Shannon Heo has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – a condition that causes muscle weakness, loss of balance, vision disturbances and extreme fatigue.
But that won’t stop the 35-year-old veterinarian from running and taking part in races. In fact, Shannon, who started running in September 2012, is taking on her first 42km race – at the Sundown Marathon this weekend.
Running to raise funds for charity
Shannon is running the marathon to raise funds for three charities – the Singapore Cancer Society, the Down Syndrome Association of Singapore and Three Legs Good, a non-profit organization that helps disabled and stray dogs.
Running helps her to manage her symptoms
Shannon was diagnosed with MS in September 2013, and she actually feels that running has helped her to manage her MS symptoms.
She said, “Running has been keeping my condition in check and even though my brain seems to have deteriorated on MRI scans, my physical functions have been retained and I attribute that to keeping my body active through running.”
Challenges as an MS runner
But as an MS runner, she does face challenges when she is clocking the miles – so she anticipates having problems in her first marathon.
Said Shannon, “I may get MS symptoms during the race and I could have issues with balance, proprioception (body’s ability to sense its own movements) or vision disturbances.”
She added, “However, I have also accepted those challenges as part and parcel of being a runner with MS and have learnt to tune them out – to focus on the task at hand.”
Training for Sundown Marathon under Ah Siao’s guidance
So to train for the 42km race at the Sundown Marathon, the veterinarian has been keeping a strong focus on her running. In fact, she even has 31-year-old fitness instructor Gerrard Lin, who is better known as Ah Siao, to coach her and make sure that she is ready for the marathon.
Ah Siao successfully ran 31 marathons in 31 days in March as well as dragging a tyre at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in 2012, with only eight weeks of training for that race.
And under Ah Siao’s coaching and guidance, Shannon has definitely improved by leaps and bounds in her running.
Shannon said, “Prior to training with Ah Siao in mid April, I ran random days and random distances, without a clue on how to improve or to make sure I am ready for running 42km.”
Now, Shannon does not simply run randomly as she knows a lot better about how to train for a marathon. Besides clocking mileage for long runs, she also does core body workouts on a regular basis to make sure that her body is ready for the demands of completing a marathon.
Said Shannon, “Ah Siao makes me train with a heart rate monitor and makes sure I consciously keep my heart rate low, so as to build my aerobic base. He also makes me do exercises like hopping, high knee skipping and planking, to build strength.”
Not so favourable impression of Ah Siao when they first met
However, her coaching relationship with Ah Siao didn’t actually start off very smoothly. At the beginning, Shannon didn’t have such a good impression of the tyre dragger.
She said, “I first met Ah Siao at the Race against Cancer in July 2013. At the time, I didn’t have any idea who he was, but thought he was a real nutcase!”
Started conversing more with Ah Siao this year
She started conversing more with Ah Siao this year through Facebook and when he found out that she was an MS runner, he gave her tips on how to not get overheated while running.
“He casually gave me a few tips on how to train for those with MS. I asked him questions in return and after all that back-and-forth messaging, he developed a one-week run training plan for me and told me to update him when I was finished,” Shannon said.
Gradually, this led to a regular training programme for Shannon, as she would constantly update Ah Siao with her progress and he would subsequently give her feedback and a new training plan. “I guess things just went on from there and now race day is almost here!” Shannon said.
Cheating on her training has never crossed her mind
But despite being coached only online and not in-person, cheating on her training programme has never crossed Shannon’s mind. She said, “There are obviously days when I don’t feel motivated, but I know if I cheat on my workouts, eventually I will just be cheating myself because the results will show.”
“I told Ah Siao jokingly, ‘I’m not smart and I cannot run fast, but I have a lot of integrity so I won’t bluff!’” Shannon added.
So Shannon definitely takes her Full Marathon training very seriously. She said, “I’m grateful that he has put in time and effort to coach me for nothing in return.”
Prefers virtual coaching
In fact, Shannon prefers online coaching (such as through Facebook and Whatsapp), compared to having face-to-face training sessions.
“For a full-time working mother like me, I think this is the perfect arrangement because it allows greater flexibility for me to fit in the run training into my already hectic schedule,” she explained.
Shannon added, “There are days when I have to run during lunchtime or do my exercises past midnight after the kids sleep, but that’s fine by me, because I have greater control over when and where I train.”
Very Supportive Family
She is also fortunate that she has a very supportive family who tries to help her out as much as possible.
Shannon explained, “Running will not be possible without the support of my family, and for that, I am truly grateful.”
“Whenever I tell my husband I’m going for a run, his first response is, ‘Don’t go crazy ah!’ but that said, he supports me in every way possible, chauffeuring me to and from races, being my ‘kind sponsor’ for my running gear and even attempted to pick up running so that we could run together,” she added.
As well, her parents also help to look after her children on days when she gets home late from training. On the night before her early morning races, the kids also go to their grandparents’ place.
And it is definitely this family support that is an integral factor to Shannon’s Full Marathon attempt this weekend.
Painted Nails in the Sundown Marathon Colours
On her feelings about tacking her first marathon, Shannon said, “On one hand, I’m afraid that my body will act up prior to or during the race, but on the other hand, I’m excited to put myself to the test.”
In fact, she is now feeling so excited about the Sundown Marathon – that she has even painted her nails in the Sundown Marathon colours – complete with the logo on the two thumbnails.
She said, “I think having the Sundown logo on my thumbs remind me that I have a mission to complete and that is to finish all of the 42km by my own effort! The odds may be against me, but I believe that with faith and hard work, impossible is only a choice.”
If you have been inspired by Shannon’s grit and determination, donate to one of her charity causes at: http://www.giveasia.org/s/bao2z
You can also take a look at Shannon’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/runningmummysg