41-Year-Old 10,000m Record Broken: How Distance Runner, Soh Rui Yong Did It

Soh sets a new 10,000m record. (Photo by GCC Photography)

Soh sets a new 10,000m record. (Photo by GCC Photography)

It had lasted for more than four decades, but last month, the national 10,000m record of 31 minutes and 19.0 seconds, held by P.C Suppiah since 1973, finally came tumbling down – at the Portland Track and Field Festival, in the United States.

The record-breaker was 22-year-old Soh Rui Yong, a talented Singaporean runner who is currently doing his Business Administration degree at the University of Oregon, in the USA. He completed the 10,000 run in 31 minutes and 15.95 seconds.

How did Soh manage to break this record, which has eluded so many runners for decades? Read about his record-breaking feat, in an interview I had with the runner.

Before the race, were you thinking of breaking the 10,000m record or simply having a good run?

I definitely had the record on my mind. It’s a record that has survived 41 years of assault from some of the best Singaporean distance runners ever, and I wanted that on my resume – not just for myself, but to hopefully inspire a change. The Singapore distance runners of today are usually seen as pampered and soft, since we grew up in a much more modernised Singapore than our ancestors. By breaking the record, I’d show that we could be tough and suffer when we need to.

How confident were you of breaking it?

I had trained well, and despite sustaining an injury in the last three weeks of preparation, I knew that I would be able to sneak under the mark – if I ran well.

What was your race strategy?

This was to run 75 seconds per lap and hopefully to draft behind someone running a similar pace, but take it on myself if I could not. I tried not to look at the clock too, as counting laps from the start can be demoralizing

Soh (right) and his coach, Ian Dobson, whom he credits as helping him to achieve this record.

Soh (right) and his coach, Ian Dobson (Left) whom he credits as helping him to achieve this record. (Image: Soh Rui Yong)

How did you train for the race?

I trained consistently and planned far in advance, gradually increasing mileage and intensity over many months of training.

Since the beginning of this year, I have been clocking between 45 to 91.3 miles per week before the race. Most easy/long runs were done on trails while my workouts were done on trails, roads and the track. This is because a mix of terrain helps to spread the stress on joints and avoid injury.

What was the most challenging part of your record breaking run?

This was the mental barrier of trying to achieve something that nobody else has managed to do for 41 years. I’m also not the most naturally gifted runner, having only finished 50th at the national schools cross country championships as a Secondary One boy. There were many people doubting my ability to break the record, so what I had to do was just focus on what I needed to do, and actually listen to the people who believed that I could do it – my coach, Ian Dobson, and my Team Run Eugene teammates. When the mental game is taken care of, the battle is half won.

How did you focus in maintaining your 75 seconds per lap pace?

There was a big clock at the start line, so I just looked at it every time I went past the start line. If I was too slow, I would run faster and relax and if I was going too fast, I would also listened to my coach – was calling out splits.

I understand that you paced yourself. How difficult was this?

It’s always tough to run alone, but because I had done so much of it in training, it became second nature in the race. Thankfully, I did not face too much wind that night on the track.

How did you feel when you realised you had broken the record?

The record had survived for over four decades, and I was the one to break it – so I was delighted! I really can’t remember what was going through my mind. All I wanted to do was to hug my coach, sister, friends and supporters, then slap high fives with everyone else.

What is your next running project?

I will be racing the Eugene Half Marathon (in Oregon, USA) on July 27th. Though I’m running well and setting records on the track, my strength ultimately lies in distance.

I think the marathon is ultimately my strongest event. It is on the roads that I might have a chance of qualifying for the Olympics. If I shift to marathon training in the future, my goal will be to run 2 hours 23 minutes, and break the Singapore record of 2 hours 24 minutes and 22 seconds – set by Murugiah Rameshon in the 1995 South East Asian Games. He was my first ever cross-country coach, and if I break his record, my story will have come full circle.

It will be tough, but I know I can do it.

Click here for running tips from Soh Rui Yong.

Besides being able to run, Soh is also a talented chef. To read his cooking article for runners, click here.

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