A professed shoe geek, Jamie Pang started running in the days before the advent of social media and running blogs. He even wrote letters (there were no emails then!) to big brands about their shoes.
The 50-year-old from Penang has been running through the last four decades, which have seen many progressive changes and technological advancements. Working in a bank does not make Jamie a dull boy, as ToughASIA caught up with him to talk about his running journey since the 1980s.
ToughASIA: When did you start running and what triggered it?
Jamie: I wish it was something inspirational but really, running was compulsory back during my schooling days. Didn’t like it, was never good in it, and cross country races were torturous!
ToughASIA: How do you compare yourself as a runner now and when you first started?
Jamie: I find it intriguing that, until COVID-19 struck, I was running better than my younger self. The human body is quite fascinating, though gets me rueing the missed opportunities of my younger days. Back then, getting information about training was nowhere close to what we have access to these days. For me at least, “training” back in the days was mostly based on anecdotal information.
ToughASIA: Can you tell us about your progression as a runner, perhaps from first 10km races to ultra ones?
Jamie: Covering the marathon was unthinkable and while I had run many 10Ks and 21Ks prior, I only ran my maiden marathon when I turned 33. I have only run 36 marathons to date. Two in a year is plenty for me, as I prefer to train well so as to race well.
I dabbled in a few 50Ks and the longest I have run was around Penang island which was 84km. I needed a DNF for the only trail 100km I had ever attempted (Hong Kong North Face) for me to realise that I simply did not have time to invest in preparing myself for the ultra distances. In training for the Marathon, I’ve improved my Half Marathon timing as well. I would like to think I still have a few marathons left in my legs!
ToughASIA: When did you start your running blog and what inspired you to start it?
Jamie: I believe I started my first blog in 2003. It was not much about running, ironically, and more to chronicle the months leading to the birth of my elder son. I completed my first marathon in 2003 in part to celebrate his birth.
ToughASIA: From your experience, what are the differences in run events that you took part in when you first started and now?
Jamie: Goodie bags were unheard of in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Running was purely about just heading out and challenging oneself, and not about medals and event or finisher tees.
Casio watches of the ‘90s only had 30-lap memory and the 100-lap ones that Timex brought to market were drool-worthy.
Technical gears were ankle warmers and Lycra. Of course, we all know where we are today in the age of shoes with “super foams”, and watches that would be more accurately categorised as computers than timekeeping pieces.
ToughASIA: Can you comment on how running has changed technically – the way people train, data related to running, equipment used,?
Jamie: It is a mixed bag, really. On one hand, data driven training aids in the pursuit of peak performance. On the other hand, one can become so obsessed with numbers that the simple enjoyment of going out for a run is lost.
The important thing is to have both elements. If you are in training for a key race for example, being serious about data is important because with data, you’ll know if you are overtraining or underperforming. You can ease back or refocus yourself. However, there are times when it is great just to put aside all these obsessions and get into a meditative state over the course of an easy run.
ToughASIA: What is your involvement with any running brands over the years?
Jamie: As one of the pioneering bloggers on running, I was fortunate to have worked with many sports companies over the years, testing and reviewing shoes and running related products like earbuds, heart rate monitors. I also had a stint as a brand ambassador. The cool thing about these engagements is getting to preview shoes and products that are yet to be launched to the public. Due to family, work commitments and training, I had to be selective of my roles these days.
ToughASIA: Did you join any running clubs?
Jamie: I served a term as a committee member in the Pacesetters Athletic Club. It was a good experience and I got to be part of a well-run organisation. Learned plenty of things too, from communication to organising events.
ToughASIA: What keeps you going into 2020 and beyond as a runner?
Jamie: It was really tough for me when MCO started. Running was such an integral part of my daily routine that to not have the means to do it during the lockdown (I have no treadmill nor bike), messed me up. It was all work with no avenues to destress and decompress. 2020 was supposed to be the year I train for a Boston qualifying time having come within 3 minutes of it last year.
Given the present uncertainties, it is like being in a limbo for me and I’m sure for many of us. The organisers for the event that I have supported the past 9 years – the Gold Coast Marathon – have recently organised a series of free-to-participate virtual races and that have at least kept me and my friends running. I am not looking that far ahead at this point in time.
Until the pandemic is contained and the races return, qualifying for Boston does not seem that important. That said, it is vitally important to maintain a fitness regimen and I am sure my training group will come up with a 10K or Half Marathon simulator in a few months’ time.
ToughASIA: What is your proudest achievement as a runner?
Jamie: Running my PB of 3h 28m at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon.
ToughASIA: How do you think COVID-19 will impact into the sport of running, and run events in the future?
Jamie: We already see the prominence of Virtual Runs (VRs) during these times. In an ideal pre-Covid world, I am usually not supportive of pay-to-participate VRs for various personal reasons but given the situation we are in now, I see a place for them, if only to foster camaraderie among runners.
ToughASIA: What races are you looking forward to in the next 12 months?
Jamie: From the way things are going, unless and until an effective vaccine is developed, it is hard seeing anything major happening the 1st quarter of 2021. I am hoping that either next year’s KL (to be announced) or Gold Coast Marathon (typically 1st weekend of July) can be the curtain raiser for running events.
ToughASIA: What is your favourite running book, running themed movie/tv show/documentary and running themed cafe?
Jamie: “Running with the Legends” by Michael Sandrock. The book covers the lives and training of legendary runners like Zatopek, Viren, Shorter, Waitz, Morceli, Seko, Coe, and many more. As for movies, my favourites have been Without Limits about Steve Prefontaine and “Boston: The Documentary”.
ToughASIA: Would you like to share any other perspective regarding your journey as a runner?
Jamie: I am definitely a late bloomer and I think my cautious and gradual progression have spared me major injuries. I also believe that knowledge is important. Just like how a musician would study the works of Beethoven or Coltrane, the passionate runner would do well to read up and learn about the past masters to appreciate the sport more.