JustRunLah!: What is the one advice you have for young aspiring athletes?
Rui Yong: Stay in the sport for as long as possible, because every day is a new chance to surprise yourself. You don’t become a better runner overnight, next week, or next month. It takes years to build up a solid base and every year you spend in the sport is another year of running under your belt. And that’s the way it’s going to continue.
Most Singaporean runners quit in their late teens to early twenties, but that’s when you’ve just started building up your base, and you are going to become a better runner if you keep going for another few more years. So many runners get demoralised when they look at their times and think ‘I suck, it’s time to move on to something else, or ‘I’m good, but there’s school’.
There are also lots of distractions in Singapore like clubs and bars, so people start drinking and hanging out, and running becomes that painful thing you did for CCA and you don’t want to do it anymore. If you really like it, make it part of your lifestyle; go out for a run first thing in the morning and it becomes part of your cycle. It is part of my cycle – I wake up at 6am daily and I go for a run, then I get on with the rest of my day. If I don’t run, I feel like something is missing from my day.
Stay in the sport for as long as possible. In this marathon that I ran, my last 10km was run in 33m 29s. Five years ago, I wasn’t running below 34m for 10K. That is the difference it makes. If I had quit 5 years ago like so many of my peers did, I wonder if I would have ever found out I could be this good in a marathon. I would never have discovered I could run a national record for the 10K.
I’m 23; there aren’t many elite athletes in Singapore who are older than me and that’s sad, cos I’m pretty young, and yet in the running community, I’m considered experienced. I’m not experienced, I haven’t even finished University!
Overseas, there is a bigger culture to be out there running and having something else apart from school. In Singapore, we tend to be a bit one-dimensional. Prior to exams, parents and the school will say stop all CCA activities. You can’t do that, it doesn’t make sense! A month before the national cross-country championships, you don’t stop going to school for one month, so why is it that before exams, you stop running, you stop moving, you stop all physical activity? It’s not as if you study 24 hours a day.
You need a bit of a balance, and if anything, exercising first thing in the morning before I get on with my day helps me become more productive, because you get the metabolism and endorphins going and you’re in the right state of mind for the rest of the day. Most parents and school don’t understand that, so it’s frustrating for Singaporean athletes because you’re always fighting the system. Be a balanced person. You take one month off running and that crashes your fitness and you have to start from scratch again.
Consistency and balance are important, making it a part of your lifestyle and staying in the sport as long as possible. The participants in my workshop were so young – 16, 18, 20… you have at least ten good years of running ahead of you. If you cut it off right now you’ll never find out how good you can be.
Starting late doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance either, it sometimes means you’re not in the sport because your parents or school forced you to do it, but because you want to do it. Training age is different to real age; starting later means you’re less susceptible to injury, and psychologically, you’re fresher so it’s never too late to start.
JustRunLah!: Complete this sentence. Success is…
Rui Yong: Success is performing to your full potential, regardless of what anyone else might think, might compare you to, or might have to say.
Rui Yong wishes to thank his sponsor Nike Singapore, and to give a big shout out to officials, athletes and coaches of the Singapore Athletes Association (SAA), who have been immensely supportive of him, and their efforts in developing the sport. It’s going to be a good SEA Games for the Singaporean team.
Corrections: Some of the competition Rui Yong is up against have got 9 or 10 SEA Games medals, not 9 or 10 years of experience in the SEA Games. Rui Yong ran the last 10km of his marathon in 33m29s, not 33m25s as reported in an earlier version of this article.