I was extremely lucky to catch Dr Fong for a short chat. She is an avid long-distance runner and competitor, medical doctor and mother. She recently completed the 50km Ultra-Trail Australia in May. This year alone, she has completed three races, Lantau 25km trail race, TPW Garmin Singapore 5k and Ultra-Trail Australia.
She spoke to us about her medical practice, helping her patients pursue a healthier lifestyle, and finding time to train for long-distance running.
The prevailing trend of chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure affects Singaporeans as well as the rest of the world. The sedentary lifestyle, excess refined carbohydrates in most convenience foods, eating out, lack of exercise and stress are affecting the younger people, as young as teenagers.
There are preventions and steps we can take to minimise the risk of these diseases:
Exercise – start small. It can be walking, aqua aerobics etc.
Prepare your meals at home and no eating at food courts. Cooking at home for your own meals means you get to control what goes into your food. Bring your meals to work. If you must, make food court delicacies a treat and not the norm.
Diets – don’t get hung up on specific diets. The best diet is what you can maintain for the rest of your life.
For those who might say that it costs more to be healthy. Look at the option between being on medication the rest of your life or taking an active role in keeping you and your family healthy. Some tips to keep within budget, buy in bulk, buy frozen, buy during the discount periods.
Training for long distance races
Workout everyday for at least an hour.
Mix up your workouts between cardio, stretching (pilates, yoga) and strength such as weights.
The races are usually overseas, and the topography is different from Singapore. Have a strategy. Plan the training around it. Train yourself to eat real food while exercising so that during the race your body adapts to it. She eats real food continuously from 5km mark onwards.
Dr Fong Lian Im: “Find a little bit of time and do the best you can. We tend to put ourselves last. You have to fit in the time for exercise and to look after yourself first to look after others. You don’t need to have a podium finish, it’s meant to be fun. If it’s not fun, you don’t need to do the race.”
Faith (Ayaka) Suzuki started her journey as a competitive triathlete when a guy ghosted her in 2015. Little did she know that the first run she took for emotional destressing would take her on a journey of fitness and competitions. It wasn’t until 2017 when she took to triathlon on a more serious note. Despite the late start in this path, she is mostly a podium finisher.
She is a humble athlete who would downplay her achievements. Having tried triathlon sprints which are a fraction of what she does on a regular basis, I know mere mortals like myself, can’t easily achieve what she has done. She races almost every couple of weeks and they are not short distances.
Faith definitely qualifies as the Everyday Warrior who’s striving to be better and live the life she’s passionate about.
She works full time with a sports company which gives her the flexibility to train 1.5 to 2 hours a day. Prior to this, she made arrangements with workplaces that allow her to train during lunch hours or leave at a decent hour after work for training. She’s working with coaches at TriEdge Team who sends her weekly templates for training. The training templates would vary depending on her goals and work. There are times when she’s unable to complete the training schedule as planned.
Faith’s Strategies for her races:
Plan a big race which she calls A Race. Once she has that in mind, she would plan smaller races which she calls B or C Races before the A Race. This is to get herself mentally and physically prepared for the bigger race.
The season in Japan for Triathlons is between April to September. Outside those months, she would sign up for running or biking races just to keep mentally and physically sharp i.e. half marathons, bike, swims.
Try as much as possible to stick to training schedule. Have support group ie coaches or athletic community around.
Having enough sleep. Faith calls herself the nap champion. Having a good night’s sleep and catching a nap as and when she can helps with post training recovery.
A week prior to the race, she stops drinking (yes, don’t hate her), and dials down her training load.
During the race:
Set goals prior to the race in regards to studying the path, which part to go for it and which to stay at pace.
When things get tough, set smaller goals i.e. get to that building and keep moving that smaller goal until finished.
Quitting is not an option. Just knowing that you will complete it regardless of how much pain you are in means you can’t call it quits during the race.
Food during the race is still something she’s experimenting with. There were disasters, like beef jerky (do not try), and better things like peanut butter sandwiches. Happy to hear any inputs on this!
She claims there isn’t much to talk about as she eats everything. However, it should be noted that Faith doesn’t eat junk food and eating everything is pretty much eating whole foods such as grains, pasta, fish, meats and vegetables.
It took me a long time to work out the podcast interview with Faith as she’s based in Tokyo. Apologies as this podcast would not have great sound quality on my side. However, Faith will be loud and clear, that’s more important!
