Yong Yuen Cheng, 43, currently has a swollen Achilles tendon – which needs icing every 5km. But still, the pain won’t stop him from continuing with his rather ambitious bid to run 50km every single day… for 50 days – to complete a total distance of 2,500km.
Said Yong, a PE teacher at Hwa Chong Institution, “I had sustained this injury two days ago, so I have run more than 100km with it. But I have been trying to look after my injury to make sure it does not worsen though.”
One of the two lead runners of GO50: A Nation in Motion
Yong is currently one of the two lead runners on the GO50: A Nation in Motion project – a youth engagement programme celebrating SG50 by commemorating Singapore’s 50 years of independence since 1965. The other runner taking part in this project is MediaCorp editor, Lim Nghee Huat, 61.
The 50km daily for 50 days project had been the brainchild of Lim and Yong, who had thought that this was a meaningful way to celebrate the 50th birthday of Singapore – in the manner that they both knew best.
Added Lim, “Singapore is only 50 years old today. This is a very short period of time, but our pioneers have done a lot to make Singapore the clean garden city that it is today. Our run is only a small contribution to say thank you to our forefathers and celebrate Singapore’s continued independence”
Experienced ultra runners who knew what they were getting into
Yong and Lim had known exactly what they were getting themselves into when they had initially decided to take on this journey. After all, they are experienced ultra runners and have completed gruelling races such as the 217km Badwater Ultra Marathon at the Death Valley in California and the Run Round Singapore – a 218km ultra marathon. But according to both of them though, this current GO50 project is still their most challenging running adventure yet.
Explained Lim, “I think that it is okay to run 50km every three or four days, or maybe once a week. But to have to do it continuously every single day, is very tough, both mentally and physically. But we are taking one step at a time. We cannot think too far, and when we run today, we must make sure we reserve enough in our tank for tomorrow too.”
Family and friends were supportive… but also thought they were insane
Their family and friends were supportive of what they had wanted to do – but at the same time had thought they were crazy to do something that had sounded so preposterous.
Said Lim, “When I came up with this idea, I checked with my friends and some top politicians I knew – of what they had thought of it. Many of them were familiar with me and my ultra running history, but my friends especially, still thought that running for 50 days continuously and completing a distance of 2,500km was a really crazy idea.”
“My wife was also quite worried for me and she wondered whether I was biting off more than I could chew. As for my son, while he was supportive of me doing this, he did also think that I was nuts!” Lim added.
Have done well so far
But despite the doubts from their loved ones, Lim and Yong had still decided to go ahead with their ambitious running project. And today, they are 20 days into their 50km daily for 50 days journey, having completed 1,000kms so far. They are clocking quite good timings too, averaging about seven hours so far for each of their 50km runs.
Added Lim, “But when the weather is good though, we may be able to to go faster. For example, yesterday was a quick one as we completed the 50km in 6 hours 28 minutes. We also did 6 hours 13 minutes on the first day.”
On the other hand though, their longest 50km run has taken them more than eight hours – during the particularly hot days when the weather had been more merciless and unforgiving towards them.
Running journey has not been easy
However, despite the feel-good factors, their running journey has definitely not been easy going, though. Besides Yong’s Achilles injury, Lim also admitted that he had sustained a kneecap injury of his own, while running along the footpath. This had taken place on the third day of their GO50 challenge.
Said Lim, “At that point, I was not sure if I could continue. But I managed to carry on through the pain, and the next day I slowed down and the pain became a bit more bearable. Since then, it’s become a lot better though.”
But it is not only the physical challenges that the two runners have to face. While it may also be quite mentally draining too, at the thought of having to run 50km again the next morning straight after each run, Yong and Lim do not allow themselves to think of the prospect, to help them get through each day’s running.
Explained Yong, “I don’t entertain the actual thought of running 50km again. I simply focus on the things to prepare for my next run. There are lots of other things to think about – for example, getting my attire sorted out, making sure I do not forget my running shoes and bringing my watch. I also must make sure I get a good breakfast to give me the energy I will need.”
