JustRunLah!: Let’s now talk a bit more about the SEA Games. Earlier in your career, you were racing distances of 5000m and 10,000m, but that qualifying performance for representing Singapore at the SEA games was your first marathon. You’ve already described how different your training strategy and mental approach is for long distance racing. Could you describe to us your average training week?
Rui Yong: I must first clarify that I don’t run 160km every week, but pretty often, so I’ll do 3 weeks of that, and drop it down to 100km on the fourth week just to let the body adapt and recover before bumping it back up to 160km again. Right now, I’m base-building for my upcoming marathon cycle, which will start 14 weeks out from our SEA Games marathon. Until then, I’m running and training, but also focusing on staying healthy, to prevent injuries from happening for when I step up my training.
Mondays and Thursdays are the same, I get up at 6, have breakfast and I’m at the gym by 7 for an hour of core and plyometrics exercises, which help you become stronger, faster, and prevent injuries. It’s an aspect of running we should definitely not overlook, for running offers a limited range of motions, but these others help you get stronger and better balanced. Then I change into a run at 8 and do about 15km, get home for lunch, and go to class.
I have anywhere from 2 to 6 hours of lessons a day, and if I end school too late, I don’t have time for a second run; I have to cook dinner since eating out is very expensive. If I end earlier, I will fit in a second run. It’s clockwork.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, I get to the track at 7 and do my warm-ups, and the training starts at 8. The workouts will depend on what I’m preparing for. Sometimes we’ll train on the tracks, or on the trails; not too often on the roads because it’s very stressful on the joints, although you still need a bit of that stress to be a good marathon runner. Then I drive home, have lunch, and try not to fall asleep in class after a hard workout!
I’ll come home for a nap, or get some homework done before heading out for a second run. It’s hard to go out for that second run when you’re body’s beat up from training, and all you want to do is sit down at the end of the day, but going for that second run actually helps to flush out all the lactic acid and waste products, so you feel better after the run. You’ll start off feeling awful, but you’ll come home more relaxed.
On Wednesdays, I don’t meet my coach, so I’ll just run 16km whenever I can. I take Saturdays off since I do doubles on Friday and on Sunday I go for a long run, which can be anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on which stage of my marathon training cycle I’m at. So I like to take Saturdays off, one day when I don’t think about running, and just relax and decompress. I’m losing one day of training and one day of mileage every week, which some people don’t like, but it helps me stay injury-free.
I look forward to my rest day because I know I don’t have to do anything, and I go into my long runs on Sundays feeling better. I believe in one rest day a week. It certainly helps to prevent psychological burnout as well. I am pretty cautious about preventing burnout. People may think that 140-160km a week is a lot, but that’s actually considered low by the standards I’m measured against.
My rivals at the SEA Games are probably running 200km to 250km a week. But I believe staying injury-free is more beneficial than running huge mileage and stressing the body out. You might improve faster than me, but if you get hurt, I’m going to catch you while you’re out! That’s my strategy, and it’s paid off so far in that one marathon.
JustRunLah!: On a related note, what do you foresee to be your biggest challenges at this event?
Rui Yong: Coming up against a lot of opponents who have a lot more experience than I do. Every one of the favourites have won at least one gold medal in the SEA Games before, whereas I have never been to the SEA Games before, so it’s basically nada for me, against people with so much experience.
I’m going to be running my second marathon ever, while some of these guys already have 9 or 10 SEA Games medals under their belts. They know what it’s like to race a championship marathon, beat people and win a gold medal.
What the public probably doesn’t understand, is that winning a race against people head-to-head, is very different from going out and running a fast time for yourself. When I ran 2:26:01, I didn’t have to care about anyone but myself. I finished 38th in a pretty fast field with lots of Kenyans, Americans and Russians, but I didn’t care if I lost to them. I ran patiently for 32km, and overtook as many people as possible in the last 10km.
It’s going to be different at the SEA Games. There aren’t so many people, we’re 12 to 14 people racing one another the whole way so it’s a very cagey situation, with people waiting for you to make a mistake. It’s about running the smartest race, not necessarily the fastest. I don’t think the SEA Games is going to be fast, even though the course is flat. It’s a hot a humid climate, and it’s going to be tactical; no one is going to push the pace and take the lead unless they know they can do it all the way to the end.
JustRunLah!: What are you’re A/B/C goals for this event?
Rui Yong: Speed is less important, I’d rather run 2:28 and win than run 2:26 again but lose.
When I train, I don’t train to lose to someone, so I train with the mentality of gold in mind. That said, the number one goal is a podium finish – there are three positions, and winning even a bronze in my first ever SEA Games and second-ever marathon is going to be a big achievement.
People like to talk about gold and nothing else. I believe in that, but I am not going to run with the mentality of ‘gold or nothing’. You’ve got to work your way up; first, try to win a medal before you start fighting for a silver and a gold. It’s a great achievement to just be the top three in South-East Asia, what’s there to be ashamed about?
So my A goal is to just win a medal, and my B goal is to get the gold, and I don’t think there is a C or a D goal!
Just Run Lah!: So, not trying to set a personal best?
Rui Yong: No, I would say it’s not important at all whether I set a personal best in the SEA Games. There are races where I chase personal bests; if the SEA Games don’t take too much out of me, I’ll run the Chicago marathon in October, and I want to run the Paris marathon next year in April, so Paris, London… all these are courses where I can chase a fast time.
After the SEA Games, my next goal is to break the national record of 2:24, and if I can do it at the SEA Games, great, but if not, the main goal is to just win.
JustRunLah!: Pre-race rituals… what is the one thing you always do before a race?
Rui Yong: Pre-race rituals… I actually don’t have one, but I should try to find one. Before the California marathon, I actually had pasta, and a little bit of beer! I slept pretty well, probably because of it, so I’ll probably have a beer before every one of my future races!
Samuel Wanjiru, the Kenyan who won the Olympics marathon in 2008. He got pretty successful early in life, and lived like a king back in Kenya, so he wasn’t living the typical disciplined athlete’s lifestyle. The night before the Chicago marathon in 2009, he got really drunk, woke up hungover, and broke the course record. So is a pre-race beer bad? I don’t know, some people handle it better than others.