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Resolutions fulfilled / Completing her first marathon (The Straits Times 12/12/2013)


by Joan Chew



Joan Chew catches up with two readers whose health-related resolutions were published at the beginning of the year

Polytechnic lecturer Shirley Tham turned 40 yesterday, but got her birthday presents more than a week ago.

They were a finisher's T-shirt and medal from the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, her first full marathon.

She was among 16,100 participants in the marathon who crossed the finishing line on Dec 1.

With that, she ticked off her resolution of completing a marathon in less than seven hours.

Her time? Six hours, 16 minutes and 17 seconds.

Miss Tham said: "This is the best birthday present I have ever given myself.

"Running has become a part of my life every week throughout the year and I'm glad I managed to sustain the effort."

Miss Tham's marathon ambition was published in Mind Your Body in January and we lined up three experts to give her advice on getting started.

But as it was with keeping up the training, finishing the race required a lot of discipline.

Through the sore legs, blisters and hip pain, she never once thought of giving up.

She recalled: "I knew I always had the option of walking when I didn't want to run.

"My friend had told me it's better to finish a race safe and sound, than injure yourself and not have the chance to finish it."

Prior to the big day, the furthest she had run was 28km in a practice session five days earlier.

This was not quite what Dr Ong Joo Haw, a registrar at the Sports Medicine Centre at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, had advised.

He had advised her to work up to 80 to 90 per cent of the distance a month before the race and then dial down the distance and intensity to let her body recover before the big day.

Kudos to Miss Tham for completing the marathon, Dr Ong said.

But not tapering down her training could have resulted in overuse injuries and not recovering well from training increases the risk of catching viruses that cause the common cold or the more serious influenza, he said.

Both Dr Ong and Mr Matthew Pinkston Heath, then a senior rehabilitation and functional trainer at the Functional Training Institute, had advised Miss Tham to join a running club so she would not feel lonely on long runs.

She ran on her own until July, when she found a couple of former colleagues to run with her on one of her thrice-weekly runs.

On Tuesday evenings, the trio would run from Miss Tham's workplace at Singapore Polytechnic to Kent Ridge Park and back, an uphill loop which covered about 8.8km.

On Wednesdays or Thursdays, Miss Tham would run 17km from work to her Yew Tee home. On Sundays, she ran between 21km and 25km.

But last month, her friends had to stop running for various reasons and she was back to pounding the pavements alone again.

It was hard to go back to running by herself, said Miss Tham. One of her friends had pushed her two-year-old son in a stroller while running and this had really pushed her to keep up, she said.

To keep going, Miss Tham would think of the delicious meal that her 67-year-old mother had waiting at home for her.


In addition to running, Miss Tham worked out with 5kg dumbbells twice a week for resistance training to build her strength, as Dr Ong recommended.

She also took part in four shorter races before the marathon. They each ranged from 10km to 21km, including a 15km run as part of The Straits Times' Run in the Park on Aug 25.

Miss Tham said the dietary advice from Ms Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical dietitian at Camden Medical Centre, was also very useful.

To ensure adequate glycogen (glucose stored in the body) reserves in her muscles, she started carbohydrate loading from August, eating 11/2 bowls of rice for dinner instead of just one. She also ate more meat, especially beef, for the protein.

Though she was not able to take Ms Reutens' advice on weighing herself before and after a training run to gauge her fluid loss, she managed to keep hydrated during the marathon by taking sips of water every 15 minutes.

Miss Tham says she has become a better runner. It now takes her six minutes to run 1km, when it would have taken her nine, before she embarked on serious training.

A year ago, Miss Tham told Mind Your Body she hoped her first marathon would be a stepping stone to more marathons in the next 40 years of her life.

Now that she has one under her belt, she has decided to focus on half-marathons, which cover a "more manageable" distance of 21.1km.

But that is for later.

For now, she is savouring her victory.

"Once you have set yourself a resolution, you must find the means to help you stay focused and get there," she said.

"For me, I enlisted the help of friends and declared it in the newspaper so that others around me, who had read about it, kept reminding me of my goal and asking me what distance I was training at then."

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.