Run for your life
MIDDLE-AGE spread is the ugliest thing a man – or woman – can possess. The Chinese in the good old days used to joke about a big belly being the sum of all good stuff. But those were actually the bad old days where most people seldom had enough to eat, so a big belly was indeed a sign that one was having more than one’s fill of life.
Today, a belly hanging out from a middle-aged person is a sign of indolence and gluttony. It is an unnecessary burden to carry, and eventually it drags the owner down into all kinds of hellish afflictions – creaky joints, high-blood pressure, diabetes, gout, stroke and heart attack.
Once upon a time, I too was carrying a belly, the result of many nights consuming lard-encrusted noodles (the infamous char-kway-teow or oily fried noodles of Singapore), sauce-stewed fat-layered pork (a Hakka favourite dish), fiery chilli crab, marbled beef steak on a sizzling cast-iron hot plate, and golden-fried spring chicken, washed down into my guts by a Niagara of beer. Every dish is either fried or swamped in oil.
One day, as I was entering middle age (for me, it started at 40), I was felled by an attack of gout. Believe me, the pain was unbearably exquisite, concentrating on the left big toe. I was flat on my back, unable to rise because the slightest movement of the foot would cause an invisible demon to twist a steel needle through my body.
My boss then, a round-bodied Englishman called Mike Annetts who insisted we had a mid-afternoon “Happy Hour” drinking session every Wednesday in his office, used to joke that gout was caused by slow horses and fast women. I quickly discovered from the doctor that red meat (pork, duck, mutton, beef, veal, crabmeat, shrimps), beer-drinking and lack of exercise were the culprits and as I didn’t like the idea of lying on my back in excruciating agony, I decided there and then to stop my gluttony and start a programme of physical exercise.
As I could’t run because of my swollen toe, I took to pedalling a stationary exercise bicycle. Here I made a startling discovery – if I pedalled to the point of exhaustion, the gouty pain would disappear. And so would my headache, backache and other aches. Rigorous exercise was providing the same effect as pain-killer pills.
One for the road
To cut a short story shorter, I have, since the initial gout attack a decade ago, changed my diet, eating only fish, chicken and vegetable. I’ve also become addicted to strenuous physical exercise – cycling, distance running, weight-lifting, swimming and scuba-diving. Strenuous sweaty exercise turns out to be a natural cure for my sniffing nose, migraine and stiff joints, all of which I had been suffering since my teenage years.
Running is the quickest, cheapest way to good health and a trim figure. There’s no need to buy expensive gear. A pair of canvas shoes (like the black kungfu pair worn by Bruce Lee in The Big Boss), cotton T-shirt and shorts are all you require. Heck, I often run shoeless, and occasionally topless, especially in the coastal park after dark.
You don’t even need to join a gym (although it is a good idea). Just check out a safe route in your neighbourhood and start running for your life.
And on the clean, springy track in a stadium, I run barefoot, which is so much safer than in those pricey, cushioned shoes that damage the feet and ankle.
I do my road running usually before midnight when there are few vehicles to fume the air. Usually I try to cover at least 5km in 30 minutes. Before the run, I warm up my legs and knee joints with a slow jog for a half-km. The slow warm-up is crucial as I discovered early on when I suffered painful knees because I was impatient and skipped it during my runs.
After the run, I continue walking for another km to cool down and then do leg squats to loosen the joints.
Loneliness of a distance runner
Runing is never easy, even for the seasoned individual. On the road, for instance, you may be chased by dogs, or worse, hit by a car when you’re crossing and not paying attention.
A treadmill is safer and more comfortable, but you have to pay gym membership fees which not everyone can afford. Also, since the revolving platform helps to move your feet, the benefits of a 10km treadmill run, are equivalent to a mere 2-4km run on solid ground. On the ground, if you don’t apply energy, nothing moves!
And when your lungs fight for air, your knees start to buckle and your mind gets lonely and bored, all the advice and motivating talk is forgotten.
There’s nothing I can add here then to say if you don’t run for your life, you will soon have not much life to run.
– Francis Chin, April 2002