether and start walking. I had already ignored 2 water points and overtaken some of the more overzealous runners who suddenly felt like they needed a drink, all just to keep to my pace. I was finally running across Marina Barrage, towards Gardens by the Bay. I gave speeding up some thought, keeping my eye on the runner in front of me. He was a bearded guy and breathing intensely but keeping a good pace. Most of the runners fade out around here, but this guy was a fighter, not allowing me to overtake him as we proceeded on our mid-race jostle. I had half a mind to start a conversation but I decided that there were better places for that. We took turns leading (it sounds like a dance but feels nothing like it, mainly because I can’t really dance) and eventually ended up shoulder to shoulder by 6km.

We passed the 6km mark and I looked at my watch. It said 23:58. I had sped up to go under the magic 4 minute per kilometre pace without even meaning for it, all because I was trying to chase this guy over the past kilometre. Both of us proceeded to overtake one female runner of African origin, and then a tall Caucasian male, before we hit the end of the garden and onto East Coast Parkway, parallel to the Helix Bridge and with Marina Bay Sands to my back. It was on this uphill that I passed the seven kilometre mark, and finally managed to shrug off the bearded guy. I don’t mean to frame him as a villain or anything, but there’s some satisfaction in saying goodbye to a guy who you’ve been trying to chase for a few kilometres on end.

But of course, it all came at a price. I didn’t check my timing at seven kilometres, and I was beginning to lose my running form. My breathing was harder and more irregular and I was grimacing. Basically, I was slowly dying. The only remedy for this sort of exhaustion would be to get to the finish line as soon as possible. Three kilometres left, and I told myself that I could do it, though through the pain it was hard to see a way this could end well.

As if on cue the Caucasian man I overtook earlier overtook me to my left. He had a manic look in his eyes, and with more than two kilometres to the finish line he was leaving everything he had on the roads. I followed him intensely at first but my breath soon got out of hand, and I slowed a little. I looked around desperately for the 8km mark, but there was none. I swung my arms harder and reached the water point ahead.

I grabbed a cup of water, and mustered all the previous experiences of drinking water whilst running to take a gratuitous sip, before pouring the rest of the water on my head. The water lapped my face and flowed down my chest like it does in seductive shampoo commercials though I looked neither fragrant, clean, nor seductive. I noticed that the Caucasian guy slowed down to grab a sip and so I ran right past him! Yes, this was my time to shrug him off.

But of course, that didn’t happen. He was back at it again, overtaking me from the right this time, and I got down to chasing him, staring at a particular spot on the back of his running singlet and listening to the sound of his pant legs rubbing against each other, a sound of pure inefficiency with the moist friction creating a squishy sound. I stared long and hard at his back, reducing this man into these two concepts of sight and sound and just chasing after them. 8 kilometres had passed and certainly there was no marker, so I had no choice but to wait for the 9 km sign.

The man suddenly sped up. The back of his singlet got further and further from me, the sound of his squishy pants fading. It didn’t look as if I could catch him. Then 9km passed by, and I glanced at my watch. 36:16. I had slowed down considerably, and calculating the odds of going under 40 minutes, I realised I had to run under 3:44 for the last kilometre.

I just couldn’t do it, I told myself. It was already quite a chore having to maintain a 4 minute per kilometre pace, and the fact that I hadn’t managed to do it by nine kilometres definitely meant something. Besides, I just came back from a yearlong injury, I couldn’t expect myself to suddenly surge to a good timing so quickly. I had to take it slow, take it slow, take it slow.

To be honest the past year had passed by in stages leading up to me running again. I rested for a good portion of 2015, and the first few months of 2016, not running at all and not doing any impact sports (not like I was good at any). Like I said, this was the first race I had participated in in 2 years. The last run was back in the end of June 2014, where I blazed to a personal best 10km and got injured soon after that. I did get the coveted under 40 minutes I was dying for, but I got injured for almost 2 years after that. It was not worth it. I tried to run, again and again, giving myself excuses, finding shortcuts that involved anything but giving my injury time. That was the first stage, that of denial. When I finally accepted that I couldn’t run without risking permanent injury came the second stage, that of pity. I stopped exercising and developed a hodgepodge of bad habits all in the name of resignation. Then at the start of this year I decided to reform myself. That was the third stage, where I started doing meaningful Calisthenic workouts and going for swims at least twice a week. I signed up for physio sessions once a fortnight and understood the limitations of my body. I felt fitter, fell into better habits and waited patiently for my body to heal. And heal it did. By March this year I started to run again, but besides running I had picked up all these lessons along the way about how to respect a body that needed it. To accept my body for its limitations and work with them. Besides running I had been doing other things like underwater jogging, strength workouts and some specialised stretching, all in the bid to get back to shape. It has worked so far, and I have learned that determination and discipline go beyond the time between putting on your running shoes and taking them off. For discipline to be effective, it has to become a lifestyle.

