Seasoned triathlete's advice on completing endurance races

SINGAPORE - When she started running in 2005, Ms Chua Wee San's goal was to lose weight.

The 36-year-old did not count on becoming hooked on endurance racing. She has completed 35 races and came in among the top 20 in her recent attempts.

Last year, she was 10th in the group for 30- to 39-year-olds at the Malakoff Powerman Asian Duathlon Championships and 20th in the women's open category of the Safra Singapore Bay Run and Army Half Marathon.

The in-house tax professional, who works in the hospitality industry, is most proud of her SunSmart Ironman Western Australia race in 2011. It was her first Ironman and the longest endurance event she had attempted.

It was, in her own words, a feat of mind over body. She recalled: "Nothing beats completing that race, knowing that I had given my best physically and mentally, with nothing left in the tank."

Ms Chua is married to a 40-year-old who works in the sports industry. They have no children.

What do you do to keep fit?

I take part in triathlons, so running, cycling and swimming take up most of my time. I run two to three times a week, clocking about 20km weekly.

I cycle four times a week with a cycling group, covering about 300km on average. I usually swim once a week, covering between 1.5 and 2km.

Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

In 2004 and 2005, when I was working in Scotland as a tax professional in a Big Four accountancy firm.

I did not lead a healthy lifestyle then - too much alcohol, fish and chips and too little exercise. I ran just 5km in the gym once a week and participated in a 40-minute spin class on a stationary bike.

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormone) in 2004, which made me feel tired even walking from home to the train station, which was only three minutes away. I trained myself to be mentally strong just to walk to the station and be grateful about life.

I'm taking medication for this now.

How did you get started on endurance races?

After returning from Scotland, I was at my heaviest at close to 60kg. I wanted to lose weight, so I started running about five times a week, totalling about 30km.

Though I took medication for hypothyroidism, there were times when I didn't feel like exercising because I was tired. I started exercising for short durations but more frequently, so things improved and exercise eventually became a part of my lifestyle.

But when you do a single sport, you tend to work a particular muscle group more than others and risk overuse injuries.

I had iliotibial band syndrome, which occurs when the iliotibial band, a strip of thickened tissue on the outside of the thigh, becomes inflamed due to friction with the thigh bone.

I started cycling 30km a week in 2008 as a form of cross training. Then, it occurred to me that with some brushing up of my swimming skills, I could do a triathlon.

Initially, I could swim only breaststroke, but I went on to learn the front crawl. Subsequently, I became more confident of swimming in open water.

What are some race tips you have picked up?

When swimming, wear two swim caps so your pair of goggles does not get knocked off by other people or the waves in the sea.

To avoid an injury, always listen to your body. Get the aches sorted out. Don't wait till they become full-blown injuries, which would then put you out of exercise.

Get comfortable doing the sport (running or cycling or swimming) first before doing it at a higher intensity, speed or mileage. Never cram kilometres in just because others are doing more than you.

In general, never try anything new on race day and train the way you would race, so you can prepare yourself physically and mentally for the demands of the race.

What is your diet like?

For breakfast, I have two slices of bread, usually raisin bread. I also drink a cup of Nespresso's single-capsule coffee - I cannot survive without the caffeine kick.

For lunch, I may choose yong tau foo. I make sure I get my serving of fruit and vegetables.

Tea will comprise banana or yogurt or Meiji plain biscuits. I constantly feel hungry, especially during periods when my training mileage increases.

Dinner will be my favourite fishball noodle soup or just plain wholewheat cereal with low-fat milk.

What are your indulgences?

Ice cream and chocolate. I have a sweet tooth and tend to have a piece of chocolate or a few M&Ms a day. Occasionally, I have ice cream too.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I ensure that I do my workouts regularly. If I get home after 10pm, I will skip my workout, go to sleep earlier than usual and wake up earlier so I can do a short but high-intensity swim at the pool or run on the treadmill.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Family, friends and being able to work out. I am happiest when all three are in sync.

How do your family members view your exercise?

My mum always asks if I clocked a faster time than my husband did in the races. While we participate in similar races and are equally active, I probably put in a lot more hours training than he does.

We sometimes see our exercise sessions as sort of dates, as long as we do not end up trying to out-sprint each other.

Would you go for plastic surgery?

No way. I'm happy with how I look.

Do you think you are sexy?

I think sexy means having a good heart, personality and character. I would like to think that I have all three.

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