The London2Brighton Challenge – a Soroptimist’s experience
Further to our previous news report by The Star on SIP raising funds re SIP member Sue-Lyn Yeoh’s participation at the London2Brighton Challenge, we are very pleased and proud to congratulate Sue-Lyn Yeoh for completing the Challenge and raising funds for educating girls in STEM subjects.
This is her personal sharing of the experience. In her own words:
SUE-LYN YEOH’S 2017 LONDON2BRIGHTON 100KM CHALLENGE
EVENT: The 6th Annual London2Brighton Challenge (one of the UK’s toughest endurance challenges – run, jog or walk)
My start time: 8.30am, 27 May 2017
From The Old Deer Park, Twickenham Road, Richmond, London
My finish time: 5.07pm, 28 May 2017
Brighton Racecourse, Brighton
Dear Ladies of Soroptimist International:
It is an honour to be able to share my recent experience with so many accomplished women.
You wanted to understand my motivation for participating in the London2Brighton 100km Challenge (L2B) and the fundraiser for 21 students in my high school, Penang Chinese Girls High School (PCGHS), and what lessons I have drawn from my experience.
By the way, I am not a marathon runner. I haven’t participated in any sports activities since high school. I’m no slouch but I’ve never felt compelled to do anything like this. So why now? Why enter a 100km endurance event (an ultramarathon for the people who ran it)?
Firstly, I am very fortunate to have the means, health and freedom to pursue this challenge. I am also grateful to supportive family, friends and SIP. Special thanks goes to my beloved mum, a dedicated Soroptimist for 21 years, whose unwavering faith in me has encouraged me to pursue all my goals, including this one, with perseverance. She who has climbed Mount Kinabalu said, “What is 100km in 33 hours? No big deal! You can do it!.”
I’ve learnt some lessons along the way. This account will serve as a reminder and a guide to me in the future to remain resolute should I be tested by life’s events. And I hope it will be useful to the girls of PCGHS as well as to family and friends.
My account comprises (i) Why L2B and (ii) Lessons Learned. I have also added quotes from my favourite heroes who’ve inspired me, some since childhood.
L2B is to me symbolic of the road we travel in life. The route was never a straight-line. It was sometimes boring, monotonous and tedious, as when progress is slow. At other times, it was rough and tough going, with steep peaks and deep troughs. You participated with whatever strengths and handicaps you had. The elite athletes finished in 10 hours but a quarter of the total 2033 participants (over 2000) never made it to the end. Some people had tough physical handicaps but finished anyway. I was in the 50th percentile, finishing in 1122th place in 32 hours, within the 33 hr limit (including an 8 hour tent stop).
The route was:
- Flat, smooth tarmac and pavement in the beginning, then gradually uneven and deeply rutted with potholes and covered with sharp gravel.
- Often it was a narrow path through fields with big lumpy clumps of hardened dried mud, hurting your ankles and feet.
- There were steep ascents (which I liked) when you work hard to elevate yourself but spend a lot of energy;
- Followed often by treacherous descents that caused me great fear and pain. Abundant and loose gravel tripped me, sprained my ankle, strained my knees and thighs, and blistered my feet.
- There were narrow paths through gloomy woodlands covered with mud, rocks, roots and hard branches (hit my head).
- To make it more exhausting, there were at least 15 stiles to climb over.
I thought I was prepared. As I discovered however, sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, there are unplanned events in life that can throw us off course. We may find ourselves deep in unchartered territory, with nothing else other that our inner resources to push us on.
Whatever it is, don’t give up. Do whatever it takes to protect your dream or that of your loved ones. Seek help, find solutions, keep on trying. You will learn something useful. I’m happy to say that I am now an expert on blister treatment!
“I never give up. Doesn’t matter what the score is,” – Caroline Wozniacki, women’s tennis, former world No. 1.
Why L2B? In early December 2016, I was researching options for new activities in 2017. A short break would be ideal but I didn’t want the usual holiday.
