National runner Ashley Liew Wei Yen, 28, had wanted to make his late Mum proud – when he ran at the SEA Games marathon earlier this month – on June 7, her birthday. Said Liew, a Student & Chiropractic Intern at Sherman College of Chiropractic in South Carolina, the United States, “I just said, Mum, I want to make you proud on your birthday. This was what had been in my mind since the months leading up to this race.”
Liew’s mother had passed away from colon cancer at the age of 55, in 2010 and she would have turned 61 years old on the day of the marathon.
On the night before his race, Liew had been thinking of his mother, so he said that he didn’t feel anxious or nervous. He explained, “There was neither tension nor anxiety, just a sense of peace.” Perhaps at the same time, his 2013 SEA Games marathon experience in Myanmar, had also helped Liew to be more certain of what he could expect during the race – so there wasn’t a great deal of anxiety.
Suffered leg problems, but still clocked a decent timing
And by the end of the marathon race, the marathoner had indeed made his mother proud – by managing to complete his 42.195km run in a timing of 2hours 44minutes and 2seconds – despite having pulled the hamstrings in both of his legs during the race.
Right hamstring pulled
Said Liew, “At 1hour 44minutes, I had been about to overtake the fourth placed Indonesian runner, when my right hamstring suddenly pulled. Not being able to take a step, I clutched it and watched helplessly as the Indonesian pulled away and two runners I had previously dropped, overtook me. I cut a lonely figure at that point and contemplated pulling out, but reminded myself that my mum would have wanted me to finish what I started, if humanly possible.”
Fortunately for Liew, his hamstring unlocked itself and he took a few cautious steps, before he resumed to running strides. Added the runner, “At that point, the three medal contenders including (Soh) Rui Yong had broken clear at one point, so feeling more inspired, I fought on. What inspired me further was having overwhelming support along the race route, from my training group, family and long-time friends. These supporters were hard to miss in their Ash in a Flash tee shirts, hand-made banners and piercing screams of encouragement. If you were in my position, would you let them down?”
Left hamstring pulled
With that in mind, Liew then continued to fight on in the marathon, and at the same time, hoping for the people in front to falter. But things still didn’t go his way. Just when he had been about to overtake the fifth and sixth placed runners, Liew’s left hamstring suddenly pulled at 2hours 30minutes.
Added Liew, “Just like earlier, I could not take a step, and I held onto the barriers for support. This time, two medical staff on bikes saw my situation and rushed over to check if I was all right. Again, my heart told me to finish it for mum. So I stopped, walked and ran in an attempt to close the gap. When I entered Kallang Practice Track for the final 500m, and I heard the roar of Singaporeans cheering me on, I went hard but also took it like a victory lap.”
Continued the runner, “I hardly acknowledge the crowd at races, but during the SEA Games this year, it was different. I was so grateful to my Coach Rameshon Murugiah, Singapore Athletics, father Andrew Liew, chiropractor Dr Kelvin Ng and a huge contingent of other supporters for being there. They inspired my fighting spirit, along with my mum.”
Pulling his hamstrings affected his race strategy
Liew admitted that pulling his hamstrings had affected his race strategy as it had prevented him from sticking with the leaders.
He said, “The plan had been to stick with the main pack as long as possible and not get caught up in early breakaway attempts. In addition, I learnt from my previous experience in 2013, that placing in the SEA Games Marathon was more important than fast timings.”
Unexpected torrential downpour
Pulling both hamstrings wasn’t the only challenge that Liew had faced during the marathon though. Another one had been the torrential downpour on the morning of the race – which Liew admitted that he had not been quite expecting at all.
Added the marathoner, “Coach Rameshon told me to be ready for any kind of hell before a big race, but I was not expecting a torrential downpour. We flagged off with a light drizzle, which kept temperatures slightly cooler, but later on it became so intense that I was drinking rainwater.”
Liew continued, “I drew on Rudyard Kipling’s poem that starts with, If you can keep your head… and reminded myself that it was even more important to stick with the pack. Soon the shoes were heavily soaked and I noticed my running gait becoming unnatural. I do not recall when the downpour started, but in the midst of it, time stood still at 1hour 44minutes on my watch.”
