Marathon Runner Soh Rui Yong: Looking Forward to the 2015 SEA Games Singapore

Last December, marathoner Soh Rui Yong, 23, booked his spot at the June 2015 SEA Games in Singapore – when he ran 2 hours 26 minutes 01 second at the California International Marathon. The Business Administration student, majoring in Sports Business, at the University of Oregon – in the United States – will be representing Singapore in the Men’s Marathon – and he is definitely looking forward to it.

Local marathoner Soh Rui Yong is looking forward to the SEA Games in Singapore this year. Photo Credit: Straits Times

Local marathoner Soh Rui Yong is looking forward to the SEA Games in Singapore this year.
Photo Credit: Straits Times

Said Soh, “I feel good. Training has been going really well. I am injury free and I am getting better every day. Though it’s hard to say what will happen between now and June, I think that things will go well and it will be great.”

Training hard for the SEA Games

To gear up for the SEA Games Marathon, Soh has been training nine times a week, including doing gym work. He completes a total of 1 hour 45 minutes to two hours of training per day, every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday – done twice a day. But he trains once a day on Mondays and Wednesdays due to the restraints of his school timetable. For his long runs he does it on Sundays, hitting a maximum of 30km. Saturdays are his rest days.

He admitted though, that training was not completely smooth going at the beginning, when he first plunged into a training regime, after giving himself a break upon completing his qualifying marathon in California. Said Soh, “I had to sit back a little bit with my training, as I had jumped back into it by doing too much too soon and had hip problems because of that. I was only supposed to be starting out with 20 minutes to half an hour of running – but I started running for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes at first, which was too much. But I have everything back on track now and I’m glad that nothing serious developed as a result of it.”

In addition to this, to prepare for the SEA Games in Singapore, Soh is also doing some high altitude training at Flagstaff, Arizona, which has year-round accessibility of mountains and canyons and a maximum altitude of 2,135 metres above sea level. Explained Soh, “Each time I head to do altitude training, there is 35 per cent less oxygen in the air than at sea level. That’s a good thing for me, because the thing is that adaptation of the body to high altitudes is actually similar to the demands of running in the heat. So by training in altitude, it will be good training for the Singapore heat and humidity at the SEA Games competition.”

Soh Rui Yong at a running clinic last December in Singapore.

Soh Rui Yong demonstrating some cool-down exercises at a running clinic.

Will be up against good friend Ashley Liew

In the SEA Games Marathon, Soh will be up against Ashley Liew – a good friend and competitor whom he knows well. Said Soh, “Ashley and I are good friends and we go all the way back to 2011. That year was when we were both running the Army Half Marathon and I finished second while he finished third. But because we had been placed in the wrong category, we didn’t get our prize money as a result – and so we were both pretty annoyed. But we bonded over that!”

Since 2011 too, Soh and Liew have had some rather memorable experiences during their races. Said Soh, “It’s pretty funny actually. Whenever Ashley and I race together, something dramatic happens!”

For example, at the Army Half Marathon in 2012, Soh and Liew were taking turns to push the pace and taking the lead until the 8km mark when Liew fell down. Soh, who had been running right next to him at the time, witnessed everything.

Explained Soh, “I saw Ashley fall and I was like, oh, there goes my competitor. I mean, I could just leave him there and carry on running, or maybe I should stop and see how he is doing. I was caught in between. This was my chance to sprint away and win, or I could help because life is more than winning races. So I decided to stop and turn around and I was going back towards him when he bounced back up and started running again. But after that, it was clear that he had been shaken by the fall. I told him, come, let’s try and keep going at the same pace, and I helped him along for a while, but eventually he fell off the pace completely.”

Soh Rui Yong and Ashley Liew at the finishing line of the 2012 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. Soh ran in the 21km race, while Liew had just completed the Full Marathon.

Soh Rui Yong (in black) and Ashley Liew (in orange) at the finishing line of the 2012 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. Soh ran in the 21km race, while Liew had just completed the Full Marathon. (Photo: Soh Rui Yong)

In the end Soh had ended up winning that race, as the fastest Singaporean, while Liew finished in second position.

In 2012 as well during the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore – the next time when Soh and Liew met at a race – both of them crossed the finishing line at exactly the same time… even though they were running in completely different races. Soh was running the Half Marathon while Liew was attempting the Full Marathon. Said Soh, “He started at Orchard Road at 5am for the 42km race and I started one and a half hours later at Sentosa. He ran 2 hours 45 minutes and I ran 1 hour 15 minutes – so we crossed the finishing line together! It was crazy. I was running the last 1km when I saw Ashley – he’s easy to recognise at races because he always wears the orange singlet and shorts. I thought to myself, oh Ashley is finishing the marathon. I’ll see if I can catch him. I was already third in my race and would be on the podium anyway, behind two Kenyans, so I didn’t actually have to speed up.”