Then I saw the advertisement for L2B on the Action Challenge website. It beckoned to me like a beacon in the night!
I instinctively knew L2B (even just training for it) would be the challenge I needed. An experience that would test me but ultimately strengthens my self-belief, focus and resolve to achieve my goals.
So I signed up almost immediately. Starting in early January, I went about training (all on treadmill) methodically over the next few months, slowly building muscles and stamina. I researched online discussions on training, nutrition and gear. Many doubts plagued me as much of my preparation was done alone (my bad habit to keep to myself) and as I was inexperienced, I might have missed vital knowledge. Fortunately, in the last few weeks leading to the event, I reached out for help. Expert advice from a friend gave me the edge and confidence I needed. I may not have succeeded without that advice.
Why are the girls of PCGHS getting assistance in math & science tuition?
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is all-important because it influences our lives in all aspects. A STEM-focused education promotes critical thinking, science literacy and innovation; it opens doors to wide-ranging STEM careers, which pay more than non-STEM careers. There is, however, a gender inequality worldwide when it comes to competencies and opportunities. Girls lag boys as they are less inclined/not as encouraged to pursue these subjects.
Personally, I’ve always wished (fantasized) that I was endowed with better brains, a super mathematical mind and a photographic memory, all gifts that would be immeasurably useful to me in my work. Sadly, my competencies in this area are not through natural endowment but through tedious practice. I believe competitiveness can only be achieved by deliberate study and practice, and adequate tuition/mentorship, which is not possible within the existing educational system.
So, the opportunity to use my L2B quest as a platform to help the girls in PCGHS, my old high school, was too compelling to miss. My mum, also an alumni, was instrumental in getting this project off the ground in March. We raised RM15,000 very quickly for 21 very motivated girls from less privileged homes to get free extra-curricular tuition in Maths and Science for the next six months (JulyDecember 2017). I hope that from now on, the girls will build a strong foundation in their technical skills that will lead to rewarding careers.
If I was 70% committed to L2B before the PGCHS project, I was now 110% committed!! L2B was no longer about me. It was much bigger than me and there was no turning back!
I am so very glad I made that commitment and that I am able to contribute to the community in my own way. On a personal level, it was an unbelievably humbling experience and without doubt the most challenging physical activity I have ever endured. I wanted it so badly that quitting was never an option.
I believe in the resilience of the human spirit and that the individual will to survive and thrive is all-powerful. You can achieve beyond your limits if you harness your mind and your will in the right direction.
“The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.” – Oprah Winfrey
Lessons from L2B:
L2B has in turn given me what I sought: renewed self-affirmation, confidence, grit and stamina to strive for what I want. Here are the lessons I learned:
- Commit to your goals and dreams. Set your priorities and commit to them. Do whatever it takes to protect your dreams, as long as they are positive, healthy and progressive. The more we persevere, the greater our chance of finding fulfillment. In any situation, I’ve never been the fastest, strongest, smartest, prettiest, wisest or even the kindest. But for better or for worse, my innate stubbornness defines me in much of what I do, once I have committed to a goal. Previous bosses described me as “very resilient”, “tenacious” and “strong-willed”. A senior male adversary saw me as “insubordinate” but also “formidable”.But there were also times when I was uncommitted to worthy goals. A pity. L2B is a reminder to me to stay focused and committed! If something doesn’t work at first, keep tweaking it until it does!
- Over a 12-year period, James Dyson designed over 5,000 vacuums that didn’t work. He didn’t quit. Today, we have Dyson, because of his commitment to succeed!
- During training, I found it difficult to break past the 20km per day mileage. My right knee and calf would cramp up. My ankles ached. I would be sore for two days. Why did I have “Slender Chinese Princess Feet” and not “Sturdy English Farmer’s Wife’s Feet” to match my frame?? Then I got sick in mid-March and stopped training altogether until mid-April. With only six weeks to go, I didn’t have more time to gradually build my strength. But I didn’t quit. I found a solution that worked for me. Taking quick breaks to stretch and do squats every hour would prolong my mileage and lessen the cramps. Eventually I did 46km in one day during training! And I finished L2B!
