The ST Guide to... Training for a run

Staircase climb was her first step to fitness

Breathless trip up office stairs got editor started on running journey

My fitness journey started with a climb up the spiral staircase to my office. It is a short, spiral staircase, consisting of 17 steps. But to me, it might as well have been my Everest at the rate it left my lungs breathless and my legs burning.

This will not do, I told myself. And thus began yet another search for fitness.

In the past, the aim to lose weight was an annual resolution. But 20 years have gone and 10 kilos have come - and stayed.

It was time to try a different tactic and this is why I decided to sign up for The Straits Times Run, which will take place on July 16.

In the past four months, while training for the 5km run, here's what I've picked up about losing weight and getting fit.

1. HAVE A CLEAR GOAL

As noted above, losing weight was an annual resolution but my targets were never specific enough.

Signing up for a run gave me a clear goal (to finish the 5km without stopping) and a deadline to work towards. In other words, there's pressure.

Participants at The Straits Times Run last year. Training for the run this year, to be held on July 16, gives one a clear goal to work towards, says the writer, as there is pressure to be ready. The closing date to sign up for the run has been extend
Participants at The Straits Times Run last year. Training for the run this year, to be held on July 16, gives one a clear goal to work towards, says the writer, as there is pressure to be ready. The closing date to sign up for the run has been extended till June 28. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

2. REMOVE AS MANY OBSTACLES AS YOU CAN

For me, this meant trying to remove as many excuses that could crop up. So I decided to pick a gym (True Fitness in Ang Mo Kio) that was only a five-minute drive from my home, as opposed to a swankier and newer outlet that was in town but would entail me spending as much as 30 minutes on the CTE in the morning in order to reach it.

If not heading to the gym, I also sleep in my running gear, so as to psyche myself up and remind myself I have a "date" with the road.

3. INVEST IN A PERSONAL TRAINER IF YOU CAN

For newbies like me, this has been an invaluable tool. Not only have I learnt to train safely and efficiently, but my trainer Mohamed Faizal is also my motivator and cheerleader.

4. FORM IS KING

This is where the value of having a PT comes in, as opposed to training on one's own. Faizal keeps a strict eye on my form, that is, he ensures I do a movement correctly, which reduces the chance of injury.

He also ensures that I use my muscles - and not just momentum - in executing a move. When performing any exercise, doing it correctly is more important than doing it fast, or doing more reps because you are working the correct muscle.

I have learnt not to dismiss the small stuff in this aspect. One doesn't need big, huge movements to get an effective workout. For instance, when I was doing leg raises, I started by raising my legs 10cm to 12cm upwards but Faizal corrected my movement and limited it to only 5cm and, boy, is that harder than lifting my legs way higher because it targets the correct muscles (lower abs).

5. MIX THINGS UP

I run on my own and on the treadmill in the gym. That takes care of the cardio element.

But my workouts with Faizal focus on building up my core muscles, which ensure proper posture while running, and also my leg muscles.

Maintaining a proper posture has been key to helping me feel less fatigued on a run. It was a huge challenge initially, correcting years of poor posture where my shoulders in particular were hunched, and I would always lean forward. But my posture has since become slightly more upright although it is still a work in progress.

To me, running is about as interesting as counting rice grains. I admit it. Particularly if one is on a treadmill. By mixing things up in the gym, be it doing lunges or a farmer's walk and core workouts, I am challenged in different ways at each gym session with Faizal and this keeps me going.

6. DON'T DISMISS SIMPLICITY

I learnt that one does not need to use fancy machines to become fitter.

Very often, the workouts I do with Faizal require minimal equipment and sometimes nothing besides my own body weight. This is particularly true for things like calf raises and lunges. I have found the hardest exercises to be simple things like sideways lunges with a simple band. As I said before, form is king. If you execute a movement with good form, it will give your muscles a workout.

7. WEIGHT LOSS IS 70 PER CENT DIET

When the dietitian told me this, I remember thinking: "Why don't you just kill me now."

Sad but true. But this is a simple case of mathematics, plus and minus. Make sure you can burn off what you put in, or if you put in something that you're not going to burn off through exercise, then make up the difference somewhere else by taking something out that day. For instance, if I know I am going to have a Coke that day, then I know I have to "minus" something else from my calorie intake.

I will be the first to admit that this is easier said than done. Especially when I am stressed and head for comfort (fattening) food as a habit, cue Milo dinosaurs and mac and cheese. Nonetheless, just having that knowledge has helped me be more conscious and make more careful choices in the food I eat.

I must underline the fact that I am by no means an expert on running, although I am pleased to say that I have lost 1.3kg of fat and built 500g of muscle since embarking on this.

But if I can do it, you can too.

• The closing date to sign up for the ST Run has been extended to June 28. Sign up at straitstimesrun.com

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Staircase climb was her first step to fitness'. Print Edition | Subscribe