Never in her wildest dreams did Neo JieShi, 30 – who considers herself a social runner – ever expect that she could possibly qualify for, and run at the pinnacle of all sporting events – the Olympic Games.
But the Assistant Manager in Human Resources and Admin will be doing just that – at the upcoming Olympics Marathon in Rio de Janeiro, which takes place in less than eight months time.
Honoured to have this chance to realise her dream
She had qualified for the Olympics Marathon when she had clinched a top 10 position in the Women’s Open 42.195km Category at Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) – a Gold Label Marathon Race – in December last year. Her timing at that race, had been 3 hours 15 minutes and 6 seconds.
This is indeed a far cry from when Neo had started her running journey in 2007, when she had completed her first marathon in about 5 hours and 20 minutes. Then, her aim had simply been to complete the arduous run.
To help her to achieve her Olympic Dream, Pocari Sweat will be sponsoring her on her Road to Rio. Said Neo at a press conference today, to announce the tie-up between the two, “I am honoured to have this opportunity and I am humbled by it. Though I may now have this chance to compete with the world’s best, I am still just a regular runner who is passionate about running. This journey has been made possible through passion and hard work.”Her qualification had been recently confirmed by the International Association of Athletics Federations, which state that “the top 10 finishers at IAAF Gold Label Marathons in 2015 and 2016 will be considered as having achieved the entry standard.” This is capped at three male and three female marathoners per country.
At the SCMS, Neo admitted that she had been completely focusing on running her own race and the Olympics had been very far from her mind. She said, “My target had been to complete the marathon in 3.15 to 3.20 hours so I maintained a constant pace throughout, without really bothering about the competition. So this news came as a complete surprise to me. I felt very lucky to have been placed in the top 10 in the Women’s Open category.”
She added, “I am still very surprised by this and still trying to process and digest everything. This is too good a dream to possibly be true!”
She was injured leading to SCMS
This is even more surprising – considering that Neo had been injured in the build-up to the SCMS.
She said, “Maybe that injury had helped me – as I had been more conscious of the intensity and mileage that I did not ramp up a lot and had to hold back in a way. As such, my body was able to recover so instead of clocking mileage, I was able to rest, and that had helped to keep me feeling fresh on the day of the race.”
It is not only Neo who is surprised by her qualification. Said Tang Weng Fei, President of Singapore Athletics (SAA), “JieShi’s qualification for Rio comes as a surprise for not only her, but also for us. I would classify her as a social runner who can actually achieve her dreams.”
Her surprising achievement means that Neo may be the first Singaporean since the British-born Yvonne Danson in 1996 – to run in the Olympic Games.
A rare opportunity to experience the Olympics
Neo’s family and friends are all completely stoked by the news. She said, “They are all very happy and excited for me. Some of my friends tell me to go for it and experience the Olympics because it is a rare opportunity. My husband, Jackie Ho, encourages me to train for it but at the same time to not overtrain and injure myself.”
Her running club, the SAFRA Jurong Running Club, is also excited by the prospect of having one of their own at the Olympic Games. Said Neo, “They were all happy and excited for me when I joined them for a run after the news had broken.”
Pocari Sweat will be providing her with their full support
Pocari Sweat will be providing Neo with their full support, on her Olympic journey.
Said Puspita Winawati, Country Manger for Pocari Sweat Singapore, “We are delighted to welcome JieShi to the Pocari Sweat Family. We are also planning to introduce JieShi to world-class Japanese marathoners who train under the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Track and Field team, a team owned by the parent company of Pocari Sweat in Japan.”
Besides helping Neo with her training and hydration, Pocari Sweat will also be tapping on their network of international running events to give her overseas marathon running experience against the world’s best, in the build-up to the Olympics. And the first race in Neo’s training calendar will be the Seoul International Marathon on 20 March 2016.
Running alongside the world’s best marathoners
Does Neo feel any pressure to compete at the Olympics against the world’s best marathoners?
She said, “I would say that to run a marathon is already intimidating, and the stakes of running alongside these top-class marathoners is even higher.”
Neo will undergo tests to understand her body better
She added, “But all this while I have been training alone though. So now that the SAA is stepping in to help me with my training, it will help me to understand my body better and to improve as a runner.”
Added Tang, “Being a social runner, for her to get a top 10 position at a Gold Label race, and now with the support of the SAA and the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), she can only improve in terms of her running.”In addition to her training, Neo will also undergo three tests by the SSI – to test her VO2 max, anaerobic threshold and running economy.
Seen as the best measurement of cardio fitness, VO2 max testing measures a person’s ability to perform sustained exercise over a period of time.
The anaerobic threshold testing measures the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles when a person is doing vigorous exercise and is typically about 85 to 90 per cent of the maximum heart rate.
Running economy testings measure the amount of oxygen consumed by the muscles in relation to the conversation of food energy into movement.
Added C Kunalan, Vice President of Training and Selection, SAA, “These are the most important aspects of marathon running, which we will test her on. After that we will then plan a training schedule – we have to be realistic though and not say, aim to cut off 20 minutes from her marathon time.”
He added, “We may also check whether JieShi can be accommodated into the Altitude House at the SSI to get the benefit of altitude. This are some of the plans that we would like to work on, at the moment with JieShi, but at the same time, we must make sure that we don’t push her so hard that she gets injured during training, leading to the Olympics.”
As she builds up to the biggest race of her entire life, Neo also sees herself as making some sacrifices in order to clock a good personal timing at the Olympics. She said, “I may have to say no to some family gatherings or outings with friends, or sometimes miss dinner with my family. But I will try to have at least one family dinner together per week so that I don’t neglect them.”
Hopes that her experiences can inspire other social runners
Neo hopes that she can be an inspiration to the many up-and-coming long distance runners in Singapore, with the sport steadily growing more popular over the years.
She said, “I hope that my experience and achievement can be an inspiration to the runners out there. I started out myself as a recreational runner who took up the sport just to keep myself fit, so I hope that more people can take up running and also believe that anything is possible, as long as they commit their heart, mind and soul to it.”