To put it simply, I am learning how to be a strong runner, and not just a fast one.

I looked as the Caucasian man ran further and further away and smiled to myself. It’s okay, I thought. Another day will come and another battle will be fought. We can lose some of our battles and still end up as whole people. Of course, that wasn’t exactly what I thought, but I rationalised that it would be ok to let this one go. I ran up the remaining section of the park connector, that led to a road. Around the bend to the final stretch, I looked at my watch and it barked back the timing: 38:30, one and a half minutes to 40:00. That was when all rationality flew out the window.

One minute and thirty seconds feels like forever when you’re in a planking position, or stuck in a boring class. But if you have the right amount of adrenaline and are sprinting for the finish, one and a half minutes collapses upon itself and feels like a much, much shorter amount of time. After turning into the final bend, something clicked and I just went for it. The cries of caution left my head. I suddenly believed that I could do this; that I could actually go under forty. The Caucasian man was a good forty meters in front of me by now, but that didn’t bother me in the least. I was in the zone, the crazy part of the workout where you’re in the last set but you somehow manage to squeeze out enough to produce a last minute sprint or in the dying seconds of a game where you score a miracle last minute goal. It was that sort of frenzied determination that ran through my veins. In many ways it’s better to chase than to lead, one being that you have a higher chance of realising your full potential.

I stared at the man from afar and crunched my face in pain. 40 meters became thirty, then became 20. I was running out of real estate before the finish line, but my legs gave it a final push. I stared intently at the back of his singlet. My calves burned with lactic acid and desire, and my lungs were on the edge of collapse. My heart felt light.

I overtook him with about 10 meters left, and crossed the finish line smiling.

That was about the same time I stopped the watch and looked at my timing.

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Shaking hands with all the relevant parties that crossed the finish line soon after, I left the finishers area feeling like I had just taken part in something very special. I think for most people who observe us running, the activity we partake in will always be just as it is, a run, one that we drag themselves up on lonely Sunday mornings to suffer in. For me, and for us runners it is very different. What happened on Sunday morning was the absolute triumph of patience and dedication that I observed in every last runner before and after me. There were determined faces; those that panted and strained and had the courage to go out hard. But more than just the running, for me this run was about the not running, about the time I had waited to finally get back on track and do the thing I loved, and feel good about it. I know I would have felt the same way whether I went under forty minutes or not, for what are numbers when placed beside the determination of the human heart? I would have been proud of myself for at least trying, proud for sticking it out with my broken bones.

In running you never ever get there, and you never ever win. Even if you win a race, there’s a faster version of yourself waiting somewhere down the road, and it’s always going to be up to you to chase him. If there’s anything that running has taught me it’s this: that human potential is limitless.

After collecting the complimentary finishers medal I had the privilege of watching the sun slowly rise from behind a dark blue horizon. It slowly edged its way out like a koi reaching its mouth up for floating fish food, emerging from murky waters with a hue of brilliant orange. It lit up the entire sky as more and more runners finished their race, almost like a well-timed grand finale. Soon the entire sky was a bright yellow, shining brilliantly, brightly, warming the earth and her sweaty human bodies, alive with running.

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Reservist Diaries (1/8)

I just returned from my first of eight reservist cycles. This one lasted for a week, where I was ushered into camp last Monday and just got out earlier today. I had a lot of thoughts, some less pleasant than others and I wrote a lot of them down as I went along, mostly at night before I went to sleep. 

Here’s most of it; some reconstructed from memory, but fully honest. 


