As Singapore prepares to host the 28th SEA Games 2015 in June this year, all eyes in the international marathon community will be fixed on our sunny island nation. Not only is former SEA Games marathon Gold winner Mok Ying Ren getting to compete on home ground territory, Singapore is doubling its chances of medal counts by sending a second representative in the same event.
At just 23 years old, Soh Rui Yong is the current national record holder of the 10,000m distance and in December 2014, he ran his first-ever marathon in 2:26:01, the second-fastest time set by a Singaporean for this distance. Rui Yong kindly took a moment out of his athletic and academic commitments to sit down with JustRunLah! for an interview, and shared with us his running story, his goals for the SEA Games, his advice to young aspiring athletes, and even his go-to recipe.
Read on for more details…
JustRunLah!: You are currently the national record holder of the 10,000m distance, and your first marathon attempt resulted in an impressive 2:26:01 finish, making you a shoo-in for the SEA games. What’s less discussed in the media, perhaps, is your running background. So tell us a bit about your running story. How did you get into running? How have you evolved on this journey as a runner?
Rui Yong: That depends on how you define running. I feel that running is something that everyone did as a kid, you know, as five or six-year-olds running around the playground. We ran more as children than we do as adults, so when people ask ‘why do you run?’, my question in return is ‘why did you stop?’. People have other things to do in life, and they become more sedentary when they start school or jobs. As kids, running was so fun, it’s something the human body was engineered to do, and we derived a lot of joy from running, and it’s sad that along the way, people lose that, and you see the negative consequences.
I was always running and being active, playing soccer, but I only started training as part of a school cross-country team in Hua Chong Institution (then known as The Chinese High School) when I was 13 in 2004. I joined the team but at that stage, I had no idea what serious training was all about. I went for training, but I didn’t know about nutrition, rest, etc. Sometimes, I wasn’t prepared. For example, I would play a game of soccer before training, and then wonder why I sucked so much at running that day, and it took me quite a while to realise that if you’re not well rested, and you’ve been running around for 2 hours before training, you are going to suffer cos your body is tired.
I was never part of a soccer team but I played a lot of void deck soccer, during recess and after school. I was pretty nuts about soccer when I was in primary school! We always had kampong-style playground soccer competitions – that’s how I did a lot of running when I grew up, and it probably gave me a good base.
When I started at Raffles Junior College at 16, I decided that I was reasonably good at running, and gradually became more involved in it. I structured my life around training, and showed up ready to go. Once I became more competitive and serious in my head, I decided I stood a chance in the national championships or in the top 3… something special.
If there was one thing I wanted to do well, I stood a chance in this one craft, so I went into JC and started with a new coach, Mr Steven Quek, whom I would say is the most accomplished JC coach in the Singapore school system. He was a very strict coach, and many athletes couldn’t handle his tough love approach, but he produces results and he pushes you really hard. He didn’t just help me become a better runner; he made me more serious in the classroom as well.
I was a bit of a trouble-maker in school. Once I threw a toy cockroach in class to scare the girls, and it landed on the teachers table. Mr Steven Quek heard about it and got so upset I wasn’t paying attention in class, he told me ‘I don’t just want you to be a good runner, I want you to be a good student as well, so if you’re going to do stuff like that, I will not allow you to train with us.’ I thought, to be a good runner, it looks like I need to behave as well!
I didn’t really understand it then, but now I realise if your life is in order, you’re going to be a better runner. The discipline you apply in running can be applied to many other aspects in life, so the more disciplined I became in class, the better I became on the track, and that confidence translated into other aspects of life and it became a cycle. I’m glad I bought into this one passion that keeps my life together.