It was Sunday, 7 December 2014. The time was two o’clock in the afternoon.
This very moment would be etched forever in 84-year-old marathoner, Chan Meng Hui’s memory.
That’s because it was the moment when Chan, who runs a courier service company, had crossed the finishing line of his 100th marathon – the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) 2014.
Happy and elated to cross the finishing line
Said Chan, who turns 85 next month, “I was very happy and excited to cross the finishing line – so happy that I just don’t know the words to use to describe the feeling. Many people, who did not believe that I could complete the race, even messaged me to congratulate me when they heard I finished. Even up to yesterday, I was so surprised that I had actually done it.”
“And now that I have completed the marathon, I can finally sleep well, instead of thinking about the marathon all the time and how I am going to finish running it,” Chan added.
Nervous and fearful leading up to the marathon day
Indeed, the runner had been very nervous and fearful that he would not be able to complete the race – in the days leading up to the marathon.
Said Chan, “Even during my working time, I kept thinking of how to finish this race – and when I told my friend, he said that he doubted I could finish, because I didn’t have enough training.”
The marathoner also admitted that he had only been clocking a maximum of 40km in weekly mileage for this race, but felt that he should be doing about 70km per week to be adequately prepared for the marathon.
Flagged off in the second wave of runners
And on race day, he felt even more nervous – because the race organizers wanted to put him in the first wave – together with the elite Kenyan runners. However, Chan managed to convince them to let him run in the second wave, which was a 10-minute delay from the official flag-off time.
“I was standing at the side of the starting pen in the minutes leading up to the flag off time. But when the gun went off, I panicked because it was happening so fast and the runners were so quick,” Chan said.
Had started the race a little bit too quickly
He added, “Because of this, I was running the first 2km non-stop. My usual race strategy is to employ a run & walk strategy from the beginning, when I would walk 100m and then run 50m.”
This was made even worse and more nerve-wracking for the marathoner, by the fact that throughout his run, there were MediaCorp Channel 5 videographers following him with a GoPro camera – to document his entire marathon. As a result, he felt even more pressured to keep the pace and not slow down.
Employed his run & walk strategy after a couple of kilometres
But when he reached the Esplanade, which is somewhere between the 2km to 3km mark of the marathon, he began to employ his run & walk strategy, till the end of his run.
And for some energy along the way, Chan ate eggs whenever he needed the fuel that he required, to carry on. He also stopped along the way to buy a bar of chocolate from one of the provision shops, and this gave him the energy that he had needed for his gruelling 42km run.
Looked after by the race organizers
As well, there were race organizers following him throughout his run – to make sure that he was not asked to board the bus, due to the roads having to be opened up by a specific time.
“They said they were there to make sure that the traffic and other people do not stop me from finishing the race. But I think they were there to make sure I did not take shortcut and cheat,” quipped Chan.
Cheating in the marathon was never on Chan’s mind
But cheating during the marathon had never been on Chan’s mind. He said, “There is no point in taking shortcut during marathons. If you do, your conscience will not be clear and even if family and friends believe that you completed the marathon, you are only cheating yourself because you didn’t complete the actual distance.”
His determination and grit fuelled his successful marathon run
Indeed, it had been his own determination to complete his 100th marathon using nothing but his own two legs, that propelled Chan to push himself throughout the whole race – especially when the going got tough.
Said Chan, “Whenever I wanted to give up, I remembered the words of my Straits Times reporter friend, Chua Siang Yee, who had written that ‘by hook or by crook’ I must finish my 100th marathon. I memorized those words and kept repeating to myself, the words ‘by hook or by crook’ over and over again. That helped me to finish the race.”
At the same time, he had the support of his second son at this point – who was also running the Full Marathon, but was stopped and diverted by the officials at the 17km mark, because he had failed to make the cut-off time. At this point, Chan’s son decided to wait for his father to come along too – and then he supported Chan for the rest of the marathon.
“He wanted to make sure that I completed the marathon and ran all the way without any problems. He was more concerned about me, than any medal or finisher tee,” said Chan.
Fought the merciless sun
The hot sun and humidity on race day had made the marathon journey even worse for Chan, though. He said, “I think the toughest part of the race was the open space at the Marina Barrage area (at the 32km point). It’s because this place had no trees or shelter from the sun, and it got really hot at 1pm when I was running there. In fact, the sun was so hot that I think it made me run faster.”
To counter the heat, Chan wet his towel and put it on his head to stay cool. “But I had to keep getting water because the towel kept on drying up after less than five minutes!”
Did not hit the wall due to his conservative race strategy
However, Chan didn’t hit the wall or suffer from any cramping problems, possibly due to his conservative race strategy. Said the runner, “My joints were ok and I didn’t have any problems. I felt I could not move my knee too fast, but it was fine to go slow and run & walk throughout the race.”
Surrounded by media at the finishing line
But little did Chan know that there would be a pleasant surprise waiting for him, as he neared the finishing line. Said the runner, “When I had two kilometres more to go, they announced on the loudspeaker that there’s one runner, 84-year-old Chan Meng Hui, on his way to the finishing line. And when I completed the race, a lot of people had gathered there to cheer for me – camera crew, race helpers and other members of the public!”
As well, the race officials also personally presented Chan his finisher’s medal and tee – unlike many of the other runners, who have to pick these items up for themselves. This was a gesture that Chan accepted gratefully, as he was feeling completely exhausted and fatigued by now.
Happy to have completed the marathon in one piece
Chan completed the race in 8 hours 50 minutes and 45 seconds. This timing put him in 10th position in his age group category – of marathoners aged 72 years and above. But the timing wasn’t important to him. The runner said, “Don’t ask me for my timing. Ask me if I can cross the finishing line. I am not young anymore. And at my age, I can’t set Personal Bests (PBs) anymore. I just want to complete the run in one piece.”
Added Chan, “I wouldn’t have known how to face all my runner friends if I didn’t complete this marathon – because I was telling everyone that I would do my 100th marathon at this race. So if I failed, people would say that Chan talks too much!”
Now hopes to use his marathon journey to inspire others
And now, Chan hopes to inspire other people. He said, “I am very approachable and easy to get along with. You can use my name to inspire people, but do not emphasize too much on myself.”
In fact, he had already inspired one runner at the SCMS race itself, during his 42km ordeal. According to Chan, this was an Indian man in his 40s, who had wanted to give up and wait for the sweeper bus at the 35km mark of the marathon.
Said Chan, “But I told him not to give up. I kept pushing him to the finishing line – by following me and walking with me. I told him that if you stop running during a marathon, you would never get up again because it is hard to re-start the engine. So keep the engine going and continue putting in more petrol.”
At the end of the marathon, the Indian runner was eternally grateful to him. Said Chan, “He told the reporters waiting, that Mr Chan was his mentor and without me, he could not have finished the marathon.”
Tips from Chan for marathon running
As an experienced marathon veteran, what tips does Chan have for marathon runners? Said Chan, “One day before the race, have a good rest and definitely do not stay out till the wee hours of the morning. Also, listen to your body during the marathon and remember to run for enjoyment – not run to make yourself suffer.”
“Many people push too hard during marathons and collapse at the end point because their heart cannot take the strain. If your body is not well, do not push. There is always a next time to run and achieve a good timing. If you can remember these things, you will run safely,” added Chan.
- 85 year old’s 101st Full Marathon @ StanChart Marathon S’pore 2015
- Click here for more about Chan Meng Hui and the running inspiration that he is.
- Click here for running tips from 84-year-old Chan Meng Hui.