Day 1

Hello,

Today was strange because I left my wallet at home as I was on the way to camp and my friend had to turn back to get it and I was late for 20 minutes. When we did arrive and I saw everyone again it started to dawn on me that I hadn’t seen the boys for about one and a half years? Well, at least most of them. We hear horror stories of fat and decomposing reservist men but it turns out one and a half years wasn’t enough for any significant makeovers. Everyone looked largely the same. For that, I was strangely glad.

Time passed leisurely, with nothing being accomplished anytime soon. We waited to move and moved to wait. The cookhouse went underground and the food tasted better than I last remembered. The curry chicken reminded me of BMT which didn’t inspire any other emotion, only the thought that I was eating far less rice than I used to. We talked as we waited, talked as we marched and even surprised ourselves by taking over a senior company by jogging past them. Little was left unsaid at the end of the day, and that’s sometimes rare with a band of brothers. But we’ve got each other’s backs, all of us.

In the evening I fell sick as I was going for a nights out, and I realised that perhaps it would be wise to go home. As I lie on my own bed and feel the softness of it, it dawns upon me that this is the first time I have ever stayed out of camp within my stipulated time of service. That the warm nights and cold showers, deep conversations and late night suppers, they all had nothing to do with the notion of home as I knew now. But then again, no. It was the people that made up my 2 year journey; It was for them that I knew I was home.

Cheers,


Day 2

Hello,

I’m at the second day of reservist now, kind of expected it to be easy but not quite this easy. What we’ve been doing most of the time has been waiting around, hoping that time would go on so that we can drag our bodies across the line and go out at night.

There’s nothing overly negative about this experience, because everywhere we look feels like an obstacle overcome. I see the exact parade square where we spent hours on under the hot sun repeating drills that felt meaningless, the roads where we marched down, singing songs that weren’t on billboard top 100, the cookhouse that served food that wasn’t Instagram worthy and the rifle they forced upon us like an arranged marriage. It overwhelms me because a few years ago we were here in this camp as recruits who knew no better, who only hoped for the easy way out of things , but never got it. Since we have it now, treasuring our liberties is the least we can do.

Cheers,


Day 3

Hello,

Wednesday passed in a blur. We ate porridge for breakfast and curry chicken for lunch. I am still sick and attempting to recuperate as soon as possible but it isn’t easy. I did have the time to go for a run late in the afternoon and it was amazing. I don’t think many people will share how I feel about this, but something about running through a camp that used to trap you for weeks on end is nothing short of liberating. Besides, this was the same camp where I had run some of my best timings, and having the wind blow in my face from the sea that borders the camp, looking past the fence that prevents us from jumping into the great unknown, it made me forget about the yearlong injury that plagued me. I was 18 and fast again. As I looked on at the grey of the ocean that met the sky,  the cool post-rain air blew gently at my face and I felt an utter calm that almost whispered to me the same thing that it whispered to me 3 years ago: that better days are yet to come.

Cheers,


Day 4

Hello,

Today was a rather fruitful day for me. We started off doing a biathlon workout, with both running and swimming. I remember a time when I was a much weaker swimmer. I would get myself from one end to the other and almost collapse from exhaustion. Of course, I’ve been swimming much more nowadays, all thanks to certain obligations during year two of army. Obviously I was still much slower on the swim end, but overall I think I did quite well for the run. I still feel like my legs possess some speed, and to me that’s the least I can ask for as I build up in the coming months for greater things!

And sure enough one of the regulars approached after the workout to ask if I could join the formation running team for the army half marathon; which I duly complied. This was the team that I missed out on 2 years ago due to injury. I guess these things go full circle if you have the patience to wait your turn. From how I see it, this is an opportunity that came my way without me actually reaching for it, and for that I am very grateful. I can only hope that injuries don’t come creeping back, that I keep finding new reasons to run, new timings to meet.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer everyday that this is what I was meant to do.

Cheers,


Day 5

Hello,

Today marks the end of my first reservist cycle, a whole one and a half years after my NSF life ended. We had a buffet and they even booked an entire cinema to screen a movie. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been forced to eat a buffet and watch a movie, though no one’s complaining.

Seeing everyone laughing and smiling, it almost feels as if the one and a half years between us seeing each other again never happened. It feels like we pressed un-pause, and my uni life, my holidays to the handful of different countries; it felt like none of that happened after all. That what seemed to be progress was just me blindly searching for myself under the illusion of moving on. But do we ever move on, is the question I continue to ask myself as the days passed and we still found old memories to dredge up, still found ourselves enmeshed in bonds almost impossible to break. I have very much grounded myself in the people that have followed me on this journey, and it is a bond that I am hesitant to say I can ever move on from.