Memorable moments outweigh the pains and challenges
However, the memorable moments so far on their journey though, have certainly taken their mind off all the pain and challenges, according to both runners. One of these, according to Yong, is the diverse changes daily, in terms of scenery and weather. Added Yong, “We get to run at so many different places and the weather every day also poses a different challenge. So you never know what to expect during each run.”
Indeed, during their runs, Yong and Lim have been to some of Singapore’s most green, natural and scenic spots, such as MacRitchie Reservoir Park, Labrador Park, Fort Canning Park and East Coast Park – including the new bridge linking the park to Marina Barrage.
Support from fellow Singaporeans has been fantastic
At the same time, Yong and Lim have been very grateful for the support that they have been getting so far, along their daily 50km running routes. Plenty of runners, as well as schools, youth organisations, running groups and community sports clubs have come out – in full force – to cheer them on, and even run with them, either for part of the way or the full 50km distance.
Added Yong, “The support along the way has definitely been fantastic. In fact, many of the people tagging behind us and running to show their support are volunteers – and they do not get anything in return – perhaps except for gaining fitness! Without them, I think we would not be able to go as far as we have.”
I also got to witness the excellent level of support for Yong and Lim, for myself. In fact, when I had joined the runners and accompanied them for part of their GO50 run last Sunday at East Coast Park, we were far from alone. Besides a few runners who had joined them for the full 50km journey, there were also the visually impaired runners from a community sports club, RunningHour – who showed their support by running alongside Yong and Lim, for part of the way.
There were also plenty of passers-by who spotted us running – and they all had displayed their encouragement, by cheering us on. It certainly felt very motivating – and had spurred me on to keep running too. I think that this was definitely one of the main reasons that continues to make Lim and Yong to do the same too, despite the injuries, aches and pains that they are now suffering.
Nutrition is also important to them
When running such ultra distances, nutrition is also very important to both Yong and Lim – and besides the standard isotonic drinks and energy gels that runners consume, they also stop to eat normal meals comprising of rice and noodles.
Says Yong, “It is the food and drinks that keep us going. Sometimes we stop halfway for lunch and we will continue running after that. It depends on whether we feel like eating – and what the people running with us want, too. It is a collective decision that everyone makes. During a short break, we can easily munch down quite a lot of food. As ultra runners, we’re also trained to be able to eat a full lunch in about half an hour – and run immediately after that.”
That is true, as I had observed them eating lunch when I was running with them. They each had a mixed rice dish – bought from a coffee shop stall in East Coast Park – and the runners had consumed this in about ten minutes flat. About two minutes later, they were both up and running again.
Besides food rich in energy-giving carbohydrates, Yong and Lim also make sure that they eat plenty of proteins, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, because it is important for them to have a well-balanced diet especially when engaging in such gruelling athletic activities.
Hopes to use GO50 to inspire more Singaporeans to take up sports
Through their 50km runs during this period, both ultra marathoners hope to inspire and encourage more Singaporeans from all walks of life, to go out there and exercise more regularly. Says Yong, “I consider myself a very ordinary person in terms of ability. In fact, I used to be quite slow and weak when I was young. For example, I was only 19kg when I was in Primary Two and weighed 26kg in Primary Six. I also fell sick very easily and was a really slow runner. My 2.4km timing in Secondary One was 16 minutes, but now I can do it in just over eight minutes. That is a big improvement.”
“This shows that an ordinary guy like me can do things that are extraordinary – like running 50km daily in 50 days. I am hoping that people out there can use me as an example, to get out of the door and pick up some form of sports. The most difficult part may be to get started, but go and find a group of like-minded friends and get used to a routine. Make sports a part of your lifestyle, as I have done… and once you are hooked, it is addictive. Now, I can’t stop running anymore,” Yong added.
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