Pulling a tyre, weighing about 10 kilograms, behind me to run was quite difficult. I was sweating and starting to pant, after barely two hundred metres with the tyre.
You see, while I was interviewing the Tyre Lady recently, she had actually let me try out what it feels like dragging a tyre behind me, to run. I must say that it was very tiring and I could not imagine completing a whole marathon – whilst pulling this heavy object behind me.
Started dragging tyres to train for a North Pole expedition
But that’s exactly what IT programmer and educator Rima Chai, 45, does – on a regular basis. Chai, who is more commonly known as the Tyre Lady because of her tyre-dragging exploits, had initially started dragging tyres – in order to train for an expedition to the North Pole. That had been in 2006.
Explained Chai, “Part of the training of going to the North Pole was actually to drag a sled. But there is no snow in Singapore, so I made do, training with a tyre instead. To give myself some motivation to do this, I entered the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCMS) in 2006 and set out to train for this, with the tyre.”
Trained hard for her maiden marathon
To prepare for her maiden marathon, the Tyre Lady had run distances of up to 32 kilometres for a training session. But with the tyre, she was clocking maximum mileages of about 10 kilometres for each session. She said, “It was not a lot. I tried to follow the training plan but it was quite hard to train by yourself especially when you were holding down a full time job at the same time. I’m not very good when it comes to training, but I tried my best though.”
Nevertheless, she inspired many other runners with her feat during the marathon itself – including the elites. Said the Tyre Lady, “This is still probably one of my most memorable marathons today – because everyone was so supportive. Even the elite runners were clapping to show their support when they spotted me, and I felt that this was really touching.”
In the end, Chai completed the SCMS 2006 marathon in 7 hours 31 minutes and 17 seconds. She went on to do three more marathons as well as a 40-mile (64 kilometres) ultra, together with her trusty tyre – all as part of her training for her North Pole expedition.
Used to suffer injuries after every single marathon
But her running journey was far from easy at the beginning though – that’s because the Tyre Lady used to wind up injured after every one of her races. For example, after her first marathon, at SCMS 2006, she suffered from bad shin splints. After taking on more marathons, other problems soon developed for the Tyre Lady. These had included knee pains, Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and Plantar Fasciitis (PF). She also returned with an ankle sprain, from her expedition at the North Pole – where she had been required to drag a sleigh.
Adopted the Pose method of running
Many people had told the Tyre Lady that her injuries were linked to the fact that she had been dragging a tyre at marathons, or that her running shoes were not suitable for her. But she refused to believe them – and instead, felt that her injuries were all because of incorrect fundamental running techniques. Explained Tyre Lady, “So I went for a gait analysis class – so that I could really understand my body. Many of us are desk-bound and we tend to bend when we run as a result. I was a K-bender, which meant that I bent over at the waist when I ran. That had put lots of pressure on my legs, and caused my injuries. So I changed to the Pose method of running – and I attended a Pose running clinic three times – to make sure I could really understand the content well.”
The Pose method, which originates from the word “pose” or “body position” was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and is a full-body running posture that vertically aligns shoulders, hips and ankles with the support leg, while standing on the ball of the feet – and an S-like body shape is created as a result during the process of running.
Has not been injured since changing her running method
Since adopting this running method, the Tyre Lady reiterated that she has suffered from no other injuries. She said, “My basis for running is now using the Pose method. To show people that they were wrong and that my injuries were nothing to do with my tyre or the shoes that I wear, I decided to do ten marathons with the tyre. I also started running in sandals to prove my point. I didn’t get any injuries. It was definitely all to do with my technique. And that was how my Tyre Lady name had started.”
On her fifth marathon, the runner met a 70-year-old lady who had suggested that she join the 100 Marathon Club. Said Chai, “She told me that she had already completed 180 marathons. I was inspired by her – and at the end of the conversation, I said that I would do 100 marathons and ultras with the tyre. I gave myself till 2020 to achieve this. This is the reason why I keep on running with the tyre. Now I am halfway there, having just completed my 51st marathon at the Twilight Ultra Challenge – where I ran 65km with the tyre.”
Faced some tough challenges while running
However, in her bid to complete 100 marathons, she has faced some tough challenges. One of the most difficult, according to the Tyre Lady, was the Arrowhead 135-mile (217 kilometres) ultra in Minnesota, USA – which she had failed twice. Said Chai, “The first time I attempted this race, I got to 62 miles (99 kilometres) and I suffered an Achilles injury. This was because the ground was very rugged and my heel kept on dropping. It’s like running on loose sand for an extended period of time.”
On her second try at the Arrowhead 135-mile race, which had been last year, she suffered from Grade 2 and 3 frostbite. Said Chai, “The temperature went down to minus 50 degrees C and I got frostbite on my fingers. That was only 37 miles into the race and I dropped out because I did not want to risk my hands and compromise them further.” The first doctor she saw had wanted to amputate her fingers at that point, but the runner managed to find a consultant that had suggested they should be left alone for another 12 weeks. At that point, she returned to Singapore – which was much warmer – and her fingers eventually recovered.
Her family thinks that she should stop
What does her family think of her tyre dragging exploits? Said Chai, “My mother aways tell me that I am now getting old, so I should stop dragging that tyre. My aunt also tells me the same thing. But I have not been injured – so I think that they are wrong.” Thus, the Tyre Lady will continue to drag a tyre behind her – until she reaches her 100th marathon, at least.
She is running to raise awareness for ACRES
But today, she doesn’t simply run and drag tyres behind her for the thrill of it. The runner is also doing this to raise awareness for the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES). This is an organisation which promotes animal welfare in Singapore. Said the Tyre Lady, “Many people often get overwhelmed with global warming and pollution when I talk about animal sustainability and our endangered animal species. But you don’t have to be a hero to save the world’s wildlife. So I came up with a simple idea – by asking people to reduce their single-use plastic, as this will save the amount of plastic and non-biodegradable chemicals that our wildlife are consuming.”
Continued Chai, “If you just look at the world’s beaches, it has immediate effect. When we throw plastic on into the sea, the fish will eat this plastic. And we eat this fish – so it means that we too, are eating the plastic. The remnants of the fish may also be used as fertilisers – and that is not healthy for us. With cancer rates around the world soaring, I think there is a possibility that there’s a connection there too, even though I haven’t done any research on it.”
And she too, is clearly playing her part to reduce her usage of single-use plastic. For example, at the Twilight Ultra Challenge, where I had spoken to her, Chai refused to use the paper plates and plastic utensils to collect her food at the post-event runners’ buffet. Instead, she used one of the food trays to collect the items. To consume her food, she always makes sure she has a pair of chopsticks in her bag.
“I really want people to be more conscientious about the amount of rubbish that they are using – and if they reduce that, we don’t have to process so much plastic trash,” the runner said.
If you would like to donate to the Tyre Lady’s cause, you can do so at: https://www.justgiving.com/TyreGirl
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