SINGAPORE - The first thing that Mr Anthony Sum reached for after completing a 5km race a decade ago was neither a towel nor a drink.
Instead, he retrieved a pack of cigarettes that he had hidden in the bushes and started puffing away.
Mr Sum, now 51, recalled sheepishly how he did not know there was a place to leave his belongings during his maiden race.
He was a 25-sticks-a-day smoker until he realised the habit was not compatible with long distance running.
Said the marketing consultant: "If I want to run beyond 10km, I knew the cigarettes had to go."
For years, he tried to quit the habit, such as by using nicotine patches, but it did not work. Taking up running at the age of 41 was the solution.
The release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) during exercise "helped replace the high he got from nicotine", he said. Running also helped to while away the time he would otherwise spend on smoking.
In 2008, he co-founded the running group, Team FatBird. It may seem unbelievable, but most of the pioneer batch of run leadersused to be fat.
Mr Sum, who calls himself the "Chief FatBird", was obese at 82kg. He now weighs a healthy 66kg for his 1.7m frame.
Besides urging smokers to stub out, the father of two children aged 21 and 19 also helps others excel in running. He is part of the core team at Team FatBird, which prepares its more than 1,000 members for races, ranging from 10km to full marathons, through training programmes that last between eight and 12 weeks.
WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT RUNNING
Four to five times a week. I start with a recovery run of 7km to 10km on Mondays, followed by short runs of 5km to 7km on Tuesdays.
On Wednesdays, I alternate between hill and track work, when I repeat, up to 10 times, short-distance runs ranging from 400m to 1.6km. On Thursdays, I do Fartlek - which involves varying one's pace during a run - for 5km to 7km. I end the week with a slow run of 15km to 35km.
The easiest thing about running is...
I can do it anytime, anywhere, and alone or with other people.
The hardest thing about running is...
To resist clocking excessive mileage as this increases the risk of sustaining injuries.
My pre-race ritual is...
To perform a set of dynamic warm-up exercises, visit the portable toilet and enter the start corral at least 15min before the flag-off time.
The number of endurance races I have taken part in is...
About 50 in total - eight ultra-marathons, more than 20 marathons and 20 half-marathons.
My best running tip...
During a marathon, start at a conservative speed, build up a sustainable pace and finish strongly.
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