- “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure” – Jack Ma, who has experienced many setbacks.
- Define yourself. Know your strengths and your weaknesses: Polish your strengths, compensate for your weaknesses. You will only know what these are if you try hard. I discovered that I was strong on ascents (due to my training on inclines) but weak on descents (fear of heights, poor sense of balance, deficiency in my training programme) and suffered on flats (due to blisters and sprains). So I compensated by powering up on the ascents to catch up on lost time.
- Have Tunnel Vision: There are so many distractions and defeatist thoughts that keep us from our goals. Think that your goal is at the end of a tunnel. And the only way out of a tunnel is to focus on a few steps at a time and keep moving forward. Don’t get distracted. Don’t look too far ahead or your goal will look…too far! One foot in front of the other.
- When the pain was greatest, I counted from one to ten for each step, just so I wouldn’t think of the pain, which would slow me down. Remember that very step takes you closer to your goal, whether in business or in health.
- Trick your mind to focusing on nearby, achievable goals. I thought in terms of completing the next 50 metres or reaching the next hedge, instead of 1KM. I never thought, “Oh WOW, I still have 70KM to go! More pain! Maybe my toes will fall off!”. I also didn’t dwell on thoughts like, “What’s wrong with me? Someone 30 years older just overtook me!”
- My pain was at its worst after the 67km mark, when I thought my two swollen little toes might burst like overcooked sausages or just fall off. They didn’t feel like part of me anymore. The other blisters made my feet feel like I was getting stabbed with each step. My sprained left ankle was screaming for me to stop (it was swollen but I didn’t know). My right knee would need an operation after this, I was sure. Time passed very slowly. But I thought, if I could take the pain for the last 50 metres, I can take it for another 50 metres. And so that was how it was.
- “Everyone has a breaking point, but if you can survive another minute without breaking up, that is another minute of life. If I can think this way and not what is going to happen in a half-hour’s time, I can accept and survive this.” – Odette Samson, SOE, WW2 spy and hero, on how she survived being tortured by the Gestapo.
- Never quit, period! My quest could have ended in disaster at only 35KM as by then, I had sprained my left ankle, left knee and right thigh. All thanks to an encounter with a steep descent that was deeply rutted and covered with loose gravel. Six painful blisters would emerge later as a result. I limped the rest of the way. I did not visit the medics available at every rest stop because I feared that they would send me home! All that kept me going were (i) counting 1 to 10 nonstop, (ii) tunnel vision and (iii) Four favourite quotes:
- “You’re already in pain, get a reward from it!” – Eric Thomas
- “Pain lasts for a minute, a day or even a year. But eventually, it will subside and something else will take its’ place. If I quit however, it (the pain) lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong
- “A lot of people give up just before they’re about to make it. You know you never know when that next obstacle is going to be the last one.” – Chuck Norris
- “I think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” – Serena Williams
- Keep learning, keep working hard and believe in yourself: Whatever you are doing, whether it’s studying, working on a skill or recovering from illness, work hard and smart, apply yourself deliberately and relentlessly put your mind to it. If it’s a skill, put in the lead time necessary (ie the 10,000 hour rule) to mastering your craft. It can get boring, but lead time is crucial. When you’ve done all that, trust yourself and your decisions.
- Don’t be limited by your present limitations or imagination (or someone else’s); stretch your capabilities.
- Never think you know enough, keep learning and gaining experience!
- I trained hard for this, beginning with 30km per week in early January (about 5km per day) and increasing my weekly mileage to 90km by the start of May.
- I also read up about training, nutrition and equipment.
- Best of all, I sought expert advice to leave no stone unturned. o I learned to trust myself, trust that I could do this.
