No! Duncan Watt Says You’re Never Too Old to Start Running
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
If you were playing Trivial Pursuit, and the question, "Which former TV personality wrote the Wallace Boys book series?" was asked, could you answer correctly? Duncan Watt remains a prominent media figure in Singapore and though he’s no longer in broadcasting, his fans haven’t forgotten the African import who made a name for himself by publishing exciting tales about Nigel and Bruce Wallace racing ‘round the globe in pursuit of big adventure.
A Singapore TV and Radio personality since the 1990s, Watt earned a place in the hearts and minds of those who grew up reading and watching him, so interviewing the ultimate role model for runners of a certain age is our honour and a thrilling experience.
RS: You describe an exciting, active childhood. Does that mean you were a runner as a kid?
Watt: I may have had a very exciting childhood in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, what are now Zambia and Zimbabwe, but I was really into very little sport except for swimming and diving. (My father had trained for the 1924 Olympics – one mile – and an uncle of mine was a champion diver in Southern Rhodesia, but I was never even close to their standard, of course, though I did make the school swimming and diving teams.)
Watt: I only started running some thirteen years ago; I was about to go on a hiking tour in Switzerland, and I decided I should do a bit of training for it. So in the gym where I was living at the time, I would take a rucksack filled with 15 to 20 kilos of weights, and then walk vigorously on the treadmill at various inclines!
When I returned from Switzerland, I continued with the treadmill but then, instead of weights, I decided to start running; from there, I graduated to going outside and then to jogging round MacRitchie Reservoir – at the time, I was working for Symphony 92.4 at MediaCorp. I would go to MediaCorp very early every Sunday in my running gear to record my week’s presentations, and then I would jog round MacRitchie.
RS: And your first official marathon?
Watt: One day in 2003 on a whim, I entered the Standard Chartered run – I just happened to be passing a registration booth set up in Raffles Place.
RS: You were born in Zambia. Do you have a natural talent for running like other African-born runners?
Watt: Not at all! I avoided most sport until my late 50s—apart from a bit of swimming. And when I grew up, there was no African “runner phenomenon,” as there is today.
RS: How much do you run weekly and where do you go?
Watt: At the moment, I try to run round Bedok Reservoir about twice a week; but this is a bit short and I lengthen my run by running through parts of Tampines on some mornings! And then on Sundays I nearly always run round MacRitchie Reservoir.
But I wouldn’t expect to meet anybody on my Bedok Reservoir runs – I run early in the morning in the dark around 5.45 am!
RS: What type(s) of running events do you usually fancy, and what distances do you prefer?
Watt: I finished a Standard Chartered 21km a few years ago, but walked a fair distance of the route, so I now stay with 10 km races because I know I can usually accomplish them without doing any walking!
RS: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Watt: I ran my first Standard Chartered in 1973 and finished 10km in 45 minutes, but I must admit that, due to road work, the distance was cut by about half a kilometer. And once I managed to run the 11 km round MacRitchie in 56 minutes.
RS: Do you engage in other sports or workouts?
Watt: I try to go to the gym two or three times a week; at the moment, I go to the ClubFitt Gym @ Tampines. Sometimes, when jogging, I try to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training); when I am running round Bedok Reservoir, for example, I will walk briskly past four or five lamp-posts and then run as fast as I can past four, and I try to keep this up for at least halfway round the reservoir!
And then, though it can’t really be called exercise, I try not to sit for too long at a stretch – recently I have seen a lot on the Internet how ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’! This is, even if one is exercising regularly.
So now, every twenty minutes, if I am working or watching TV, I get up: I may then do some stretches, some lunges or a few push-ups; or just make a cup of tea! To keep me in line, I have a magnetic kitchen timer on the fridge which means I have to get up to turn the wretched thing off every twenty minutes!!!
If I were now spending my days in an office, I might do as some people do; stand at a desk, or have my computer on a very slow-moving treadmill.
This person asks: “Is it possible to walk across America while working at your desk?”
RS: We see people hang up their running shoes at age 70, but you continue to run at 73. What motivates you?
Watt: I just enjoy it and as long as I can, I am sure that I shall continue; I really like running round MacRitchie and then there is that wonderful feeling of well-being at the end of a run! A particular race I enjoyed recently was the 10 km run from the old Bukit Timah Railway Station to Tanjong Pagar – the Compressport Rail Corridor Run 2016; that was a run and a half – sloshing through thick mud and water a lot of the way! Really great fun!
RS: How much did your life change after you stopped being a TV newsreader?
Watt: I had more free evenings and I was able to get much more writing done!
RS: Older people worry they will sustain injuries if they run. How do we change that?
Watt: There was a time, a number of years back, when I did find that my knees were not quite as happy as they should have been, and I have to admit I tended to avoid pedestrian bridges because of the stairs!
But in the last couple of years that’s all changed; I don’t even think about stairs now – in fact, very often at MRT stations I take the stairs in preference to the escalators! I can’t pinpoint what exactly eased my slightly unhappy knees, but I now regularly eat various items and I take a number of supplements that are known to help with joint pain, supposedly: krill oil, turmeric, pineapple, ginger.
RS: You spotted just four runners over the age of 70 at last year's 10km SCMS. What should we do to encourage older runners to get into marathons?
Watt: I may be wrong, but a number of older people here seem to ‘be’ or feel old because their families ‘expect’ them to be old.
“My father/mother/grandfather/grandmother is too old to run,” someone will say to me. “How old is she?” I ask. “About seventy,” is the answer, and I say get your grandmother to do more than just walk around Toa Payoh Stadium; for five years recently, I was living fairly close to Toa Payoh and I used to jog the 2 km to the stadium where I would regularly do my HIIT – one hundred metre dashes. And I would see older people walk fairly gently round the track or do exercises at either end of the field, but very little jogging or hard running where they get their heart rates up.
RS: What advice do you give older people who consider taking up running?
Watt: I would say: “Just give it a go! Start with small goals – a gentle jog for a couple of hundred metres. Next time do it a bit faster or a bit further. Always push for a bit faster/further each time.”
RS: What race(s) do you add to your running calendar without fail? Why?
Watt: Usually I take part in about 6 or 7 events a year; and I try to do the Standard Chartered December run every year. Another run I enjoy is the one organised by SAFRA; I really like the way they present the runners’ results. I’m so glad to see it’s back again this year. An event that I have done twice is the 13 km North Face Run round MacRitchie – that’s fun, being on familiar ground.
RS: You have been living in and traveling to many countries. How would you compare running events in Singapore among those overseas?
Unfortunately, I have never jogged in races outside Singapore.
But on one holiday I ran on my own through the streets of Auckland early in the morning which was very different from Singapore – quite cold and really invigorating! And another time I jogged near my hotel in the Seychelles.
RS: Care to reveal news that you’re writing another amazing adventure book for teens?
Watt: [laughs] I doubt it! But let me think about it!
In one book, however, I do have had my two main characters, the Wallace Boys, realise how unfit they have become after sailing a yacht from the United Kingdom to the Mediterranean; they find great difficulty keeping up with a companion when climbing through the Alps, and they vow never to let themselves get that way again. In future, instead of just sitting at the helm of their yacht all day, they vow that they will get up regularly to perform calisthenics around their boat.
Maybe they have a magnetic kitchen timer on their fridge in the galley that goes off every twenty minutes!
Watt: If there is one, it must work with my existing Wallace Boy titles—something like Running in Rumania or Jogging in Jakarta! Maybe your readers would like to suggest some titles in case I decide to tackle a new one.
Does a member of your family tell you that she can’t run because she’s too old? What will you do to convince her that she should try (in addition to having her read this article, of course)?