Time stretches and compresses according to where we are, our perception of it emphasised at the point we stand rather than what is actually significant. Time doesn’t discriminate, but merely moves on. Our past and perhaps even future experiences lie at the peripheries, always diminished, whilst our current position feels magnified. Reservist has magnified my two years in army, brought me back to where I was as a bald nineteen year old and flustered twenty year old. I have lost a lot but gained a lot as well. It is in this giving and taking that I had eventually grown. I learned to express myself to an empty audience, living out long lonely nights writing fearlessly, recklessly and unapologetically. I have learned that the will to carry on will always triumph as long as I am alive.

Most of all, I have learned that no man stands alone. That it is the people that we fight alongside that makes moving on possible. I would surely have perished if I had to go on this journey alone. I knew that from the start and I know that for sure now, that in every last conversation, every little silly inside joke lies the reminder of who we once were, and the ways we chose to deal with our trials.

The triumph then, isn’t the actual triumph. The triumph was the people I met along the way.

See you guys next year, and perhaps in between as well.

Cheers,


 

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Life’s Too Short for the In-Betweens

What defines our worth, and what makes us tick? I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that to fight for what you love is one of the most complex things to undertake. To try to understand this better, I’ve thought of four testimonies from four imaginary individuals. By and large, these individuals are a combination of the people I’ve talked to or observed, and the stories I’ve weaved are an amalgamation of the stories they hold dear to them. And so like most fictional work, this is a mere reallocation of fact into more digestible chunks. I hope you will find some meaning in them. 

* * *

“This all started the moment I saw this small puppy on the sidewalk. It was about three years ago, and I was walking home from work when I saw her. Her hind legs had no fur on them and there were large abrasions running down the entire length of her tigh. She was gasping for breath and her dark brown fur was moist from the morning dew. Clearly, she had been abandoned either by her owner or her mother. Either way, she would have died from exposure had I not seen her. Carefully, I scooped her up; her small body fit snugly in my cupped palms. She showed no fear at all as I held her, and I figured that at the brink of death, all fear must have been stripped away. Walking into the veterinary centre, I presented the puppy to the counter woman, and she brought the poor thing into the vet’s office immediately. I immediately took the day off work and sat at the waiting area, hoping for a miracle; hoping for anything that would save the poor puppy.

This whole episode was a turning point in my life. In the few months that followed, I quit my office job and opened an animal rescue centre. It sounds really simple when I state it out, but the first few months were hell, and it was really difficult getting any support. Many of the animals that came in were too injured or sick and it broke our hearts to put them down. My family and friends did not support any of it at first, and the whole idea that I was getting my salary based on charity was unthinkable to them. But after all this time, they’re starting to figure out that this is a job that was meant just for me. To save one animal was a triumph in itself, and it brings me a joy that I’m still coming to terms with. Right now, things are stable, and at the entrance of the rescue centre is a small grave for the puppy that started this whole thing. We call her Inuka, and I hope she’s happy where she is, and in the difference she has made.”

* * *

“I like to run. I don’t know how I could have envisioned my life doing any other sport. Back in Primary school I was never the sporty kind. I joined the chess club (not that there is anything wrong with chess, except that I was horrible at it) while all my other friends went on to play soccer, basketball, hockey. I never felt envious per se, but part of me knew that I wanted to do some sort of sport. I was an active kid who just couldn’t find his outlet.

I joined running in secondary one not because it interested me, but because there was nothing else to join. I just figured out that running wasn’t the hardest thing to do. How could I possibly mess up? During the first training I discovered just how bad I was at this “simple sport”. After one warm up jog I already felt faint and my chest hurt. After the whole training session was over, I felt physically depleted, and worst of all, felt a strong sense of self loathing. How did I get myself into such a state? This was a question I asked myself training session after training session.

Time passed, and I watched while groups of students joined and left the CCA, joining other sports like hockey, rugby, soccer. I stayed. I stayed not in spite of the pain, but because of it. The pain and exhaustion bit at me so hard that I had no choice but to bite back harder at it. There was no other way, and such a struggle within my head made me feel like after all this time, I was finally proving something to myself. 9 years have passed, and when people ask me what sport I play, I answer proudly, “I am a runner.””

