Runner Profile: Sarah Ch'ng
the ache that
sears through this
not a sense of pain but
a source of satisfaction:
with each step,
a gentle press on
the blood that beats
through this sole soul,
as I tap out music:
with these feet that
are my wings.
by Sarah Ch'ng
At the tender age of 14, Sarah was seen running loops and loops in the Botanical Garden, Penang. And in the eyes of the beholder, she was no more than a child ......Now at 21, she is creating a storm. One so fierce that it rocks and shakes the world of marathoners in Malaysia.
Who would have thought that such a "delicate", petite girl possesses such audacious tenacity?
I will let her tell you her story....
1. Sarah, it’s truly my pleasure and honor to be granted the opportunity to do a profile on you. Tell us a bit about your background. How it all started for you... and what you have achieved so far.
Initially, my dad started me off on running; he has always been an avid athlete. He paced me for my first ever cross-country run in school. But after a few months, I started running by myself, I enjoyed the solitude. Everything that I have learnt over the past 7 years throughout my running life has mostly been of my own accord. I don’t really like people telling me what to do! I know getting a coach would probably improve my performance but I feel that having to follow every single thing that someone says would just suck the joy out of running for me. I am basically my own student and teacher! Major achievements so far… Three marathons under my belt with a PB of 3:10:18.
2. Any future plans, goals or aspirations?
Ultimate goal is to break the Malaysian women’s marathon record set by Yuan Yufang! (NB: Marathon time: 2:49:28 set in 2000)
3. Marathon running is not for everyone. On top of that, few Malaysians have ever achieved what you have already accomplished. (And at such a tender age!) I guess the question on most people’s mind is: How DO you do it?
Well – I just love running. I think when you are truly passionate about something, you’re automatically more committed and dedicated to keep practicing, and this naturally makes you good at what you’re doing. When I first started running, I found racing very stressful. I felt competitive running wasn’t for me. I was worried that I would get really upset and angry with myself if I didn’t win every single race I joined because I am a perfectionist. Well, I still have that perfectionist streak in me but over the years I have learned how to channel that energy in a healthy way to compete; and any shortcomings just motivate me to work harder. I think gaining experience by joining race after race teaches you how to deal with the nerves and allows you to develop some semblance of self-composure so you can enjoy the whole experience of a race more. If one could go back in time and tell my 14-year-old self that she’d be running marathons in a couple of years time, she wouldn’t believe you! It’s a passion that has developed over the years and is continuing to develop still, every single day.
4. What is your training like? Do you follow a certain program? What keeps you motivated?
I don’t follow a specific program designed by renowned runners or famous coaches or anything like that. It’s basically just me experimenting with my own body, pushing myself to see how far I can go. Running has allowed me to tune into my body, to listen to what it has to say. If it’s too much, I back down. If I feel I can go a bit harder, then I do. My mileage is between 100 to 120km a week, I alternate intense weeks with easy weeks. I do absolutely no speedwork! I hate it! My motivation for running is the freedom I feel in my limbs, the sense of calmness and satisfaction I derive through running. Having said that, I do think every runner has a sort of love-hate relationship with running: there are periods when you just feel so utterly drained and sick of it all – you get cranky because you are underperforming and don’t enjoy your runs, and yet if you don’t run you get even crankier because you’re not out there moving. It’s just part and parcel of running; and over the years I’ve learnt to accept that, and to know that after a few days, it will pass and the passion will re-instill itself naturally.
5. Any tips or advices for the novice and for those who are aspiring to do sub3:30/sub 3?
I can give advice based on my own experience, but different people will obviously have different needs. In terms of training: for me, mileage is key. As I mentioned previously, I do absolutely zero speedwork. It might make me a faster runner, it might not – but I don’t enjoy it, so I don’t do it. Otherwise I’d just dread my runs! In terms of strategies during the race, START SLOW… I can’t stress enough how important this is. The “wall” comes out of nowhere and hits extremely hard. So, conserve energy until the latter half of the marathon. It feels amazing to run a negative split. You finish feeling strong and this carries on into your next race and it gives you confidence.
6. In your years of running, what is the single most valuable lesson that you have learned? Please share with us your valuable insights with regards to the dangers and pitfalls of Marathon running.
I guess the most important thing I have learned is how to listen to my body and to heed what it has to say. Being a runner means developing a connection between body and mind – constant conversation between the two is absolutely necessary. Some people just train mindlessly, but to what effect? Always pick quality over quantity, and make sure you’re actually enjoying what you’re doing. If you find yourself dragging through your runs, something is wrong somewhere – your body’s trying to tell you something. Heed its calls!
Marathon running can be dangerous: when you get so absorbed and into your run, it becomes all too easy to ignore those emergency signals your body is sending to you, because basically you’re just using mental energy to push through. I had a really bad experience at Gold Coast, I felt I was going to collapse with each step I took from about the 35th km onward, it was horrible. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I actually crossed the finish line in one piece, barely! It was quite weird, I felt like my limbs were somehow disconnected from my brain. This is why it’s vital to start conservatively and see how much you can give later on. You know when you run a bad marathon, it can put you off running. For many weeks following GCAM, my footsteps were tentative, my mind at unease… I had to slowly coax myself back to normalcy, to learn how to love running again.
7. You are moving unto your 3rd year in Bachelor of Biomedicine, University of Melbourne, majoring in Neuroscience. How do you manage your time amidst training? How do you find the balance?
I normally run before my lectures, then go to classes, then come back and study for the rest of the day! Very busy schedule, and I don’t have much time for anything else.. But I don’t mind, I like keeping myself occupied.
8. How is it that a young runner like you could have such an amazing stamina and endurance? What is the secret of your success?
The secret is that there is no secret. It all comes down to passion for what you do. When you love something, you do lots of it, and so you get better and better at it!
9. Please share with us the websites that you find useful for reference on the topic of Marathon running.
To be honest, I don’t visit websites to read up about strategies for marathon running. I find their training plans too technical.. Certainly not for me! I’m all about self-experimentation. The only things I do use from running websites are motivational quotes that I memorise and repeat to myself everyday. I think the power of words is amazing – they can help you pull through if you ever feel like giving up. (Tip: If you feel like giving up when running, pick a short phrase and repeat mentally like a mantra to the beat of your footsteps. I’ve found that this helps me to tune out the thoughts of “I can’t do this”… The rhythm of the words can be somewhat comforting, and before you know it, you’re already at the top of that hill!)
10. How could someone who would like to learn more about marathon running reach you for advice and guidance?
Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Well, thank you Sarah for your delightful sharing. I am truly honored, humbled and inspired! I wish you the very best in your endeavour at cracking the Malaysian Record to call it your own.
I believe you can do it! Go for it!