JustRunLah!: It sounds like you’ve adapted well to life in Oregon. Do you miss Singapore?
Rui Yong: When I went to Eugene in July/August 2013, I didn’t go home for 1.5 years. The only time I went home was in December 2014, after the marathon and my final exams. On the flight, I began asking myself, ‘I’m going back for the first time in a long while and I’m so happy in Eugene, what if Singapore doesn’t feel like home anymore?’
When you travel, you see different parts of the world. When you’re in Singapore, whether you like it or not, you’re certainly going to be comfortable there – your family and your home are there. Once you go out into the world, you know there is so much more out there, and you’re not sure if you can integrate back into Singaporean society. So I was worried about that, because I have to come back here to work!
The good thing was that I had so many things lined up when I returned, that I was never bored, or had nothing to do. I had just run the marathon, and broken the 10,000m record six months before, so the athletics community was keen to catch up with me, and I had 4 workshops lined up, so there were many things going on. I was literally at my first workshop 3 hours after I landed back in Singapore!
I got to see some old friends and I was really happy about that, but there were so many new faces I don’t know or recognise too, people with whom I shared all that I had learnt so far in Oregon. So ultimately, I was comfortable and it did feel like home again. I’m not rushing to go back home, but when the time comes, it will not be a problem, for it’s definitely still home. I grew up in Singapore, and there are just some things ingrained in our DNA.
And that’s also the point of coming here [Oregon] was not just to help myself, but to get some knowledge here and bring it back to help grow the sporting culture in Singapore. I shouldn’t lose sight of that fact!
I like being here as it helps me be a better runner; in Singapore, it’s a lot harder to keep doing the same training that I’m doing without my teammates or my coach, and the weather is less conducive, less trails in a big city like Singapore, so there are many obstacles when I go back, but at the end of the day, running is just one part of life, and there are lots of other things.
JustRunLah!: On your website www.runsohfast.com you have a Cooking tab with some delicious-looking meals. Would you say you are a good chef? How important is proper nutrition to you?
Rui Yong: I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my sister whether I’m a good chef! (turns computer)
Sister: Well, considering I’m sitting here alive? (laughs)
Rui Yong: I think you can take that as a yes!
JustRunLah!: So what’s your signature dish?
Rui Yong: I’d say my go-to dish – I wouldn’t call it my signature – is a base of pasta since it’s low GI, and as a marathon runner, you want low-GI for sustained energy during a long training session. My signature sauce is this recipe I learnt from a Singaporean friend, who learnt it from a Nigerian guy, and it’s called Nigerian curry. You use 8 to 10 tomatoes, put them in a blender, add in 2 habeneros, half a red onion, thyme, a tablespoon of salt and some oil, and let it simmer for an hour, and it turns out really nice! It’s a thick tomato sauce and it goes really well with rice, pasta, chicken.
Another dish I like is salmon, which is pretty affordable here compared to Singapore. I season it with salt, pepper, honey or whatever I can find in my kitchen, and put it in the oven or in the pan.
Cooking is a lot easier than many people think. It just takes a bit of common sense and the willingness to get your hands dirty. Before I came here, I never cooked because in Singapore, it’s so easy to get food, but when I came here (Oregon) I started to cook because eating out is expensive here! I’m glad I did because it’s a life skill.
You know what goes in, and you know what you need in your diet, so you can control what goes in. You don’t always know what you’re getting from outside. We all know that Singaporean food is great, but it’s not the best for runners! I love chicken rice, it’s just not a go-to dish.
Cooking my own meals has contributed to improving my performance. I’ve always paid attention to what I chose from outside, but I can’t always get what I want, in the quantity that I need, at an affordable price. I cook over the weekends and make it last for three or four days.
I recommend that if you want to be a good runner, definitely watch what you eat and learn to cook your own meals. It’s an important part of improving your performance.