BKTC Member Ben Chan:
He runs in hot pants, donated one of his kidneys and takes on everything from the Mile to Ultramarathons.
Why did you start running?
Before donating one of my kidneys in May 2012 my friends and I signed up to do an obstacle course mud run in October. I ran my first 5K the week before surviving 12+ miles of obstacles and mud on October 20, 2012. My friends and I had a lot of fun, but we agreed that it would have been more enjoyable if we actually trained and got in shape. So that’s when I started running- sometime at the end of 2012. Prior to donating I avoided running. At first I ran to get in shape for obstacle course races and 5ks and 10ks, and then I did a Ragnar Relay in September 2013. Our team had a theme and I ran all three of my legs in my underwear. One of my teammates suggested that I run a marathon, so we signed up to run the 2014 Los Angeles Marathon. I did my first training run after Thanksgiving dinner 2013. I ended up running four marathons in 2014.
What do you think about on the run?
I focus on being present. Running is my time to turn off the screens and tune out everybody else. I try not to look at my watch while I’m running. I try to take in my surroundings and listen to what my body is telling me. Sometimes negative thoughts creep in- doubt, fatigue, somebody else’s annoying music from their crappy portable speaker or way to loud headphones. When I hit rough patches, one of my mantras that I say is “You are here. You are doing this.” That pulls me back into the moment.
Most memorable race? Why?
Hard to pick just one. The firsts- first road race, first marathon, first underwear run, are memorable. The ones that stick out the most for me are the ultras. Every race has a beginning and an end, but ultras have the longest middles with the most plot twists. When you train for races up to the marathon distance, the goal is to either avoid the dreaded wall or to overcome one wall. Running an ultra means overcoming multiple walls. I’ve been to some very dark places. I mistimed sunset at the 2015 World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour obstacle race. That year the race was in the desert in Las Vegas and there several water obstacles and crossings. At night it gets so cold that participants run the course wearing wetsuits. I started the race wearing a Speedo, and I thought I could get another lap of the course in before sunset. I was wrong. It got dark while I was still on a Speedo lap. There was one obstacle that required us to wade into water and then climb up a rope and maneuver into a pipe. A lot of runners had a tough time not just getting up the rope, but standing in the cold water waiting to climb up the rope. Participants were getting pulled left and right for hypothermia. A medic saw me shivering and told me that if I continued shivering he was going to pull me from the race. I took 2-3 minutes to the mentally compose myself, got a really warm bear hug from one of my friends, and then I got myself up the rope and into the pipe. The organizers eventually closed the obstacle because so many folks were getting pulled right there. That was only the halfway point on the course. There was so much freezing water left. I was cold, wet, and wondering why I was putting myself through this. But I kept on moving forward. Eventually I made it back to my tent in the pit area. I put on my wetsuit, but before I could head out for another lap, my wife laid on top of me to warm me up. I kept going. That’s the coldest I’ve ever been.
Moments like my friend giving me the bear hug to warm me up and my wife laying on top of me to save my race are the kinds of things that happen in ultras.
Least memorable race? Why?
After a while, all the 5ks, 4-milers, and 10ks in Central Park start to blend together. I still enjoy them for what they are - opportunities to practice patience when I’m running a fall or winter race in and get asked “Aren’t you cold?” by 110 different runners.
What advice would you give to new runners?
Be present at your runs. Music can be helpful, but it can also be a crutch. Practice running by feel. Create a definition of success for yourself that isn’t strictly tied to numbers. Social media and advertisements for running gear present an idealized version of running that separates Instagram worthy moments of triumph from the rest of running. The “rest of running” is the majority of running. Heavy legs, soreness, tough days, doubts- are part of the entirety of the running package. Commit to the process of running and accept all the moments, bad and good.
Who would you like to go on a run with? Why?
I generally prefer to run alone. When the going gets tough during long races, I make strange breathing, grunting, and farting noises that I’d rather keep to myself. The week before we got married, my wife and two of my groomsmen, Danilo and Eric, surprised me at a Grete’s Great Gallop by organizing a group of friends to run in leopard print with me. My wife Chevon doesn’t usually run races, so it was nice to get a chance to run with her. Chevon, Danilo, and Eric have all run and crewed for me, so that would be the shortlist of people I trust myself to fart around.
Who are your favorite athletes?
Jack Johnson and Ora Washington, two Black American trailblazers.
What do you admire them?
Jack Johnson became the first Black man to be Heavyweight Champion of the World on December 26, 1908.
In the 1930s and 1940s Ora Washington was the “Queen of Tennis”. She went undefeated in singles play from 1929 to 1935. She won everything and beat everybody except the best white women’s tennis player who refused to cross the color line to play Washington. Washington then transitioned to basketball and became the best women’s basketball player in the world. She was inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 and she should be in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Johnson and Washington were Black American athletes that competed before the Civil Rights Movement and integration. Their athletic excellence made them targets at a time when bigots openly murdered Black citizens. Johnson eventually became a victim of the discriminatory criminal justice system. There were so few opportunities for Black Americans in the late 1940s that when Ora Washington retired from tennis and basketball, she became a housekeeper.
Johnson and Washington were great athletes that never got their due. Their lives are examples of how people don’t get to choose how their lives are intertwined with politics. People who demand that politics be separated from life and sports are either delusional or entitled, or both. We don’t choose how our lives and activities intersect with the world and people around us. Our choice is whether to ignore what’s happening or acknowledge it.
What artist would you go on tour with?
