Sunday, June 28, 2009

Run for your life!

You don’t need to finish a marathon to benefit from running. Twenty minutes, three times a week, are enough for a healthier, happier you.

PUTTING one foot in front of the other on a regular basis is an easy, affordable form of exercise that will get you far, in more ways than one.

Regular exercise improves mood, controls weight, and strengthens muscles and bones. It helps prevent chronic diseases by keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar in check.

Why run? Besides the health benefits, running provides 39-yearold IT project manager Jamie Pang with “me” time, good times with good friends, and competitive goals to aim for, like finishing a major marathon in less than four hours.

Regular exercise can even improve your sex life by boosting energy and promoting blood circulation. (According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than men who don’t, especially as they age.)

Too tired to exercise? Pity, because it’ll help you sleep better. Especially if you’re someone who comes home exhausted from the office, yet takes ages to wind down enough to fall asleep.

Running is a particularly flexible. You can indulge in it at any time in peaceful solitude, with a fun group of friends, or competitively in events like today’s KL Marathon.

Whatever your preference, the important thing is to start on the right foot, advises 10-time marathon runner, Jamie Pang.

“Running is not sprinting”

Pang, 39, has been running since his dad dared him to complete the Penang Bridge Run when he was 15. Most recently, he completed the 2008 US New York Marathon in four hours and three minutes - a personal best that’s miles away from his early days.

Like most first-timers, the teenaged Pang would be off like a shot from the get-go, or try to chase other runners down, only to have to slow to a panting, gasping walk minutes later. Today, his first piece of advice to beginners is: “Don’t run too hard. Running is not sprinting.”

These beginners are those who attend the free classes he conducts through Runners Malaysia. Every Saturday morning, Pang and his Runners Malaysia partner bring them through an easy route at the Lake Gardens in KL, instructing them on technique along the way.

“We always advise them to take it slow,” he says. “New runners tend to get very enthusiastic because they see their fitness improve very, very quickly. The first session is tough - they get sore etc - but after a couple of weeks, when their bodies adjust to the stress, they get very encouraged. Then they sign up for a 10km run, or, even better, a 15 or 20km run. Herd mentality kicks in and everybody signs up. It’s too much too soon.

“When they’re overenthusiastic, they don’t get enough recovery time, and their bodies start to break down. They’ll find something doesn’t feel normal, their knees or feet start to hurt. And when they injure themselves, they stop.”

To get you started, and avoid these pitfalls, Pang presents these pointers:


·Get shoes that fit well, with the correct support for your foot shape, and which are meant for running. Using other shoes can lead to injury.

·Eat and drink something before, but not too soon before, you run. Avoid foods that are difficult to digest, because they will reroute oxygen-carrying blood from your running muscles to your gut.

·Stre...tch. Stretching properly can prevent cramps and reduce soreness. Find out what works for you - holding stretches for longer (20 seconds) or shorter (three seconds), static stretching (where you stay stationary) or dynamic stretching (where you’re in motion).


·Don’t count distance, count time spent on your feet. The first 20 minutes will give you the highest spike in aerobic benefit, so go for 20-minute sessions more often, rather than longer sessions less often.

·Warm up. A warm body is a flexible body, and a flexible body gets injured less easily (in the same way a green twig bends, and a dry twig snaps). Walk, jump, or jog around a bit before you run.

·Run-walk. Measure your progress against visible markers eg lampposts. Run five lampposts, walk three lampposts, run five more. Increase running and decrease walking until you’re running the whole route.

·Go slow. If you can’t talk comfortably while running, you’re going too fast.

·Mix it up slowly. Running on varied terrains builds strength and adaptability, but should be approached gradually. Start running on level ground.


·Cool down. Don’t jumpstart your heart and don’t “jumpstop” it either. Slow your pace down from a run, to a jog, then a walk before stopping completely.

·Stre...tch again.

·Recover. Let your body rest in between runs. Measure your heart rate when you wake up - that’s your resting heart rate. If your resting heart rate is higher than normal the day after a run, rest another day before running again.

Moderation is key

You may have come across some alarmist articles about runners dropping dead in long distance races. These rare cases have typically been those of marathon runners who experience sudden cardiac death as a result of excessive heart stress.

But stress, Pang asserts, is the whole point of exercise: “It’s all about stressing your body, recovering, and repetition. To get fit, you have to stress your body, then recover, then you’ll be stronger.”

Besides, studies have shown the relative risk of sudden cardiac death in marathons to be infinitesimally low. As low as 0.8 per 100,000 runners, according to a 2007 University of Ontario study that retrospectively reviewed over three million marathon runners.

The study concluded: “Organised marathons are not associated with an increase in sudden deaths from a societal perspective, contrary to anecdotal impressions fostered by news media.”

Furthermore, the long-term benefits of regular, moderate exercise, as highlighted at the beginning of this article, far outweigh the risk of dying, says sports medicine doctor Dr William Chan (see Love your legs for more advice on SF11.)

If, however, you remain alarmed regarding the risk, just listen to your heart. Any of the methods below will help you keep your level of exertion moderate, and therefore safe.

·Take the talk test. Moderate exertion is when you can talk while running, but not hold a tune.

·Take your pulse. Count your pulse for six seconds and times it by 10 to get your heart rate. Moderate exertion is 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (HRmax). How HRmax is calculated can vary - some formulas take your resting heart rate, age, or gender into account, some don’t. Visit for a simple calculator.

·Buy an electronic heart monitor. It will do all the calculations for you, and even, depending on how much you pay for it, tell you when to take it easy.

To find out more about the Runners Malaysia beginner’s programme, visit or contact Jamie Pang (012-3080752;

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