- “Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it will come,” – Serena Williams, Tennis Icon
- “Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of beating on your craft.” – Will Smith
- Progress can be slow. Be patient and kind with yourself: Progress can be slow and sometimes is a real slog. Our fast-paced, results-oriented modern lifestyle makes us impatient for quick results and we often give up when we don’t get gratification immediately. But sometimes, the longest-lasting results take longer to attain. Just as short-termism in a company is bad for it’s long-term horizon, so it is with your health, career and relationships. Patience is a virtue!
- You just have to keep trying to reach where you want. Don’t quit because you’re frustrated that it takes longer than you expected!
- I am 5 feet 5. In 2009, when I lived in Singapore, I ate too much and got real heavy, weighing a whopping 154 pounds. My ankles and knees hurt. I had to buy new clothes, I stopped wearing high heels to work, my hormones went haywire and I had hypertension (140/90) and frequent migraines. After a doctor’s grim prognosis, I started exercising more (mostly walking) and eating healthier. Today, I am 133 pounds! And my blood pressure is around 120/80. No accelerated weight loss programmes for me.
- “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” – Jack Ma!
- Find and learn from mentors/coaches: Find people who have walked the path you are walking today and learn from them. Mentors/coaches have the experience you don’t. They are like tuition teachers in all aspects: study, career, business, health, sport and life. They help you synthesize knowledge and experience you may not otherwise have time to obtain before your challenge!
- No amount of Googling could have prepared me mentally and physically as well as my expert coach did! I followed his advice on training, nutrition and equipment as much as I could.
- He told me that it would be a mental game after 30km and he was right! And because I knew that ahead of time, I didn’t panic as much when my physical state suffered during L2B. I was able to accept my pain. And so I slogged on and finished.
- Surround yourself with positive people and influences: You are the average of all the people you spend most time with. Stay with people who inspire you and motivate you to do better. Spend time with those who are at least your equal and above. Seek out those who are themselves looking to progress. Listen to constructive criticism or feedback.Drop negative “friends” who distract you and/or think you aren’t good enough. And shut up that self-defeating voice in your own head!
- Not everyone will be supportive of you on your journey. Don’t waste time trying to make them understand. They won’t! Don’t waste your time on people who drag you down or keep you from achievement.
- Don’t beat yourself up for mistakes and don’t waste time on regrets. Be honest, admit your mistakes as that is the only way forward, find solutions, make the necessary corrections and move forward!
- Who are your heroes? I think it helps to have heroes, whether they are family, friends or distant icons you look up to for inspiration or strength. Even today, I think about my childhood heroes from time to time:
- Odette Samson, Nancy Wake, Flt Commander Forest Yeo-Thomas: Samson and Yeo-Thomas were both captured & tortured by Nazis and both survived concentration camps. Yeo-Thomas was also an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. All three were Special Operative Executives (SOE) behind enemy lines during WW2.
- Dith Pran and Dr Haing S Ngor: Cambodian Khmer Rouge survivors
- Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi
- More recent heroes:
- Sir Richard Branson
- Jack Ma
- James Dyson
- Serena Williams
- Lee Kuan Yew
- Appreciate those around you: During my worst moments, I derived strength from observing the determination of my fellow competitors. Who knows what battles they’d fought in life or still face. They ranged from very young (late teens) to mature (possibly early 70s). The young seemed eager and excited; the older faces seemed more contemplative to me. Some were walking for loved ones. I believe some had endured deep personal challenges and even irreplaceable losses that made L2B something like a pilgrimage. Certainly my own concerns appeared puny in comparison. Yet they completed the tough course resolutely. And many were willing to offer help, advice or just a kind word to others. Some I kept meeting from time to time as we took turns overtaking each other:
- A man and a woman (late 40s/early 50s) who had survived cancer and was now raising funds for Macmillan Cancer Support. She suffered badly from blisters but was chirpy and bright throughout and energetically offered encouragement to those near her. She took my photo at the end. But I never found out her name.