* * *

“There is no way to describe how happy I feel right now, but I know with all this happiness comes the possibility of tremendous disappointment. It’s as if I’ve got exactly what I wanted when I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t even have to find it, but somehow this person just appeared in my life. Yes. He just appeared, and the best thing was that he didn’t even try. With everyone before it was as if something was being forced, some game was being played or some objective was being conquered. With him it just feels effortless, it feels…right. Sometimes a glance feels like an hour-long probe into my soul yet with the things he says, we can talk for hours without it even feeling like hours. Time either stands stock still or rushes past when he’s around, and I don’t know if this reality even holds any weight anymore.

He’s leaving for the states tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel about it. Sadness would be a good option, but I know that’s not what he’d want me to feel, so I have to force myself not to show it. We had one last walk together yesterday, and I asked him if he was willing to try. All he could tell me was that he didn’t want to hold me down. I guess I have made my own plans and he has made his, and there’s nothing we can really do to change that. What I do know is that I am willing to try. Life is too short for the in-betweens, don’t you think? Perhaps this is silly and I may get hurt really, really badly, but this little voice in my head is telling me that this might just be worth it.”

* * *

“For the past few years I have been raised single-handedly by my dad. I wouldn’t say that my childhood was abject misery, but through my formative years I’ve witnessed some things and felt certain emotions that no kid should ever have to go through. All I know is that through all this, I’ve had nothing but respect for him. That, and a love deeper than I’d like to admit. Though he’d never feel this way, I’d like to think that he was my very own superhero through these years. My friends all had other idols and heroes that were physically superior and much easier on the eyes, but as long as my dad could carry my weight I’d always feel that that was enough. More than enough, in fact. And that was our biggest difference: my dad never felt like he was good enough. He always apologised for not being there for me, for falling asleep on the couch before I came back home, for the late shifts that meant he couldn’t see me off to school the next day. I saw him once when I woke up to visit the toilet. He was hunched over the book cabinet at four in the morning, reaching deep in to repair a loose hinge, his legs skinny and back full of sweat. That was when I realised how tough it must have been for him all along, that when grief rendered me insular that I never considered that somebody was up at 4 am trying so hard to fix our lives again. I just want to take this chance to say thank you, Dad. You never gave up on us, so there will never be a reason for me to give up on you. You have been and will always be the greatest superhero in my life.”

* * *

To fight for what you love is a complex thing, but like the examples above show, we owe it to ourselves to give it a shot. A famous author once said that we only get two or three chances of finding true happiness in our lives, and in the light of that we have to grasp at any opportunity we’ve got at finding it. I believe that our passions have a higher function; not just to make us happy, but also to mould who we are as people; to define our very being. We are but the sum of our life choices, and many of these choices are inextricably linked to the things we love and hold dear to us. In that respect, there is no time for any half-assed attempts at what we truly desire and long for. The struggles that are borne out of these passions eventually make for a life worth living, or at least a life you can be happy with. This privilege is not to be trifled with, and I hope the above examples have encapsulated such a sentiment. 

10 Annoying Questions that Every Runner Hates

I’m a semi serious runner, or at least I will be once my injured leg heals (faster heal lah I’m sick of waiting) and I also reside in Singapore so yes, it’s hot here, really hot and humid and life here moves along pretty fast and a lot of us have a lot to do and very little time for sports. So when you choose running as your main sport or if you show a vague interest in running, you’re sure to be bombarded by these really annoying questions by all the non-runners out there. So here goes…

“Huh not tiring ah?”

Yeah I think we are well aware of how tiring running is because we actually do the running so when you tell us that it is tiring it’s not going to make any sense to us nor will your opinion be of any value. Yes, running is tiring. But we love it for that.

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Of course it’s tiring…

“Not hot ah?”

It’s hot alright. The temperature here soars to a sweltering 35 °C every now and then and even at night it can be a staggering 31 °C. But look at it this way: the faster you run, the more air resistance, the more the wind cools your face and it’s actually not too bad when you get into the rhythm. If you just walk? Then yeah, no wonder it’s hot.

“Not boring ah?”

