Run Free

run free
 
Running. It is one of the simplest things to do. Just put one foot in front of another in quick succession. It is free and you can do it just about anywhere. Yet, today the sport (or health activity) has become a more complicated affair than just taking one step after another. 
 
In fact, running is now an industry in itself – just witness the plethora of accessories, gadgets, clothing and such like associated with modern running. And there are the (overpriced) races, organised to market corporate brands. Of course there are also charitable runs for good and worthy causes, but on the whole, running has spawned big, multi-million dollar businesses on a global scale.
 
Just the other day, this came in the mail:
 
run free
 
It is the Safari Zoo Run 2017. “In memory of Ah Meng”, it says. Ah Meng was the zoo’s famous orangutan, who had been one of its main tourist or visitor attractions.
 
S$80.00 for a 10km “competitive” run, the brochure says.
 
For the 5.5km family run, it will cost you $70 (adult) and $50 (kid & junior). For a family of four with two children, that comes to $240.00. That’s a steep price to pay for a sporting activity which you can do for free at a park near you!
 
Sure, the ticket price includes free admission to the zoo itself, the Night Safari and includes event goodies. Still, it does make one wonder if it is necessary to spend that kind of money just to join a run.
 
When asked for their opinion about the Zoo event, one of my friends described it as “a pretty boring, stuffy and smelly race route.” I am sure, however, that others may find it enjoyable. 
 
Incidentally, normal admission rates to the Singapore Zoo are S$33 (adult), S$22 (child) and S$15 (senior citizen). Over at the Night Safari, the rates are: S$45 (adult), S$30 (child), S$18 (senior citizen.)
 
But the zoo is not the only one which charges for a run. More illustrious and popular ones, such as the Standard Chartered (StanChart) Marathon, also require you to commit financially before you take to the tracks, along with tens of thousands of others, at 3am each December.
 
For its 2015 race, for example, StanChart charged between S$25 to S$125 for participants in the individual events.  The sum qualified them for some goodies too. (See here.)
 
The corporatisation of running has, for some at least, taken the joy out of the sport itself, and they yearn for a return to a simpler time when running was done for its own sake, for pure enjoyment.
 
Which brings me to my own view on this. 
 
Having taken up running after recovering from a quadruple heart bypass surgery 3 months ago in September 2016, I have been toying with the idea of running a half marathon. If for no other reason, it was because I have never done such a thing before, and I thought it would be quite a goal to set for myself, to spur this 50-year old rickety body to train regularly for the event, and reap some health benefits in the process. And so far so good – I have been running regularly three times a week this past month.
 
And yes, I too was not immune to the allure of the “right” sportswear, as advertised. The temptation took over and I bought a new pair of running shoes (S$159); some running socks (which I got on the cheap in a recent trip to Beijing); a few singlets (from Uniqlo); a new Sony walkman (S$134); and yes, a Garmin tracker device (a Christmas present which cost S$320). In total, that is quite a tidy sum. 
 
Indeed, before I knew it, I had become a walking, or in this case, a running, advertisement for the sportswear companies! 
 
I am beginning to question myself if all this are necessary. 
 
One of the things I have noticed while doing my runs is that I do not particularly like keeping tab of the timings. How fast am I running? Am I running faster than my last outing? What is the distance I am covering? Should I go further? Am I on course for the half marathon in a year’s time? And then there is also the music blaring into my ears from the walkman. I have to admit that at times it was not a very fun experience. I realised I might prefer to run with a quiet mind instead.
 
I found it mentally tiring and distractive to have these things in my mind while running. But more than that, and worst of all, they kept me from truly enjoying the run. And I think that is the gist of what I am trying to say here – running should be done for its own sake, for the fun and joy of it. 
 
run free
 
Running should be … free. In all sense of the word. 
 
It is the freedom of the inner self, especially when you – as all runners would know – enter that special, spiritual place which can only be described as “the zone”. It is there that you feel the subtle yet divine energy which lifts you along effortlessly, and where you go on and on, in a joyous ride, sliding into an epiphany. 
 
And free running can also be about slowing down, literally stopping to smell the roses along the way, if or when you happen to see something which catches your attention.
 
So, don’t be too caught up in the commercialisation of the sport; or how you must have certain things – gadgets and stuff – before you start running.
 
All you need, really, is a pair of decent shoes, a pair of shorts, a singlet or t-shirt and yourself. 
 
You can leave the rest behind. 
 
Go run free, and immerse yourself in the moment. 

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