"There are reasons why even a 10km is a major achievement for me"

    Coming from SHAPE, I often get this snide reaction from people who don’t know me well when I tell them that I’m running a 5k or a 10k race. Why? Because, let’s face it; if you are from SHAPE (or always seen to be spamming your FB page with photos of your active weekends), then you’re bound to be in a shape good enough to do more than that, right? So, imagine the wide-eyed excitement I got from some people when I first mentioned that I was joining the Blackmores Run, slowly but dramatically fading into curt disappointment at the second mention of the 10k Bridge Run! Because, shouldn’t you be doing a half or a full marathon already?!

    “Oh, 10k?”. And I went “Yes, 10k”, quite proudly. Let me tell you why.

    In the last 1km sprint, my media tag came undone. That’s what I’m holding here.

    The medal corresponds to my Opera House background!

    I began running about eight years ago. It wasn’t something I enjoyed much at the start, but having met the right people who encouraged me in this pursuit, made me take it seriously. Running became my stress-buster. Time for reflection. My safe bubble. I ran anywhere between 6km and 15km almost daily. I ran at dawn, and sometimes into the midnight when I’ve had a long day. A couple of years later, I was training for a half marathon. During this period, I began to feel disabling pain on the areas just above my ankles 10 minutes into a run. I also noticed lumps at the sides on both legs.

    Thousands of runners as they make their way on the bridge. Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    Upon many check-ups, I was diagnosed with Chronic Extertional Compartment Syndrome – an uncommon condition in which increased tissue pressure within a closed muscle compartment compromises blood flow to the muscles and nerves within that compartment, resulting in potential tissue and nerve damage. Dang! A whole lot of drama later, I was simply told to stop running. And, I did for a couple years before I found ways to manage my situation.  During this period, I also took up barefoot running to rehabilitate and strengthen my feet. It took a lot of patience and time, understanding the way I moved, and involved a whole lot of specific stretching (thanks to Dr. James Stoxen). This means, as I’m well into my second or third kilometer, I stop to stretch and release any spasms that I may be experiencing at that moment to buy myself another km or two. Yes, this affects my time, but it’s about finding my wings, being able to run again and finishing my race. Long story short, although the struggle is real, I’m able to manage short runs every now and then. And, that’s why being a part of Blackmores Sydney Running Festival meant a big deal to me.

    The event had 33,000 runners. Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    I have some experience running in extreme weather conditions, but since I’m back and living in Malaysia I’ve been accustomed to the warm and humid weather. However, just to prepare for the Blackmores Bridge Run, I also trained on my home treadmill with the air-conditioning on full blast! But, I’ve to say, nothing prepped me for that windy, chilly morning at Milsons Point where the race started. Even the mighty sun felt chilly. And, shamelessly breaching into people’s personal spaces during the toilet wait did little to warm me. But I kept moving the whole two hours I was there. Thirty minutes before the flag-off, I made my way to the C group starting point where I watched more people, and stared longingly at the lady with the blanket, secretly hoping that she’d share it with me. To her, I was probably this creepy Asian girl who stared.

    All these warm bodies at the toilet queue, and I was still feeling extremely cold.

    Happy runners! Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    Post-race massages.

    The race kicked off. Energy was high, but my feet felt heavy like they were a couple of bricks thumping on the ground as I jumped from foot to foot. I wondered if the others felt the same way. Many had their jackets on and discarded them as they got further. I ran faster in shady areas so I could rejoin the sunny sites for some warmth. Around the time I was on the bridge, I stopped to stretch and take some photos. I continued running with a steady pace for a few kilometres after that. Slowly, it began to feel comfortable again, and I enjoyed the view and atmosphere along the way. A few runners, including a caped cancer survivor even approached me to say that they liked my pace, and that they were going by it. I told them that I may stop if I needed to. “That’s okay,” said the caped survivor.

    Since my actual flag-off was at 8.20am after the A and B groups, I was finishing around 9.30am. The sun was up, I felt a lot more energised. I decided to pick up my pace in the last kilometre. Just 300m before the finish line, my media tag came undone, so I stopped to pick it up without distracting the ones just at the back of me. And, finally I finished at the iconic Sydney Opera House, with thousands like me posing with the finisher medal’s with that landmark as the background. It felt surreal in many ways because I was told in 2011 that I can’t run anymore.

    My time. With all the stretch and photo stops.

    Remember that we’re all made differently. Mary may have the endurance for a marathon, but Susan can climb hills and mountains, and bootcamp her way through summer in the mideast everyday simply because we’re different like that.  Own your fitness, work around your abilities, and be #shapeproud !

    Post run yoga session! Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    The race finished at the iconic Sydney Opera House. Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    In my next windy, chilly run, I’m suiting up like this Spiderman over here! Photography: Jessica Haddad.

    He ran a full marathon in this rhino costume!

    Note: Watch this space for what else I did in Sydney apart from running in the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival! 


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