If the scenery and the cars and the random passersby and the possible contact with nature isn’t enough, the pain you feel towards the end of your run should excite you a bit. If it doesn’t, then run faster. More scenery passes by and there’s more pain. Not boring at all, trust me.

“You siao ah?”

Yeah we’re crazy but you’re lazy.

“Where you find the time to run ah?”

We find it where you find time watching TV, using Facebook stalking your crush or playing street soccer. We find it when we most want it. YES! We actually want to run and if you want to do something you wont ever NOT have time for it.

“How you even breathe after you run so far ?”

Breathing is really simple you just breathe and like even when you’re running breathing is still breathing and it’s really the same process. Bet you didn’t know!

Eh did you sign up for the 10km marathon?”

I need to make this very clear. A marathon is 42.195 km and it’s a tribute to that messenger who sacrificed his life running so far. Hence a 10 km, at best, can only qualify as a “quarter marathon” while 21 km is called a “half marathon”. Anything more than a marathon is automatically called an “ultramarathon” so don’t just bunch every distance as a marathon. By right, anything less is just called a “run”.

“Why you don’t cycle or swim?”

Yeah we get it! Cycling is faster and there’s more wind and more classy cos the bikes can be branded and swimming is cooling. We totally understand but sometimes in life the best option isn’t always the most suitable one. We realise that running can bring us a certain kind of joy that cannot really be rationalised. Can you understand that?

“Got win the race?”

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I don’t know why people think that running is like the world cup finals where one team wins and the other loses. In actual fact there can be as many as 16 to 7000 runners in any long distance event. So to answer your question, no. No one’s going to win unless you’re lucky enough to ask that one guy who probably runs so much even I’d ask him the above questions.

“Never win the race ah….but you cannot just run a bit faster meh?

If I could I would. Seriously. Running isn’t very complicated. It isn’t like soccer or poker where bad decisions on the day itself can cause you to lose spectacularly. In the running world it all comes down to training and consistency. It’s not some last minute bankai kind of thing that people think it is, so STOP asking if we could have been faster. We love our sport and giving any less than our best is the ultimate disrespect to the running gods.

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It’s a passion, you love it more and more with every step you take 🙂

Coaching and the Gift of Running

“I want you to feel like you’ve just died. Yes, the feeling is similar to death. If you don’t understand what I mean after the race, then I’m sorry, you didn’t give it your best.” Motivating people is hard work. The approach is always the same, but the persistence makes for a tough job. The boys will look up at you and nod, they will give you some assurance. But in the end you’ll need to remind them again and again. The world out there is full of temptations; it isn’t easy to stay motivated.

I volunteered to take charge of the long distance component of the school Track and Field team. The school I was working at being St. Andrew’s Secondary School (SASS). There were two reasons for this. Firstly, it was because I was from the exact same track team six years back. The teachers still remembered me from back then and when they invited me to coach the boys, I was thrilled. Those days on the track were some of my fondest memories of SA. Secondly, it was because I basically loved to run. It sounds crazy, but there was something to be said about the feeling of taking long strides with the wind in your hair, hearing nothing but the sound of birds and cars, the sound of your own heartbeat, being with no one but yourself. It was amazing to me, and it brought me through tough times, school, and army, as well as dealing with being on my own. It helped me appreciate a lot of things. So yes, I latched onto this opportunity like a lazy sloth on a sturdy branch.

In the first few trainings, I could sense that there was a lot of work to do. The two teachers in charge, Madam Alifa and Miss Fernandez had been struggling to get things done because the coaches kept changing in the past and a lot of the boys were half-assed about track. I really admire their efforts because they didn’t have substantial background in track, and it was made harder because the school didn’t give it as much support as the niche sports (mainly rugby). At the first training, some of the boys would start walking during warm up, or weren’t serious in their stretching. I had to give them some talks about pursuing excellence and what not, but I wasn’t sure if that was particularly effective. I concluded that the boys didn’t have that desire. The culture was lopsided and they lacked an identity. A lot of them were in it for the points. Just like the problem I had with teaching literature, many of them chose the CCA simply because they had no other sport to join.