- A man (late 60s/early 70s) who walked in support of Alzheimer’s Society and was met by his family at almost every rest stop. He kept to himself most of the time, but would nod and smile at me every time I passed him or vice versa.
- A man with a clubbed foot with one deeply downward sloping shoulder and an extremely curved spine. I cannot imagine how painful it would have been. He was clearly suffering but soldiered on and actually finished ahead of me. This made me stop moaning about my own asymmetrical shoulders and back pain. o Three men in their thirties from a financial firm who would pass me from time to time with encouragements, “Good to see you’re doing well. Hang in there. See you at the next stop!”
- Two young English girls behind me at around the 50km mark who said,” We’re doing well! Much better than some of that serious beefcake we passed just now!”
- Equip yourself with the right instruments, always be prepared (Girl Guide Rule) but be flexible to changing conditions: I carried everything I needed in a small red backpack and 2 pouches slung on either side of me gunslinger style for weight distribution. 5 extra pairs of polyester socks, 1 light water-proof track pants, 1 extra underwear, 1 extra yellow dry-fit sports shirt, 1 pair waterproof sports gloves without fingers, 1 first aid kit (with bandages, tape & antibiotic cream, painkillers), 1 head lamp (+ extra AAA batteries), 1 visor, sunglasses, 1 portable raincoat, 2 packets of aluminium “space blankets”, 1 Dettol hand wash, 1 small tube of bath gel, SPF cream, half a roll of toilet paper, sachet of talcum powder (for drying feet & preventing blisters), 15 GU energy gels (100 calories per sachet), 1 bottle of water (500ML), 1 hand towel (pinched from SIA), 1 scarf, hand-phone, charger, passport, wallet.I wore a pair of black water-proof sports leggings, UnderArmour bra, sports T-shirt and a light black, sports pullover. My beautiful blue magic Asics shod feet were ready to fly into action!My pack was a bit heavy for 100km, but I was well-prepared for a hot day and cold, wet weather anytime.
- Fuel adequately: Eat regularly and healthily a balanced meal of lean protein, complex carbs, nuts, seeds, fruit, vegetables. Hydrate yourself for good circulation. If you skip these steps, your health and performance will suffer. I refueled regularly throughout L2B with energy gels, bananas, sandwiches, pasta and lots of water.
- Dealing with failure or pain: We can’t control what life throws at us. It can really catch us off guard. But we can control how we deal with it. We can accept, endure, survive and even thrive in a situation not of our choosing. Give yourself a chance to heal so you will be whole again!There may be no major solutions to take away pain. Sometimes only small remedies are available for temporary relief. Use them. Plasters, ice, painkillers, short sleep, food. Meanwhile, you have to keep getting up to continue. When you’ve repeated this process several times, you will learn to cope better with the pain until it eventually subsides. Your mind and body will be working overtime to help you heal! You will be strong again. Get back into the game.
- It’s ok to stop and nurse your wounds, whether light or deep. L2B participants were required to pass through rest & medical stops set up at every 12km or 16km. We used these stops to eat, drink, replenish our water bottles, visit toilets, examine our injuries and simply rest. These stops enabled me to continue my journey.
- But don’t stop too long. If I rested too long (more than 15 minutes), my muscles would get stiff, my feet would hurt unbearably when I stood up and my pace would be much slower.
- Don’t be too proud or ashamed to ask for help. Do whatever it takes to get better. Only you can do that for yourself. I asked for advice on blisters: 50% of answers were to lance them NOW before they got bigger/worse, while 50% said leave them alone until you don’t need your feet anymore. I followed the latter advice, tolerated the pain and it was the right decision!
- Accept life’s realities and move forward. We don’t get to pick and choose everything. Be thankful for our blessings and NEVER take them for granted.