“I was making up a lot of ground on Ashley but I think he heard my footsteps and he started pushing harder, because he thought it was a marathoner coming to catch him! He didn’t know it was me. I only overtook him with 10 to 20 metres left and I gave him a high five when he crossed the finishing line. He turned around and he said, oh it’s you, I had thought it was Mok (Ying Ren) trying to catch me! That was quite funny,” Soh continued.

Soh and Liew hug each other as a form of congratulation.

Soh and Liew congratulating each other after the SCMS 2012. (Photo: Soh Rui Yong)

So Soh is definitely looking forward to racing with Liew again, come June. Said the national runner, “Ashley and I will make a very strong Singaporean team as we are both good runners and care about each other’s performances, which is also what’s important too.”

Hopeful of wining the gold medal on home soil

Is Soh hopeful of carrying the Singapore flag successfully and winning the gold medal on home soil? He said, “As long as I show up in good shape and am not injured, I think I will have a good chance. I mean, you don’t have to worry about everyone who is going to run. You only need to think about one quarter of the pack – because half will get injured and half of the remainder will run a bad race. If I run like how I did in California, by finding the same form and replicating my performance there, then I will have a good chance.”

A totally different ball game to the California International Marathon

But he does realise that the SEA Games Marathon will be a totally different ball game compared to the California International Marathon in terms of his strategy. Said Soh, “I was running for a time in California and I was only focused on my own timing. But at the SEA Games, it will not be about the time. It will be about how well you can race against people who are about your standard. I think there will be lots of ups and downs and people who misjudge the pace and start too fast or slow. In fact, a slow runner can beat a faster runner in the SEA Games if he has a smarter race strategy. But I am looking forward to the challenge as it is something that I have never done before. But as this type of challenge is totally new to me, I have nothing to worry about and I will just take it easy and try my best on race day.”

Soh (right) is observing as runners do warm-up exercises at a training clinic.

Soh (right) observing – as runners do warm-up exercises at a training clinic.

Looking forward to the home ground support

One thing for certain though, is that Soh is looking forward to the home ground support. He said, “I run a little bit better on the big stage with a lot of people screaming and shouting out. I guess that’s because I am a bit of a performer so if there are lots of people there, it will spur me on to try my best and do well. So I really hope that the local running community can come out to support me.”

“It’s also good that the marathon race will be held at East Coast Park, which is the stomping ground of many of Singapore’s weekend warriors. It will be really nice to have the SEA Games passing through one of our most popular running places. It is a pretty flat and boring route for the competitors, but for spectators it should be interesting as we will be looping around East Coast Park and people will get to watch us running,” Soh added.

Soh is performing another cool-down exercise.

Soh performing another cool-down exercise.

Looks up to the Singapore running community as a form of inspiration

Soh is eternally grateful to the running community in Singapore – for getting him to where he is today. Explained Soh, “As much as some of the Singapore running community may look up to me as inspiration, honestly I look up to all of them as inspiration too. And with the Singapore Marathon (now the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore) happening every year, with everyone from the elite Kenyans to the 7-hour marathoners at the back of the pack participating, that is what caught my eye and drove me to take part in the marathon.”

“If anyone might want to say that I ran my first marathon in 2 hours and 26 minutes, I really want to add that the whole Singapore public inspired me to start this in the first place. So we are all in this together and are striving towards a common goal – to improve our running. My goal is not any more noble than the person next to me who is trying to break the five hour marathon. We are all trying to run our best,” he added.

Tips from Soh on how to run a marathon well

What tips does Soh have to share, to run a marathon well? Said the national runner, “I would say that you must be consistent. Basically the body has to burn energy stores and fats at a very consistent and gradual rate. You don’t want to burn too fast otherwise you will be left with nothing in the later stages of the race. It is completely different to a 5km race – where you don’t have to worry about fuelling because you can simply go out there and whack.”

A photo taken with Soh Rui Yong last December.

A photo taken with Soh Rui Yong last December.

“So to run a consistent marathon, don’t overtrain by doing your easy workouts too hard and don’t run too hard during training sessions by racing with your training partners. I never leave the track or trails without thinking that I could not have done anything more. Instead, I always leave thinking that I could have done one or two more rounds. People are always talking about giving your all. That is true in the race – but do not have that mentality in training as you will run yourself to the ground. And also, you need to clock enough mileage and get used to being on your feet, as you will be running for several hours at a single stretch depending on how fast you can run. I am not an expert, but I did that for my first marathon and it worked,” he added.

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