I’ve been battling issues after issues ever since I’ve embarked on this podcasting journey. Perhaps it’s just me, I’m not great with equipment or technology. The simplest things could potentially drag out for weeks. I’ve been trying to setup a Skype podcast with Faith Suzuki, luck has it that the first time we tried, Skype wouldn’t even allow me to log in. The second time, Skype could not read my mic nor could Audacity record.
My usual response would have flipped flopped between self-despair to absolute pessimism and back to self-pity on why things don’t ever work out because I’m the only person doing it. Who am I kidding? I can’t even get the hairdryer or the toaster to work on a regular day, let along setup a podcast interview.
This type of self-defeating conversational loop will add to my not so patient nature, which is – stress.
I will admit that I am not a patient person, in fact, I’m terribly impatient and annoying especially when I’m on holidays. I don’t even know what it means when someone tells me to “relax”. I understand the meaning of the word, but to experience it is something not natural to me.
From the moment I’m awake, I start executing my to do lists, my goals, and my dreams. I run on the adrenaline of doing for 16 hours straight. I pack as much as I can into my day. Everything that I’m doing is with a purpose and with intensity, from my workouts to work, including my meditation.
Then…a few weeks ago everything changed. I must have overextended myself and while on a long weekend trip, I slept 12 hours straight and thereafter I did something unimaginable. I read fiction. I have always felt that maximising my time includes cramming knowledge into the spare moments. Reading fiction would have been like watching TV to me, it’s killing time without adding any useful knowledge towards self-improvement.
But, it was a wonderful book and I truly enjoyed myself during that long weekend. I finally realised what it felt like to be relaxed. Then it hit me. I should be feeling this way all the time instead of just this moment. I want to have this moment of feeling OK to be sustainable and achievable.
To do that, I had to work backwards and look deeper into various aspects of my living. I realised I have been doing things and running high from all the doing without really getting anywhere. In between all that, I get so annoyed with the smallest mishaps and it could sometimes even ruin my day because of it. It was also obvious that I wasn’t a very nice person to be around. This was something that needed fixing.
These were the 3 things I did:
I stop criticising myself.
It has only occurred to me, despite years of meditation and attempts at self-awareness, I have never really listened to my internal dialogue. An a-ha moment happened over that weekend when I was listening to myself complaining about something. I thought to myself, if my internal dialogue was another person, I wouldn’t want to hang out with her. She’s miserable and complains all the time! Then it made me laugh.
For example, I would beat myself up if I haven’t done the things I have set myself up to do.
Work – you should really have done this, it’s all your fault if you don’t move closer to this specific goal because you missed out on this and someone else will do it.
Fitness – you should have done that set faster, you should have stopped to rest, you should have gone heavier etc.
Relationship – that person doesn’t like/love you because you’re weird/crazy, you’re not a good parent because you didn’t do this or that.
I stopped all these chatters through allowing them to appear, acknowledging it and letting it pass without making them my identity. I know that these are thoughts stemmed from a myriad of feelings, fear, anxiety, envy etc. I use a simple phrase of “It’s OK” and knowing that they will pass and these thoughts are separate from my true self. You can use whatever phrase or even an image to reset yourself. I usually use something funny as my internal thought character. I tend to use cartoon characters that are silly makes me laugh. Use what works for you and it’s ok to experiment. Sometimes different situations would call for different words, phrases and images.
I stop criticising others.
It’s always so much easier to blame others or situations for things that don’t work out the way you want it to. Not only that, sometimes it can be infuriating dealing with family members, friends, who are just not in the same wavelength as you are. Problem is, unless you’re very close it’s hard to tell someone they suck without causing a rife in the relationship. This is extremely hard to do but once you do it, it does dissolve a lot of the negative feelings. If it’s a person you are unhappy with, accept the person for who they are without expectations and build a mental fence around yourself. Tell yourself, you are ok regardless of what that person does, think or say.
I forgive myself.
Forgiving myself is something very new to me. When I do look back into the past and realised how I have reacted in a situation, I could feel guilt, embarrassment, anger etc. Instead of building up all these emotions again, I just tell myself I forgive me. I’m still learning, and the only way is to know what I can do better and move on with it. Forgiving others is widely discussed and the first thing most of us were taught to do but we have never really been taught to forgive ourselves.
As in all practices, keep it consistent and experiment with what works best for you. The Key, I found was doing all these 3 together. It gives me the power to dissolve many of the problems I’m facing and working on. I was using one or the other on its own and never doing all 3 together.