Sports is not all about winning for Liew
During the early stages of the marathon race, Liew also displayed a moment of extreme sportsmanship – reminding everyone that sports is not all about competing for podium places. This had been around the 6km mark of the race when the marathoners had to do a sharp counter-clockwise turn at lamp-post B1A29 – which marked the start of a five-loop course at East Coast Park.
Said Liew, “I was in the middle of the pack which still consisted of all 12 male runners coming in fast and furious. However it was still very dark. The added rain did not help with visibility. I focused on the lamppost and and did my U-turn. Taking a few more steps, I suddenly found myself all alone. All 11 other runners had continued running straight instead of U-turning with me, so by this point, the marshals were yelling at the pack to turn back. The pack got the message, but by then, there was at least a 50m gap between them and myself.”
Weighed the options open to him
At that moment, Liew was then deciding what he should do. He said, “I weighed my options. Some of Coach Rameshon’s young athletes, who were waiting there to support the marathoners, saw what looked like a breakaway and started cheering even louder for me. So it would have been easy to get carried away and put the hammer down. One of the senior athletes who witnessed this, Jennifer Quek, told us later that she was wondering why I was not following Coach’s instructions to stay with the pack. Breaking away this early in the race does not guarantee any medal chance, but at least this would psychologically affect the others.”
Added Liew, “But on the other hand, I did not want to take advantage of the situation. I flashed back to moments during the Tour de France when the peloton might slow down for a contender who suffers a bicycle mishap in a show of unspoken sportsmanship so that he can catch up. I also recalled how my team mate Soh Rui Yong stopped to encourage me after my double falls during the 2011 Army Half Marathon. Instinctively, I went from race pace to jogging pace, constantly looking behind and gesturing them to close the gap. I allowed two runners who were pushing the pace before the U-turn to overtake me, asking them whether they were okay as well.”
And when the rest of the pack joined in, Liew resumed his place in the middle of the pack, like how it had been before the U-turn. Said the marathoner, “Then the race proper resumed again.”
Would have responded the same way again
Liew added that he would have reacted in the same manner, if he had found himself leading his competitors again, in a similar situation. The runner said, “Things unravelled very fast at that moment and it was almost a natural reflex for me to do what I did.”
He explained, “The reason is that values, such as sportsmanship and integrity, have been hardwired into me, thanks to Mum and Coach. Keep following your inner wisdom on all matters and you will have no regrets in life.”
Satisfied with his performance overall
As a whole, Liew was satisfied with his performance and how his race had gone – and how successfully he had been able to cope with the challenges he had faced on race day.
He explained, “The 2015 marathon was a stronger test of character with the hamstring issues and downpour, compared to the 2013 one in Myanmar. Also, by being on home ground, 2015 was the more special marathon – in fact I could not wait to personally shake the hands of supporters post-race – with it falling on my mum’s birthday too.”
Looking forward to the well-earned rest
With his marathon being over, Liew admitted that he has had a well-earned rest and enjoying some local food. Said the marathoner, “I’ve been eating the local cuisine – albeit mostly the healthy version at the Games village – relaxing and most importantly, cheering on my Team Singapore athletics team mates.”
And compared to his SEA Games 2013 experience in Myanmar, Liew also added that the accommodation this year was more luxurious. He said, “In 2013, we stayed in a dormitory set-up with ten athletes per room. There was also no reliable Wi-Fi, no television, or much privacy.” This year, Liew and his athletics team mates were staying at the Swissotel, with two athletes in a room.
The runner added, “The Nila Suites that were set up for the athletes, offered a homely set-up for athletes to relax, snack, make friends and sing karaoke in between competitions. But ultimately though, I believe that every Games organiser would do their best to ensure that athletes have the best experience possible.”
Other blog posts
- Ashley Liew is back in Singapore
- Swimmer Quah Ting Wen is back in form
- Triathlete Wille Loo battles hip injury to win bronze
- Rain helped marathoner Soh Rui Yong to victory