Ramin Djawadi. He’s the composer that wrote the music for Game of Thrones and Westworld. I really enjoy his orchestral version of the Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M..
Who would play you in a movie? why?
Not Randall Park. I love him, but he can’t play all the leading Asian American male roles. There aren’t that many prominent working Asian American actors, so I’d be fine if I was portrayed by a talented Asian American actor that I don’t know. Or Mahershala Ali because we look exactly alike.
What’s your favorite movie?
What’s your favorite running route?
All six days of the TransRockies Run offer spectacular views of mountains, but day five, Red Cliff to Vail was especially breath taking both figuratively and literally. Pictures don’t do justice to the open meadow on the back of Vail Ski Resort, but you have to earn the view. The route from Red Cliff starts with 15 miles of mostly uphill running first on a dirt road, then through a forest, then the meadows and endless switchbacks up, up, up, and up some more. Then you scramble or climb or fall down some rocks and begin going down. The total mileage is 24.1 miles (38.8k) with 4,100 feet (1,250 m) of elevation gain.
Share an embarrassing running story:
The 2014 Beat the Blerch Marathon in Carnation, Washington was my second marathon and first trail marathon. Right before the race started, I put my watch in my drop bag and decided to run by feel. At round the halfway point I asked another runner what pace we were running at and found out that I was running a full two minutes faster than my half marathon pace. So I ran the first 13 miles at my 10k pace. I started to worry. Then I took a shot of beer from a volunteer that ruined my stomach. I veered off course to find a place to go to the bathroom. It was an emergency. It wasn’t until I was done that realized that I was squatting in a thorn bush. I was quite the sight emerging from the woods bleeding from cuts on my thighs, calves, and shins. And that is how I set my marathon PR.
Favorite social media:
The Instagram account for tree house my wife and I stayed in for the last week of our honeymoon. The tree houses are on a farm run by a couple. The husband is a retired architect who bakes and provides fresh bread for guests. They have three dogs that will follow you to the beach, which is a 2.5 mile walk from their farm. You should stay here if you’re in the Uruguay/Argentina area.
Favorite sports movie?
What is the last book that you read?
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Path to Power by Robert Caro
What are you pre-race rituals?
Check local ordinances regarding clothing. Lube up potential chaffing areas. Take deep breaths to center myself.
How has running changed you?
I was a happy person before I donated my kidney and took up running, and I’m a happy person now. Running has changed the relationship I have with my body. I’m aware that my body is not the ideal promoted by popular culture. In response to that I used to cover up my body and try to hide it. I don’t do that anymore because I don’t care. My body still isn’t the popular culture ideal, but I run warm and sweat a lot, plus I like the way the air feels on my skin, so I wear as little as possible when I run because that’s what’s comfortable for me.
Running has taken me to places and connected me to people and redefined my relationships with New York City, nature, and the rest of the world. Running is a tool for me to explore and express myself.
What sneakers do you run with? Why?
Teva Terra Fi 4 sandal. I have wide feet with low arches and a tendency to develop hot spots on the tops of my feet. When I started running I used Vibrams to change my form from injury-prone heel striking to mid-foot striking. I needed shoes with more structure once I started upping my mileage. In 2018 I experimented with running in Bedrock sandals for the summer. I felt good in them, but didn’t think I could run more than a 10k in them. Why sandals? Because when running a marathon plus longer mileage I usually get to a point where my feet feel tired and constricted. I immediately put sandals on after running so I figured maybe I should be running in sandals.
What is the last movie that you saw?
I watched Gremlins 2: The New Batch the night before Track Tuesday. It’s one of the best sequels ever made. The last movie I saw in a theater was the 20th anniversary re-release of The Matrix.
What race are you looking forward to? Why?
5th Avenue Mile, I have some new gear for that.
I’m pacing the 5:45 group for the Brooklyn Marathon in October. First time pacing.
6th NYC Marathon in November. First time running NYRR’s Central Park 60k in November.
Do you have a running mantra?
You are here. You are doing this.
Guilty pleasure on cheat day?
I cheat everyday with Diet Coke. I’m glad Popeye’s has temporarily run out of their chicken sandwich.
Dream running vacation:
TransRockies Run was not a goal race. I won an entry at a raffle. It ended up being a wonderful experience because of the challenges, the views, and the people I shared the mountains with. For me, location is important, but good, fun people are the most important factor for enjoying running. So my dream running vacation wouldn’t necessarily be going a specific place, but spending time with running with old and new friends.
What was your first race? What do you remember about it?
2012 Hunts Point Hustle 5k. I didn’t train a lick for it. I went out too fast and faded after the first mile. After finishing I thought, “It’s gonna suck bad next week when I have to do nine more miles of this plus do obstacles.” It’s unfortunate that they no longer hold this small community fundraiser race. I hope they bring it back some day.
Favorite race: mile, 5k, 10k, marathon, ultra marathon? Why?
Ultras are number one for me. The mile, 5k, and 10k distances are sentences. Marathons are stories. Ultras are novels. The mile 5k, 10k, and marathons test your fitness. Ultramarathons test your physical and mental grit. There are so many twists and turns, ups and downs, and opportunities to make choices at ultras. And food. Unlike short distance races where you have water, Gatorade, and maybe gels at aid stations, ultra aid stations have soda, chips, watermelon, and real food.
Finish these sentences:
If a runner wants to break the ice with me they should ask about…….Ice. Specifically Italian ices, or anything.
Running has…….Brought us all together. Now I’m going to go over there because I’m an introvert and need some space.
My crazy dream is to….. Become the first runner sponsored by Popeye’s.
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