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‘Part of my identity’: This gynaecologist has run almost every day for the past 17 years

SINGAPORE — Dr John Tee started running 17 years ago as a way to keep healthy and fit, but what he did not plan to do was to end up running almost every single day after that.

‘Part of my identity’: This gynaecologist has run almost every day for the past 17 years

Dr John Tee has run almost everyday for the past 17 years, a running streak that has only been interrupted twice when he had to recover after undergoing surgeries.

  • Dr John Tee, an obstetrician-gynaecologist, has covered over 40,000km in more than 6,000 days since he started running 17 years ago
  • He started as a means to lose weight, but soon became addicted to it
  • Other than two surgeries where he had to recover for a few days, he has run everyday since then with no rest days
  • He says the pandemic is a good time to exercise, as there is more time to ‘reevaluate’ one’s priorities 

SINGAPORE — Dr John Tee started running 17 years ago as a way to keep healthy and fit, but what he did not plan to do was to end up running almost every single day after that.

In the years since, the 67-year-old has covered over 40,000km in more than 6,000 days, and the only times he has taken a break from this running streak were when he was recovering from surgeries.

This running streak started one morning in 2004 when Dr Tee, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), looked himself in the mirror and noticed that his face was puffy and that he was slightly overweight. He had also taken his blood pressure and it showed that he was “borderline hypertensive”. 

For much of his life before that day, Dr Tee, who was aged 50 at the time, had hardly exercised and also “ate basically anything”. 

“At that moment in time, I made up my mind that I needed to start,” he told TODAY in a phone interview. 

He began to wake up at about 5am to go on 30 minute walks with his wife. He did this every day for two weeks before his wife got tired of rising so early. 

He then started doing slow jogs, starting at 500m, before slowly increasing the distance. 

Dr Tee said that in the beginning, he would sometimes fall short of his target distance due to fitness issues such as knee pain. 

“I felt like I should run a bit more, so the next day I would try to ‘catch up’, but then my knee would be painful again, so I would stop, and so it became every day, but short distances,” he said.

Over time, he read up more about running and improved his running form and foot strike. This helped to eliminate his knee pain and helped him run longer distances. 

“When I saw some improvements… I got a bit more addicted,” he said. 

As a result, he soon began to see improvements in his health, when he started to lose weight and his blood pressure fell to healthy levels. 

“I felt good and I could not stop, since I benefited from this exercise,” he said. 

Indeed, Dr Tee has not stopped, and in his 17-year streak has run 16 full marathons and three half-marathons.

He has even begun to run mostly barefoot for the last four years, having discovered the benefits of minimalist running through his research. 

This form of running advocates for barefoot running or running shoes with thinner soles, which Dr Tee believes has helped him avoid running-related injuries since he adopted it. 

About two years ago, he also started to do not just one, but two runs a day — one in the morning and one at night — totaling about 8km each day. 

CHALLENGES FACED

But his resolve to run every single day did not come without its challenges. There were even moments where he had to stop temporarily — but he was always quick to pick up the habit again. 

Some of the challenges were due to the nature of his job, where he would on occasion be called at odd hours whenever there was a medical emergency at the hospital, or if a baby needed to be delivered. 

This is why he would wake up at 5am everyday, and start his run by 5.30am, so that he can get the miles in before his work starts at about 8am. 

He also runs near his house and brings his phone with him, as there have been occasions where he received calls mid-run, which meant he had to quickly rush home for a shower and make his way to the hospital. 

“If I get interrupted in the morning and I can’t complete my run, I will make up for it in the evening,” he said. 

But he has never missed a day of running due to work. 

“You always can find time to run, it’s (about) whether you want it or not,” he said. 

His run streak had also gradually become known to those at his workplace. 

“Whenever (my colleagues) call me for a delivery, I will tell them that I am running,” he mused. “So then they started to ask me why I was always running when they called me.” 

There were also two major occasions where he had to stop his run streak — once about a year ago and another time four to five years ago. These were when he had to undergo two separate elective surgeries. 

“The surgeon asked me not to run for one month, but I never listened,” he said. “After four to five days I started walking, and brisk walking, and then I would run very slowly.” 

Even on holidays, Dr Tee would bring his running shoes along to run on his travels. 

He recalled one occasion about 10 years ago when he was on a cruise in Egypt for two nights. 

“I couldn’t find a place to run, so I went to the ship’s upper deck, and I ran many rounds,” he said. “But other than that, I could always find a place to run.” 

‘LIKE BRUSHING MY TEETH’

Running has become an integral part of Dr Tee’s life, one that he cannot imagine doing without. 

At the start of his run streak, he would listen to music on his runs — his favourite genre being jazz, as he was not a fan of “loud running music”. 

He then began to listen to podcasts on his runs, on topics such as nutrition, mental health and anti-aging hacks. 

It was through listening to one such podcast on his run that he had learnt about and converted to eating a “whole food plant-based ketogenic diet”, which he couples with intermittent fasting, where he eats one meal a day during a two-hour window every evening. 

“During my runs I get to exercise, which is physical, and then I get to listen and learn stuff… In the end I feel very relaxed and very happy,” he said. 

“That’s why I can’t go without running every day…. It’s like brushing my teeth, it’s a habit.” 

Dr Tee added that for all the uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been easier for him to lace up and go on a run. 

“The pandemic is a good time to exercise, because you have more time at home, so it’s a good time to reevaluate what you do,” he said. “When running outdoors, you are not worried about getting Covid-19.” 

He added that anyone can start running, even those beyond their 60s, such as Dr Tee himself. 

“You can always start small, start slow, but just keep doing it every day, or every other day,” he said. 

As for Dr Tee, he aims to continue running every day until he no longer can. For a start, he hopes to be able to run at least one or two km a day well into his seventies. 

“Being a runner is part of my identity. If I don’t run, I don’t feel right,” he said. 
 

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