With over 100 marathons under her belt, avid runner Aileen Ho shares her running story with writer Michelle Yee.
She took part in her first marathon in 2004 and has since completed more than 120 marathons to date. That works out to at least eight marathons a year – an incredible feat, considering how most enthusiasts take part in just one to two events a year. The first thing that came to our mind when we heard of Ho’s achievements is that she must be a really passionate runner who has a great love for the sport. But when asked to share what she likes best about running, her response took us by surprise.
“To be honest, I never liked running. Who does? I dislike sweating, which is not possible with the humidity and climate here. However, after embarking on various “travel-thons” (marathons + travel), I gradually came to appreciate the different running experiences in different countries and cities – I especially like interacting with the locals when I am in a foreign country, and I enjoy experiencing different cultures and foods.”
Her extensive running experiences abroad inspired her to publish her own book, Around The World In My Running Shoes, released in 2016.
Apart from documenting some of her favourite marathons, her book also shares tips on pre-race planning and post-race activities.
Despite having so many marathons under her belt, Ho shares that she is far from competitive, and the one thing that motivates her to keep running is her desire to explore to world.
“These days, I do not really have a fixed training schedule. I used to join a running club and would train regularly in the gym but these days, after adopting a Bichon from a shelter home, I only run once or twice a week. I usually do interval training, about 3-5km each time. I would say my form of training is the marathon itself because I do a 42km almost every other month.
“I no longer go for personal best times. Nowadays I aim to enjoy the race route, snapping photos, taking in the gorgeous sights and eating the food along the way,” she says.
Here she shares some of her favourite running destinations, tips for budding marathon runners and her goals for the future.
Can you share with us a little about your running journey, and how you got started in running marathons?
I can’t remember what inspired me to run my first full marathon in 2004, but I do recall that due to the lack of training, I suffered serious muscle aches after the race and was limping for the next few days. I ran my second marathon in Gold Coast in 2006, when I was furthering my studies there. Surprisingly, I improved my race time by an hour and that inspired me to run more. That said, the idea of travel-thons only hit me when I was on a backpacking trip in Europe and the USA, which left me with an unexpected weight gain. From there, I got the idea to incorporate a marathon into my travels so that I can exercise and sight-see at the same time, and not put on weight. This running lifestyle has stayed with me since then.
Have you ever thought of quitting during a marathon? And what or who kept you going?
Yes. Running is not just about one’s fitness levels, but it also requires great mental strength. Ask any runner and they will tell you the same. There were many times during a race where I felt that my legs could no longer carry on and my mind is switched off. Regardless, I force myself to push through every single time and I am glad to say that I always manage to complete my run every single time. To force myself to push through those tough moments, I will psych myself up by either focusing on the beautiful scenery along the way or think back on the times when my parents or friends supported me at the finish line. These thoughts usually help me to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other in a slow and steady pace to cross the finish line.
Among all the countries you visited to run, which was your favourite and why?
I really love the running culture in Japan, from the enthusiastic supporters – both old and young – to the refreshment stations and post-run welfare, there are always pleasant surprises each time I am there.
Do you have any tips for budding marathon runners?
Though I do not train much, I would advise buddy marathoners to clock sufficient mileage to prevent injuries so as to ensure they have a pleasant and positive experience. It is extremely awful to be suffering from cramps, blisters etc, during or after a run, which may potentially put one off, and he or she may never want to run again. You may like to find out more from my book ‘Around the World in my Running Shoes’.
What goals have you set out for yourself?
To keep running more marathons and to keep exploring the world for as long as my legs can carry me. My parents have joined and supported me in a few of my past travel-thons, and I hope to continue having them in my running journey.
Can you share with us some of your favourite places to run in Singapore?
Although I seldom take part in local races, I do enjoy running around the Marina Bay area, which offers scenic views of our cityscape. I also enjoy running with my dog at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park near my home.
Words: Michelle Yee