- Dealing with Fear: Do you fear failing, getting hurt, making the wrong decisions, people laughing at you? Guess what:
- Fear paralyzes and tempts you into making poor decisions: My extreme terror of descending from great heights without a lifeline (handrail) nearly wrecked my L2B dream very early on. I knew there would be hills but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the steep drop around the 35km mark (North Downs). After a grassy uphill, the trail of people in front of me started disappearing. I was in for a shock. For the next 1km or so, the bumpy dirt path, which was loosely covered with gravel, dropped from an elevation of approximately 210 meters to 120 meters downhill. A barbed wire fence to the left. This was a nightmare! Would I suffer from a bad plunge as I did in a jungle trek on Pangkor Island at age 12? I froze.
- Don’t look too far ahead. Stay focused on immediate steps: With ragged breath and sweaty palms, I told everyone behind to overtake me while I slowly made my way down. One step at a time. How on earth did other people move so quickly downhill? Then I looked at the distant bottom and rushing forward, my feet slipped on the gravel, which skittered beneath me. Before I knew it, there was a sharp pain 10 in my left ankle. My left knee and right thigh throbbed. OMG! And there was more than 60km to go!! I made it down without further mishap but from then on until the next stop at New Henshaw (5km away), my average walking speed dropped from around 5.3km/hour to 3.22km/hr.
- If you find yourself in unchartered territory, dig in deep: I was now in a completely new situation: limping badly far behind schedule and experiencing pain and fear. It was 6.30pm and I had another 11km to go before arriving at the 56km campsite (Tulley’s Farm). I had planned to arrive by 7pm latest but that wasn’t possible now. Sunset was at 9pm and I wanted to avoid walking in the dark. My injuries haunted my every step and a new blister was forming at the base of my left foot. It didn’t help that we were navigating uneven, lumpy narrow paths in fields. Also, the heat of the day was quickly dissipating and the temperature was falling fast. At my current speed, it would take me at least another three hours to reach Tulley’s. Fear had hijacked my mind. Maybe I wouldn’t make it before nightfall. Maybe I wouldn’t make it at all! I had never been in this condition. Worse still, most of the trek now was into gloomy woodlands with treacherous, uneven, muddy terrain. In my intense misery and focus on the ground ahead, I failed to see the woman in front duck down suddenly. My forehead slammed into a heavy low hanging branch. I screamed and spluttered in rage more than in agony at the tree. It had become a symbol of all the obstacles against me. Or so I thought.
- If you stay calm and focused on your goal, the tide will turn in your favour, eventually: I stumbled on, my mind a riot of unworthy thoughts, which sapped my remaining energy. Nearing exhaustion, I pushed all thoughts away and focused only on counting my steps, telling myself that each step was taking me closer to my destination. Then, with 6km to go to the 56km rest stop, there was a gentle slope uphill, which took the pressure off my injuries. As my strides increased, I realized then that I could do ascents, even now. That gave me hope. If I could do that, I was still in the game! My mind calmed down. I caught up with those in front and eventually made it to Tulley’s at 9.49pm. It was cold and I was far behind schedule, but I had reached shelter. A few hours’ rest recharged me and allowed me to complete my journey.
CONCLUSION: When I finally walked past that finish line, I knew I would never be the same again. Yes, I will always be the Sue-Lyn whom my family loves and knows so well, and whom I drive nuts (& vice versa). But I know that I have the inner strength to meet obstacles, persevere and ultimately triumph on my life goals. You can too! GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE!
P.S: Maybe you can join me on my next endurance event!!
L2B PARTICIPANT STATS:
Total Participants: 2033
Total female participants: 1095
Total Finishers: 1597
Total female finishers: 839
Total Withdrawals: 410
My Rank (Overall): 1122
My Rank: (Female): 508
Start time: 8.30am
Finish Time: 5.07pm
Total time (includes 8hr 15min camp layover): 32 hrs 37 mins 23 secs