I WAS an overweight kid. Growing up, despite my academic achievements or my efforts to be a kind person, “the weight” has always been used against me.
I ended up believing that as an overweight person I could not possibly be athletic, lithe and springy. I believed that one had to be skinny to be a success in life.
Then, I fell in love with running. It started innocently enough. I was writing my PhD thesis and was spending so much time in a chair that it started to have a physical toll on my overall well-being.
I tipped the scale at 100.5kg. Not only did I suffer from bad self-esteem, but I was also feeling sluggish and could not be as productive as I wanted to be to complete the thesis within the scholarship and visa deadline.
I began by taking small steps. I jogged from the college where I was staying to the riverbank, making it past five lamp posts that lined the Brisbane River.
The next day, I made it past another two lamp posts, making a total count of seven lamp posts. I kept going, adding a couple of lamp posts a day, until I could finally jog comfortably along the whole riverbank lining the St Lucia campus.
To cut a long story short, I left Brisbane with a PhD and a determination to run a marathon by the time I turned 30. I completed the latter in 2013, at the Penang Bridge International Marathon, a bittersweet experience where I managed to run a full marathon on my thirtieth year on the island of my birth.
Last weekend, I shifted the personal goal post and attempted a 50km run in Genting Sempah, known among runners as the Route 68 Challenge. I signed up for the arduous challenge as I was not getting any faster in my running goals, and with my increasing age, I could feel the kilos sneaking back on, despite my best efforts to keep them at bay. It was a humbling experience, despite a strong start in the first quarter of the race. I got to 43.5km and my body just refused to go any further.
It was my first bitter taste of failure. Despite all the physical and moral support from my many friends who turned up on the day and who have accompanied me during training, I failed to declare myself an ultramarathoner.
I was quite disappointed with myself, of course. I wanted to prove that a big woman, one who does not look like an average runner; can still be a runner.
I spent the past five months training for this particular marathon and invested money, time and effort only to be rushed to the medical assistance tent in the end.
My only souvenirs from the race were chafing on my body, horrible sunburn and a badly bruised ego. After several good, long cries however, I sought inspiration from stories of other Malaysians, fellow runners and especially those who completed the 121st Boston Marathon over the weekend, to pick myself up and run another day.
Case in point: our celebrated cyclist, Azizulhasni Awang, trained hard for eight years to become world champion.
Countless Malaysians tried many times before qualifying for a spot at the elite and exclusive Boston Marathon, and many more Malaysians work hard every day to achieve dreams no one thought possible.
The key here is we dared to dream – regardless of the challenges we face along the way – and we attempted to make that dream a reality. It would have been worse if we had not dreamt at all. My experience proved that despite the best-laid plans, it can all go to nought; but the same experience has lit a spark in me to try harder.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t agree that Malaysians can only be successful when we leave the country. Those of us who are here matter; we all have to collectively strive for the best versions of ourselves, challenging ourselves with professional and personal goals every year.
I find my solace, my joy and my challenge in running long distances. Through my six years of running, I have experienced countless instances of street harassment, been body-shamed, told off for being too slow, had injuries, lost weight and gained weight.
But I am still running. It can be seen as a metaphor for life itself, wherein the marathon called life, we only fail when we stop running and we should cross that final finish line as strongly as we can.
Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to have officially registered for the Boston Marathon and a fierce advocate of getting girls and women active in the sport, famously said, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” I would go a step further and say, “If you want to believe in your own ability, go run a marathon.”