Last weekend, elite Singaporean marathoner Soh Rui Yong, 24, made an appearance at the SAFRA Yishun Country Club. There, he had happily posed for photos and answered questions asked by the SAFRA Yishun Running Club members.
The whole session had been an informal affair – and it ended with a local kaya toast breakfast, where Soh had joined in as well.
During the session, organised by the SAFRA Yishun Running Club, Soh shared insights into running, including his running dreams and inspirations and how to remain motivated as a runner as well as sharing some marathon race tips and strategies.
The main highlights from the session are summarised below:
Soh, who inspired you to start running?
A big factor was definitely my mum.
She did competitive running in Junior College but she stopped after her graduation. As a kid, she brought me to Bedok Reservoir Park – which was a very painful experience and I always ended up walking. In those days, I never saw myself as a runner.
But one year, I happened to see the StanChart Marathon on television and everyone was running 42km regardless of whether they were Kenyan elites or 60 year olds weekend warriors. This made me curious and I wanted to run a marathon to see what it was like.
In Junior College, I matured as a runner myself and took it more seriously. I started to win some age-group races and this pushed me to give running the best shot that I could – when I realised that I had the chance to represent Singapore at the South East Asian Games. This is why I am here today.
How do you stay motivated to keep running?
Training is tiring but then that is the whole point. Every morning I get up and have breakfast and then I will run before heading to school. It has become a part and parcel of my life and I have come to enjoy it.
When the going gets tough though, I remind myself that nobody is forcing me to run. I do it because I want to. This also applies to when you are running a marathon – you signed up for it yourself; nobody made you do it. So I would say to sit back and enjoy the journey.
How much mileage do you need to complete a marathon?
It depends but there is no one magic number. I would say that it depends on how well you train. It is possible to complete a marathon with three to four training sessions a week with about 50km of mileage, but you would not get a personal best, though.
When I ran my first marathon, I had people telling me that 100 miles per week was the magic number. So this remained in my head for a while and I forced myself to meet this target. By the end of the first week, I felt dead, but my body soon got used to it. It brought results though – I completed the marathon in 2 hours 26 minutes and 1 second.
For my second marathon, I was recovering from a hip injury so I could not get in that much mileage at the beginning of my training cycle. I was doing between 90 to 100 miles a week. At the South East Asia Games marathon, I felt fitter than I had before and I raced quite well as a result.
However, for most runners though, I would say that the challenge is not about the running. Instead the challenge is about life and how to juggle your time effectively between your running and work or school, your family and friends.
What is your race day nutrition plan?
If the race is a shorter one, such as a 10km or a half marathon, I will wake up 2.5 hours beforehand and have a light breakfast, comprising of two slices of toasted bread with peanut butter & jam and Gatorade sports drink.
But if it is a marathon, I will have three to four slices of bread. I also try to take isotonic drinks leading up to the race. During the marathon itself, I take a gel at every 10km, but for shorter races I do not have gels. It is good to take a gel at the one hour mark if I am going to be out there for two and a half hours. I also take isotonic drinks at every 5km, but with water. And I do not recommend taking gels with isotonic drink as that will overload the body with salts.
Are you conscious about your diet?
I am not obsessive in sticking to a specific diet plan but I obviously can’t eat KFC every day! In fact, I had McDonalds the other day! I think that to be a good runner, you need to be a happy person and if you are on a strict diet, then you will be unhappy. Live your life to the fullest and enjoy running..
Performance wise, watch your diet though and try to get in fruits and vegetables and plenty of carbohydrates. I like my running but I also like my life out of running – I wouldn’t talk to a nutritionist about my diet because they’ll tell me that I won’t be able to eat my favourite char kway teow!
What are your dreams for the next few years, Soh?
I would like to have the opportunity to train as a full-time athlete. I may then be able to win multiple South East Asia Games gold medals and to finish amongst the top 10 to 20 runners in the Olympics. To race against guys who can run a 2.15 hour marathon, you need to train like them.
So if I have a job, I will need to re-align my goals. The next eight months will be very important to me – I can continue to push on for the next 5-7 years if I do well. But being an athlete is an unstable career though – if you sustain an injury you can easily lose one race, such as what had happened to me in Fukuoka.
How confident had you been of breaking Rameshon’s record at the recent Fukuoka Marathon, if not for your injury?
I had been 120 per cent confident.
I may not have completed the race, but I was having the best training block of my life prior to the race. However nobody cares what you do in training – only in the race. I was in shape at the South East Asian Games but that was a race for a medal and not a timing. For the Fukuoka Marathon, of course I am disappointed I did not finish the race, but I knew I had to prioritise my foot. I only have one pair of feet and two chances every year to run the marathon after all.
When do you decide when to drop out and when to continue?
It depends on the pain.
If it is the fatigue sort of pain, then you can keep going. But if it is an injury pain, then it depends. For me, I first felt my heel causing trouble at 5km into the marathon. I tried to continue running and not to think of the damage. But it persisted and caused even more pain, so I decided to cut my race short at 12km. I can always run another marathon again.
What is your marathon race strategy like anyway?
I do not take any moves till 32km. I feel that if you are still good at 32km, then you will have a good marathon. Everyone feels good at a marathon at the 5km mark so it is no point accelerating so soon.
My best marathon was my first one, which was in California – I was running about 3.32km per kilometre and I kept imagining I was going to hit the wall. I felt great still at 32km and I upped my pace to 3.20 per kilometre for the final 10km. My first half was completed in 1:13:57 hours and the second half was about two minutes faster.
How slow are your long runs?
Sometimes I don’t even care how fast or slow I am running. I might even run with the ladies sometimes – so it can be super slow. But on other days, I run with guys who can push me if I need to do a faster long run.
What is your weekly running schedule like?
I run for six days per week and completely rest for the other day, to catch up with my schoolwork or put my feet on the couch. I do absolutely zero running that day. It’s nice to not think about running once every week.