I was determined to change that. The methods are simple, but the persistence is hard. I made sure I was there beside them for the first month, running with them, shouting at them as we went along. Then just when they were about to give up I would shout, “SERIOUSLY, YOU’VE DONE FIVE SETS JUST TO GIVE UP ON THE SIX? ALRIGHT, GIVE UP NOW. I DARE YOU. GIVE UP LAH, COME ON, YOU LOOK LIKE YOU WANT TO GIVE UP ANYWAY!” A lot of them gave me exasperated looks, and some even gave up now and then.

Pushing them hard on the road...

Pushing them hard on the road…

And on the track.

And on the track.

No matter, I told them, I wasn’t going to give up even if they did. Upon reaching home I would text the group, prepare them for the next training, or tell them to jog over the weekends. I had to keep reminding them that it was a marathon, not a sprint. You cannot just hope to do things at the last minute and not put in consistent effort. I always linked it to studies and how you can’t study for the ‘O’ Levels one month in advance. I probably bored them to death, but I was persistent. I was once their age, and I know that with regards to running this sort of motivation is needed. In soccer or rugby it is very easy to find motivation; the entire world seems to be glorifying ball sports, and so it’s very easy to get caught up in that. What running instills in you is something more deep seated, and that is a sense of personal achievement. This was a mindset that was sorely missing in these boys, one that I had to help them discover.

I think being relatable helps, and it helped them believe in me. Madam Alifa and Miss Fernandez had a lot of experience in guiding the boys and planning out trainings, but they valued me because in all probability, I could relate better to them. I was in the boys’ shoes just a few years before, after all. We would talk and joke during and outside trainings, and it always made them feel at ease. The pain you feel would be less than the actual pain if you knew it came from a benign and understanding source. I had to be that cool, kind coach that only wanted the best for the kids. The balance between tough trainings and supportive coaching had to be discovered there and then.

I remember this, we were celebrating Madam Alifa's birthday and were deliberating whether we should smash her with the cake. Thankfully, we didn't.

I remember this, we were celebrating Madam Alifa’s birthday and were deliberating whether we should smash her with the cake. Thankfully, we didn’t.

What really encouraged me was our Intra School Cross Country. The upper secondary track boys got 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th! One of the lower sec boys clinched 1st, with two others in the top twenty. Sure, it was only within the school, but it was highly encouraging to them, and even more encouraging for me. A few weeks later, some of the sprinters attained second for the 4 x 100m during the Akira Swift Track and Field meet. They were presented with their medals before the entire school. Those were proud moments for us, and I told them later that nobody was going to shove us around, not rugby, not soccer. WE are runners, and as runners, we have to be the best at running. In time, we showed the entire school that we certainly weren’t just a bunch of ball-sport rejects, but a serious force to be reckoned with. I was in charge of these boys and no one was going to belittle us.

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The almost-clean sweep of 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th for the Intra-School Cross Country.

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Closely followed by a 2nd place for our 4 x 100 team at Akira Swift!

Training continued from that positive result, up till now. There was an Inter-School Cross country in between, but we didn’t fare as well for that. I kept telling them that they should only focus on themselves and not the competitors from the other schools. If you feel you’ve tried your best, it shouldn’t matter what your competitors did. They’ve probably trained harder than you in the past, so you cannot expect any miracles. Miracles are for the operating theatre, not the start line of a race. The miracle comes from the months of hard training, the sweat, the tears and the cries of I WON’T GIVE UP! The true miracle is the persistence of your mind. Well, I didn’t actually say that word for word (it would be epic if I did), but I articulated these thoughts to them well enough.

Sad as it sounds, I will be having my last training with them come Friday. I would love to continue with this bunch and send them off to the nationals in April, but I have my own commitments to attend to by then. I really do wish them all the best for that. They’ve been such a joy. Some of the less motivated boys would even text me now and then asking me “Sir, how should I train over the weekends”, or “Is my method of training good enough?” I am encouraged that some of my persistence has paid off, that this “culture of excellence” thing is slowly creeping into their minds. I think that beyond the long runs, dietary advice, painful stretching and reminders to run on the weekends, the best gift I could offer them was a renewed confidence in themselves and their abilities. It is a special gift the running gods had granted me so many years back, so I feel it is only right if I helped them discover it as well.

For one last time, Up and On!

You guys will be missed. continue training hard and do your school proud! Up and On!

You guys will be missed. Continue training hard and do your school proud! Up and On!