What I learn from Running....

I like lists. Apart from the obvious reasons for having them in the first place, (forgetful and disorganize that I am), it offers you the gratification of the primal need of ‘being’ in control. The content may be utter nonsense, but that’s beside the point.

I have a list for many things. And I habitually put a little square box next to each item. Oddly I sometimes derive greater pleasure ticking off the box than accomplishing the actual task at hand. Using a red marker just gives it more kick.

And today is high time that I list down lessons learned from my running life. Not because I am in any immediate danger of going senile, nor do I think that the readers are in dire need of reading this, but simply because I like lists. Kind of helps me think anyway. And reflect on where I am and where I am going with this running business.

It is not all glamour.  

You see those curvaceous female runners with six packs right below their sports bra glaring and teasing at you. Your eyes protrude as you sheepishly wipe off that drool. And you ruminate for a moment that somehow, by running, perhaps you would be able to show off your very own some day. Well, I am sorry to burst your bubble but it doesn’t quite happen that way. Unless you are into body building and work hard to define each individual bulk, mere running does not quite carve that out for you. I have successfully slimmed down from 75kg to 63kg since 2009. But there is still that blob of adipose tissue that refuses to leave my ill-defined six packs. What does that say? Am I not doing enough sit ups? Have I not run enough? Face it. It’s here to stay. But one thing I have learned: looks and glamour isn’t all that important. It’s all about functionality. Yeah, I’ll take on that six-pack any given day!  

If it doesn’t hurt, then you are not doing it right

People love to tell you that running is so enjoyable that all they paint is a rosy picture of a runner grinning as he trails along a dirt path along rolls of luscious green striding into the sunset. If you were to take a photo of most runners, (aside from the time that they are consciously putting on a smile for the photographer), most are just plain grimace that wouldn’t quite pass for even their own personal photo collection leave alone the all very public Facebook album. In the occasional moments of euphoria, where endorphin finally kicks in, you may see one or two of them rare footage of a runner’s high. But realistically, expect it to be tough going. That is, IF you are training right. (Well, unless of course you are on your recovery days). Smile or no smile, it’s all cosmetics. A runner with true grit wouldn’t settle for anything less. No Pain No Gain. Yes, I know. Cliché as it is, truth is still truth. That said, perhaps, for publicity sake and the promotion of the sport, runners should still attempt to flex their facial muscles and put on a smiley face. After all, no point in scaring away all the newbies with the “I-am-about-to-drop-dead look”. The running world has had enough bad press already.

‘Giving up’ comes in shades of grey

The motivation guru would have you swallow the red pill and make you swear that you would never EVER give up. Quitting is inconceivable. It’s for the wuss. The word shouldn’t even be uttered. But actually, sometimes, the word QUIT isn’t such a ‘four letter word’. It is a matter of perspective. However, to some, contemplating their own demise would come first before they could even concede to the notion of ever quitting. I have strived hard for some goals in my running life. As important as that goal is to me, it still does not overshadow the responsibilities and duties that I have as a father and husband, and certainly as a medical professional. There are other priorities in life. Having the courage to quit is called for at times. Also, in cases of running related injuries, it may be necessary to give up some races that you have planned for, or stop running all together for a year or two. If you need to, it would be a sensible, justifiable and healthy decision to quit. Don’t get so hung up on the never-EVER-quit part. Of course, don’t quote me on this when you ever decide to throw in the towel just half way into your marathon because you are feeling ‘tired’, saying that Francis says that giving up is ‘perfectly justifiable’. You may just get a kick on the butt from me. The only thing you need to quit is giving yourself excuses. Just go and train more lah!

Keep it simple
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I don’t know about others, but when I see some runners fully suited up for training, my heart skips a beat. They remind me of commandos on a field mission. Or costume dress up for a Halloween party. Pick one. Reflective cap on top equipped with MP3 player tucked snugly at the temple pocket space, a pair of cool Oakley, compression suit from neck to the ankle, Magnetic necklace or bracelet, Hydration belts or Camelback Hydration Pac, packs of gels, Garmin GPS, Heart rate monitor, and let’s not forget the latest innovation in the overpriced and overrated running shoes. The only thing missing is the quintessential Taser (which is illegal here) to fend off the Mat Rempit…you’ll never know when these things may come in handy. Or perhaps a cape will do just find. I don’t mean to be mean. (OK, I am mean.) But sometimes, it’s a bit OTT. I think it is best to dress sensibly. Keep it simple and modest. Someday, you may even surprise yourself when you realize that it is actually fun to run without a GPS watch. Running is supposed to be the most basic form of exercise. All you really need is a reasonable pair of shoes (or without, if you like to run barefoot), then you are off! Keeping them VO2 Max device in basement, or stocking up EPO in the fridge is a bit excessive. Don’t you think?

