Opinion

OPINIONATED STORYTELLING

Running Around the Globe, One Race at a Time

Running has brought so much joy into my life.

Wait. Did I just say that? Didn’t I start running only to justify my all-time favourite hobby (eating good food, trying new restaurants and avoiding my own kitchen at all costs)?

How did this happen?

In 2010, my husband and I jumped at an opportunity to take a posting to Singapore from New York (we are originally Australian). After ten years of commuting in the snow (or searing heat), struggling up and down subway stairs with strollers (occasionally while pregnant with the next child) and always putting work ahead of family, I was ready for the opportunity to well, bludge*.

We moved into a stunning condominium, overlooking a pool and palm trees, complete with waterfall and the fragrance of frangipanis wafting up into our living room. Oh, and someone else was paying the rent. A week later the Catholic guilt set in. “We must do something to make us feel deserving of all this!” Since I had given birth just four months earlier to our third child and my husband had been working and travelling like a maniac, health and fitness had been a low priority. We were really fat. Attempting to rectify this in some way seemed like a good plan. Out the window went my plans to lie by the pool all day.

At cocktails in a neighbour’s apartment shortly after, we discovered that we had moved into a hive of fitness freaks. (Hi guys, how are you doing? Miss you.) One of our neighbours was about to complete her first marathon and told us she had only started running a year before, by running to the end of our street and back (about 2km). Surely even we could manage that.

A few bottles of red wine later, we had committed to run the following morning.

Note: Red wine + 30 degree heat + running = An Ugly Start to the Day.

Despite the rough start we persevered, up and down the street (complete with hill) for a few weeks, then we discovered something. We could go further. This meant actually running into the Botanic Gardens located at the end of the street.

The gardens took our breath away. I could write for days about the beauty of the orchids and tropical flowers, the carp in the ponds, the wildlife, the art and the history, but I’ll refer you elsewhere for that. Needless to say, it was one of many stunning locations we discovered we could run through around Singapore.

Beautiful scenery was our first hook.

Once it became obvious to the condo Fitness Freaks that we weren’t not going to keel over after a 5km run, they began extolling the virtues of taking part in an organized race. Six am one Sunday morning , we found ourselves heading to the start point for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAFRA) 10km race. I must have peed three times before the start, I was that nervous. After the start, my competitive instincts kicked in. Do you know how awesome it feels to overtake a bunch of trained soldiers in a race? Hook number two - I’m secretly really competitive.

Within a year, we had done half a dozen races and completed our first half marathon. **Then, we realized we were limiting ourselves geographically. We could run beyond the Little Red Dot (a term of endearment for Singapore). Where should we go? The Great Wall half marathon in Beijing? Head to Australia for the City to Surf in Sydney? The Fuji Mountain Race in Japan? We settled for the Angkor Wat Half Marathon, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Flights were booked well in advance (a first for us. We are notorious for our last minute bookings), my parents came to stay with the kids, we had trained for the distance and we were ready. Unfortunately, the morning of the race, my husband decided to put his superhero cape on before he went for a light run. Let me paint the picture. Child comes hurtling down a hill on a runaway bike, screaming in terror, with the mother giving chase a short distance behind. In steps Super-Drew, who swiftly stops the bike, then proceeds to face-plough into the handlebars, in order to avoid landing on the small child. A trip to the emergency room and 12 stitches in his lip meant he wasn’t running anywhere that weekend.

Charmian in Siem Reap, Cambodia (husband drinking beer out of a straw)

Charmian in Siem Reap, Cambodia (husband drinking beer out of a straw)

Despite the setback, off we flew for my running trip to Cambodia (husband accompanying me, drinking beer out of a straw, while I sipped sports drinks). We absolutely made the right decision to go ahead with the trip. I watched the sunrise over the temples at the starting point, ran along dirt roads with a glorious canopy of tropical trees to shelter me, but my the thing that I will remember most clearly were the children. The local children had been engaged to collect the discarded drink bottles along the run route and then exchanged them for money. When they weren’t picking the bottles up, they were waving, smiling, laughing and giving high-fives. I am not exaggerating when I say I must have high-fived two hundred children along my run that morning and each one reminded me how fortunate I was to be in a position to run that race, economically and physically. Inspiration and travel – the third and final running hook.

I now live in London. It’s not my favourite place to live, but mainly because I got used to being close to my family in Sydney and now I miss them desperately. I continue to run, because I realize now that some of the best experiences I have had in this crazy, unstable expat life we have chosen, involved a running race.

Charmian and Andrew - Les 20Km in Paris

Charmian and Andrew - Les 20Km in Paris

I have recently returned from running Les 20km de Paris. It started and finished under Le Tour Eiffel and took us through parts of Paris I had never seen before. Then I got to eat a fabulous meal with my husband, drink champagne and squeeze in a bit of shopping in Saint Germain, before hopping the Eurostar home. I have no right to complain about anything.

When I’m looking at my next race, it’s no longer about me qualifying for a race, but more about whether the race qualifies for me. My bar has become quite high, despite the fact that running is supposed to be the cheapest form of exercise you can take part in. It’s become an expensive habit for me, but I don’t take it for granted for a minute.

If the thought of my next race gets me out pounding the pavement on a chilly, wet London morning it’s worth the cost as a SAD deterrent. Hey, and just think how much I’m saving by drinking less Shiraz!

I’ll let you know how I go in the Seville 10k. Hoping for a personal best.

Things I love:

Singapore Botanic Gardens http://www.sbg.org.sg/

The Little Red Dot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_red_dot

Angkor Wat Half Marathon http://www.angkormarathon.org/

Les 20km de Paris http://www.20kmparis.com/

Le Bon Marche Paris http://www.lebonmarche.com/

Seasonal Affective Disorder http://www.sad.org.uk/

Favourite Aussie red wines:

http://www.lakesfolly.com.au

http://www.tamburlaine.com.au/

* Bludge: classic Aussie slang meaning to do nothing, in particular work, preferably at someone else’s cost. See also vegetate.

** It needs to be noted, that I never would have had the time in my day to run and train, if it was not for the greatest benefit of living as an expat in Singapore. Our beautiful helper Lilibeth did my laundry, cleaning and a lot of the cooking. She never understood why we would want to go out and run in 98% humidity and our 4am starts for training runs on the East Coast were a great source of amusement for her, but we know how great our debt is to her.

Charmian Grove is an Aussie mother-of-three roaming the globe, always looking for the next mountain to conquer. Book/music/food lover. Photo industry aficionado. Obsessive networker. Lived in NYC (10yrs), Singapore (3.5 yrs). Currently in London, but dreaming of somewhere sunnier. Find her on Instagram or LinkedIn. Follow her on Twitter.