In a last-minute ambitious bid to qualify for the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, marathon runner Neo Jie Shi, 30, ran three marathons in three months. This began with the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in December 2014. It was quickly followed by the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon in January 2015, and finally, the Tokyo Marathon in February 2015.
to seize her chance of competing in the SEA Games
What made her take on this challenge – and risk both injury and overtraining in the process? Said Neo, an Assistant Manager in Human Resources & Administration, “I heard earlier that the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA) could be nominating athletes who were able to meet within 15 per cent of the qualifying mark, or in the event that no athletes met this criterion, the top two Singaporean athletes would be selected.”
So even though Neo’s then marathon personal best timing of 3:11:06 hours was not close to the SEA Games women’s qualifying mark of 2:49:01 hours, she was still in with a good chance to qualify for the marathon – as she was currently the second-best female marathoner in Singapore. So she planned to do everything to seize this opportunity – with both hands.
Singapore Marathon boosted her confidence
Her first marathon, the Singapore Marathon last year, had been a good confidence booster for her. Said Neo, “Due to the humid weather in Singapore, I knew it would be tough to do a personal best time for this marathon. So my targets were a local best time and hopefully a podium finish.” She eventually completed the marathon by coming second, with a timing of 3:23:51 hours – and this indeed boosted her confidence for her two upcoming marathons.
Clocked a personal best at the Hong Kong Marathon
The Hong Kong Marathon had been part of a company-sponsored trip – for Neo and her fiancé – and she came home from Hong Kong with a new personal best. She said, “The race plan was to run my best effort for the first 30km. If I still feel good, and there is a chance for a personal best, I will continue to finish the race. But if I am struggling after 30km and no chance for a personal best, I will hold back and save my legs for the Tokyo Marathon. The race strategy worked out somehow, and I managed to achieve a new personal best, of 3:09:57 hours.” This had been the marathoner’s first-ever sub 3:10 marathon timing.
Her ambitious bid caught up with her at the Tokyo Marathon
However, Neo admitted that her ambitious bid had caught up with her at the Tokyo Marathon, though. She explained, “The Tokyo Marathon was my last chance to do a better timing to earn nomination for a spot in the SEA Games. I guess I was too ambitious, or perhaps I had not quite recovered from the Hong Kong Marathon. I struggled after 30km and had to be contented with a timing of 3:10:41 hours.”
But still though, Neo’s times were good enough to qualify her for the 2015 SEA Games in the end – and she was completely stoked at having been given this opportunity to represent her country. Said Neo, “It feels surreal to me and I am very excited to be a part of the 2015 SEA Games contingent. I am humbled and thankful to the SAA and the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) to be given this opportunity to represent Singapore for the marathon.”
Realistic about the chances of having a Singaporean women’s marathon winner
However, she is realistic though, and feels that her chances – or that of a fellow Singaporean – of actually winning the SEA Games women’s marathon may be slim. Said Neo, “The gold medallist finished the women’s marathon in 2:45:34 hours in 2013. Comparing this time to a Singaporean runner’s personal best time so far, there’s still a wide margin. That said though, the marathon is very unpredictable and anything could happen on race day.”
But Neo does feel that the home advantage, with the Games being held in Singapore this time round, could help to some extent though – to boost the Singapore athletes’ performances. Said Neo, “Having the Games in Singapore, means a supportive crowd and cheerleaders. That support, loud cheers and positive vibes will liven up the race atmosphere and motivate us to push on, especially when it gets painful towards the last 5km.”
Sticking to a tried-and-tested training programme for the SEA Games
To prepare for the SEA Games marathon, Neo will be sticking to the training programme that she is familiar with – and which saw her successfully run the Singapore Marathon and the Hong Kong Marathon. The runner also feels that the time frame between now and the SEA Games in June, is too short to try anything drastically new in training.
Added Neo, “My training consists of a variety of runs, namely interval, tempo runs, easy runs and long runs. But I will ramp up my mileage gradually and add more intensity into some of my workouts. I also intend to add one more day of training – and train up to six days a week.”
Also, to cope with the hot and humid Singapore weather that the SEA Games marathoners will most likely face on the day, Neo explained that she will be doing more training sessions during the day, in order to make it easier under the hot sun. She added, “I will also hydrate myself with lots of isotonic drinks and water – a few days before the race. And on race day, I will adjust my pace accordingly – and run by feel instead of pace, if necessary.”
Started running during her university days
Neo’s introduction to marathon running had begun during her university days. She said, “I would go running around the campus at night with my hall mates. Under their influence, I signed up for my first half marathon in 2006. I remembered the huge sense of satisfaction when I completed the half marathon in under two hours. I fell in love with long distance running ever since and signed up for my first full marathon the following year. But then, running was simply a recreational activity I enjoyed doing with my friends.”
Took up running competitively when she joined the Jurong SAFRA Running Club
She took up running more competitively though, when she joined the Jurong SAFRA Running Club in July 2010. Said Neo, “I was so inspired by my trainers and running mates and in awe of their personal achievements, that I started training consistently with the club in 2011.”
Around this time, Neo met her current fiancé, also an avid runner – who had then been running with Mount Faber SAFRA, the sister running club of Jurong SAFRA. And she subsequently began to join him and his friends more regularly, for runs. She said, “And soon, I was running more frequently and training competitively for races spanning from 10kms and half marathons to full marathons.”
Completely addicted to running today
Today, Neo is completely addicted to running. She said, “The love for the sport, the joy I get when I run and the camaraderie shared with like-minded friends keeps the passion alive. The belief that I could get stronger and faster also motivates me to keep striving for improvements.”
But her determination and dedication to improve herself in her running though, has come at a cost. Said Neo, “As most of my weekday evenings are consumed by training, I feel guilty sometimes for not being able to join my family for dinner at home. I feel frustrated too, if I have to miss training due to work or other commitments, especially when there are important races coming up.”
Tips for marathon runners to get faster
What tips does Neo have, for marathon runners – to improve their timings? She said, “Consistency is the key. I realised that my running improved when I started training consistently with my running club. I used to run only twice a week and would spend other days playing other sports.
“I got faster when I started running four times a week. I combined this with a variety of run-intervals, tempo runs, long runs and easy runs and I began to show marked improvement. I believe that my results today are not because of the last block of training that I did, rather, it is the accumulation of the hard work and effort put into my training over the years,” Neo added.
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