It’s no mystical mumbo jumbo.  

Believe it or not, there is actually a prescribed method to this madness. From Arthur Lydiard to Hal Higdon, and the now very chic FIRST program and Hanson method, there’s a vast treasure trove of great programs to choose from. The problem is: Which one? Well, that’s the beauty of it. You’ll have to find out for yourself. You may be the type that’s not too picky, and would easily settle for the one-size-fits-all shirt from Tesco, but when it comes to running, you do have to be a little more discrete. For this, it has to be a tailored suit from Milan. You’ll have to discover for yourself what works best for you. Don’t listen to just anybody telling you what to do. They may just be the blind leading the blind. And you may just end up falling off the cliff together. Do your homework and try on several programs until you settle for one that gives you results. Even if you are a casual jogger, there is still something for you. But don’t be lazy. Read up!

LSD means S.L.O.W

I used to think that if I could consistently train by running at a desired marathon pace for all my long runs, then logic would have it that I could readily reproduce the same target result on race day. I thought it was brilliant! One which could even revolutionize modern running! But you guess it, weeks into this kind of breakneck pace, before you know it, I shipwrecked and ended up with injuries. Sometimes, I think I am incapable of learning the easier way. It was back to the drawing board. But I later realized that LSD, commonly known for training endurance does not depend much on your speed. The real benefit of it only kicks in after 90-120 minutes into running. And running at a pace of 45-90seconds per mile slower that the usual marathon pace would be just fine. This is taken from Hal Higdon’s wise words. However, there is a role for time trial, whichever way it fits into your own program. But when it comes to LSD, take it easy on yourself. Go S.L.O.W. Better still, learn to enjoy it. Be assured that slowness is actually good for you. Try telling that to an ADHD runner….

Breathe, damn it, BREATHE! 

I am surprise that we spend so much time and attention honing the running posture, stepping up our pace, drilling on the intervals, or even clocking in LSD hours on dusty road side; but very little is spoken about breathing. I know it comes natural (unless you are an asthmatic like I used to be) but I was appalled by my ignorance about the proper breathing method in running. It’s not until recently that I happened to stumble upon a video clip in Runnersworld about breathing technique. Click here. And after experimenting it on myself, I was pleasantly amazed that the technique actually worked! It even enhanced the whole running experience! I feel a lot more relax during and after the run. The rhythm just flowed so, well, rhythmically, and spontaneously. It was almost effortless. Like waltzing the Blue Danude. I wonder why no one ever talks about it? I mean, obviously I didn’t just stumble upon an ancient guarded secret or something. Somebody was just keeping their lips tightly sealed about this….

OK, the list ends here for now. Obviously there are others but I wouldn’t like to over stretch the attention span of readers. After all, its tensile strength is proportionate to the amount of rubbish one can take.

Going through the above list, I have to say that knowing these facts doesn’t necessarily make me wiser. After all, the idiot part of me still thinks he knows best. And being human, the tendency to revisit our mistakes seems like a cursed trait. Thanks to Adam and Eve. But that said, at least I have the list to remind me how flawed I am, every once in a while. Hope it helps you too!  


  1. Dammit Francis, there goes my ‘Francis said it's perfectly justifiable to quit' excuse ... LOL!

    I'm actually learning too go at a real sight-seeing pace for my LSD's and am actually THOROUGHLY enjoying my runs even more these days.

    I enjoyed the entire post.

    1. haHa! I think you won't ever need that kind of excuse, Nick.

      Glad to see that you are learning to take it easy. That's what running's all about at the end of the day. Not that any of us are in the same league as Ryan Hall etc...Might as well stop once in a while and smell the roses...

  2. Thanks for sharing. Greatest tips :)

    1. Thanks mate! Only to satisfy my obsession of keeping list. :)

  3. Hi Francis, thanks for the sharing.
    I agree with you that running should be as simple as possible. I used to have foot pod and watch, then I changed to smartphone, then I have Garmin that come with HRM. And Spibelt during race. Sometimes after setting them up already kill the mood to run. Now I reduce the use of HRM, and still try to bring water bottles for long run.

    Thanks for the article on breathing. I tried alternate foot on inhale and exhale during race when I have stitch, but now I know it has more benefit. Will definitely keep that article for reference.

    1. Thanks Kent, my 'discovery' of breathing method was a definite boon but it still takes a lot of practice to perfect it. Synchronizing the steps when running faster still doesn't come natural and smooth as I had hoped. If I bump into any elite in future, I will definitely try to learn a few tricks from them.
      Thanks for dropping by :)

  4. lately I am running more without music and praying instead... love the quiet time with God

    1. Yes CL, running is a definite "alone time with God for me". Never liked music anyway, I find it too distracting. Messes with the breathing rhythm too...


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