Earlier this month, Singapore’s Soh Rui Yong, 23, made his marathon running debut at the California International Marathon – and became the second-fastest Singaporean ever, to complete a 42.195km race. His timing was 2 hours 26 minutes and 01 second.
Was surprised at his own performance
A Business Administration student at the University of Oregon, USA, Soh admitted that he had been very surprised by his own performance at the race – as he had never expected to run this fast. He said, “I went into the race knowing that I was fit, but no, I definitely did not expect to run 2 hours and 26 minutes at all. My goal had been 2 hours and 28 minutes, which would have qualified me for the South East Asian (SEA) Games.”
So his stellar performance at the California International Marathon means that he has successfully qualified for the SEA Games – with some time to spare.
Good pre-race preparation
Soh attributed his good timing to his excellent pre-race preparation, which he had set himself to do – for five months prior to the marathon. His training comprised of marathon-specific training and tapering and these included interval sessions twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays), core-body strengthening sessions twice a week in the gym, long runs of up to two and a half hours on Sundays, plus other recovery runs. Altogether, Soh did about 11 workout sessions per week, covering a total of 160km of running.
So Soh was feeling in tip-top condition on race day. He said, “Once the race started, I felt great and never had any doubts of reaching my goal timing. Unless something really cramped or blew up, I was going to get what I had wanted.”
Had some doubts in the months leading up to the marathon
This had been a sharp contrast to Soh’s feelings in the few months before the race day, though. Said Soh, “In the months leading up to the race, I was thinking, am I ever going to be ready to run a marathon? After all, this was twice as long as I had ever raced in my whole life!”
“But the closer to race day I got, the more confident I felt because the training was going well. And when I got to the starting line, I was focusing only on positive thoughts and didn’t let any negative doubts creep into my mind. At no point did I question myself as to why I was doing this. I wanted to run a marathon and I had put myself into this situation, so I was not going to feel sorry for myself. I was going to get out there and get it done,” added Soh.
Adopted a conservative strategy
And when the race flagged off, Soh chose to take a conservative approach, starting at a 2:28-hour marathon pace. He explained, “I ran a 2:28 pace up to 21km. At the half marathon mark, I felt good. I got to the 30km mark and I still felt good. I told myself, people have told me that it’s going to get hard around here, but I still feel fine. Let me just try and stay as relaxed as possible.”
“Then I got to the 31km and the 32km mark still feeling good. I felt so good that I told myself, you know what, I’m just going to go for it. So for the last 10km, I just threw down the hammer and just went harder and harder and in the end, I was running so fast and passed 41 people along the way, going from 78th to 37th position and I felt really happy that my race plan was working. In fact, this last 10km was so memorable because I just kept on going past people and I felt so motivated,” he added.
Had cramps in the final two kilometres
However, Soh admitted that he had been forced to slow down in the final two kilometres of the race, due to cramps, though. So there is a part of him feeling that he could have done a faster timing. Soh explained, “I really believed that I would have run about 2:25:40 if not for the cramps, but these things happen and you have to deal with it. I had wanted to finish the race without cramping, so I slowed down to a more ‘reasonable’ pace and cruised to the end. When I saw the time on the clock, I thought to myself, I could have gone below 2:26, but that’s fine, I can do it another time.”
Less than optimum race fuelling strategy
Soh felt that his cramp at the end may have been due to his less than optimum race fuelling strategy – because he had missed many of his gels during the race. Said Soh, “I was inexperienced. I was given elite status during the race and my own water bottle stations. But at each station, there were six tables of elite drinks and the first few were so close together that I couldn’t really tell which one was my bottle. When you are running at that pace, you don’t have a lot of time to think.”
As a result of this, Soh completely missed his first two fuelling stations. “But when I got to the third station, I thought, I am going to slow down. I am going to lose a few seconds and grab my Gatorade bottle and down it. I didn’t want to go too long without taking any fluids,” added Soh.
Initially, he had prepared four bottles of Gatorade and two bottles of water with gel taped onto it. In the end though, he completed the race on one gel – half a packet from the public hydration station and another half a packet from one of his competitors, who had been kind enough to give him a gel.
Good pre-race preparation and pacing is more important than fuelling
But even though adequate fuelling may be important though, Soh pointed out that it is not the only factor that will separate a good race from a bad one. He explained, “Gels are important, but I only consumed one gel and I still completed the race with a good timing, because I paced myself properly. Getting there in shape and pacing yourself is more important than any fuelling strategy. Don’t overthink your fuelling plan, as it is not going to save you if you are going too fast or are unfit.”
Learnt an important lesson for future marathons
From his maiden marathon experience, Soh has definitely learnt a valuable lesson for his next upcoming marathon – which will be the SEA Games. He said, “I am definitely going to plan my drinks better and will not miss a single drink station! Missing my fluids isn’t going to be smart at the SEA Games because it will be very humid – and the sweat just sticks to the body. So you need to get your fluids in.”
“I will also change the way I race. In California, I raced to get a fast time and in the SEA Games, I will be running to get a gold medal. So it will be more of positioning and being patient. And in the last 10km, I am going to try and run as fast as possible again. If I run just like how I did in California, it is going to be hard for anyone to beat me,” Soh added.
Confident of breaking the national marathon record
Indeed, Soh is quietly confident of not only doing Singapore proud by bringing home the gold medal next year, but he’s also secretly looking forward to the day when he breaks the national marathon record of 2 hours 24 minutes 22 seconds, set by Murugiah Rameshon in 1995.
Said Soh, “If training continues the way that it has been going, breaking the Singapore Record will be a natural progression. I don’t think that is something that’s out of my reach. I am looking forward to it and would love to get that record one day.”
Come out and show your support at the SEA Games
But for the time being though, that national record is far from Soh’s mind, as he is focusing all his energy at present, on the SEA Games Marathon.
He said, “Come out and support us at the SEA Games next year. The more support we get, the better we are going to run. I am excited about the SEA Games. I am training hard for it and I hope to deliver the gold medal. I will get into the best shape that I can get and make it hard for anyone to beat me.”
Click here for how Soh broke the 10,000m Singaporean Record.
Click here for Soh’s tips from the Young NTUC Earth Runners clinic on Saturday.
Click here for Soh’s Q&A session at the Kallang Practise Track last week.
Click here for some cooking tips by Soh Rui Yong.