From pain to passion

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An avid runner, WO(2) Koong also picked up cycling during last year’s circuit breaker period.

Putting off that run yet again? Serial marathoner and passionate cyclist WO(2) Bennett Koong has some simple advice for you.

TEXT: ROY SIM
PHOTOS: BENNETT KOONG

“Just do it” isn’t just the tagline of Nike. It’s also the mantra that got WO(2) Bennett Koong, 36, into the habit of running, which he picked up a few years ago. “I was inspired by my sister. She’s two years younger than me but quite a hardcore runner. Sometimes, she goes for a run even before the family wakes up and only returns when we’re in the middle of breakfast.”

WO(2) Koong wanted to join her but often found himself feeling lazy or lethargic. He admits: “Let’s be honest, it’s comfortable to sleep in and not exercise.”

OFF THE COUCH AND ON THE RUN

WO(2) Koong (middle, behind red Power Ranger) participated in the 2011 Standard Chartered Marathon with his colleagues.

But his sister’s determination to keep fit rubbed off on him and soon, he too was pounding the pavement at Bedok Reservoir.

He started with weekly 5 km runs before progressing to 10 km, 15 km and eventually finishing half-marathons (21 km) and then full marathons (42 km). “You just need to get over the inertia and start,” he advises. “Once it becomes a routine, it’s more likely to stick.”

It also helps to find out what motivates you to exercise. WO(2) Koong, who works as a retail manager, shares that each run is a chance to reset his mind and clear his head. “That’s why I don’t bring my phone or listen to music. Instead, I use my runs as a time to reflect on the day’s events,” he says.

Keeping fit also helps him in his NS role as the CSM of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF)’s 105C MRTSC. Here, he ensures his division’s operations and in-camp trainings run smoothly. “I encourage my unit mates to run as well. They could see a difference in their stamina and were motivated to run even more. It’s the same satisfaction I got during my full-time NS, helping obese recruits pass their IPPT.” The key, he stresses, is consistency. “Bit by bit, you will get fitter and stronger.”

NEW PURSUITS

What started as a weekly way of keeping fit quickly turned into a passion. “I became addicted to running and would progressively increase my distance. Then I started heading overseas for marathons, going to places like Hong Kong and Putrajaya, Malaysia.”

The experience of marathoning in the Special Administrative Region is one of WO(2) Koong’s favourites, as he recalls the entire city coming out in support of the runners. “It was the longest water stop I’ve ever seen,” he says, adding that it stretched for about 200m.

WO(2) Koong’s passion for running hasn’t gone unnoticed: earlier this year, he was invited to join the REAL® Run Committee. In this role, he works with a team of like-minded NSMen to create and run a fun and fulfilling REAL® Run 2021. The 25th edition is ongoing and will end on Nov 9. “It’s an iconic event and I’m glad to be able to contribute ideas to keep it fresh,” he says.

For example, this year’s edition features two new categories — the competitive Leaderboard run encourages people to clock a 5 km run on Sentosa, while the “sole-mate” run focuses on a non-competitive 5km run at Gardens by the Bay. Participants could complete both runs at their own pace, which help motivate runners to finish the 25 km REAL® Run, which is once again held virtually because of COVID-19.

This principle of keeping things fresh also applies to WO(2) Koong’s workout regimen. The avid runner has now turned his attention to cycling, which he picked up during last year’s circuit breaker period. Although he used to ride alone, he now does it with friends, making trips to East Coast Park and Changi Village. “It’s more fun when you have someone to talk to,” he reflects. “More of my friends have picked up cycling since the pandemic started. It’s true what they say: ‘COVID-19 has encouraged exercise’.”

Sailing has also been thrown to the mix, although WO(2) Koong is quick to add that can’t be enjoyed as spontaneously as running or cycling. “It’s fun, but I can only sail when I have carefully planned my schedule.”

GO AT YOUR OWN PACE

There has been much online chatter about 2.4 km timings lately. Although WO(2) Koong clocks in at a modest 12 minutes, he is comfortable with the pace. “Don’t be too bothered about how fast other people are running. Go at your own pace and work on improving that,” he suggests.

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