Young Feet Run Free!
Mr Soh Rui Yong
NUS undergraduate, 21 years of age
2012 SSBR 21km Men’s Closed Champion
Photo courtesy of Soh Rui Yong
At only 21 years of age, Soh Rui Yong is already a trail blazer. Since clinching gold at last year’s SSBR 21km Men’s Closed Category, the young long-distance runner has gone on to clock a personal best of 32:26 minutes in the 10,000m race at the 2012 ASEAN University Games.
By doing so, Rui Yong became the first local athlete to finish 10,000m under 33 minutes since 1990. His record at the ASEAN University Games is also the second fastest time in the local record book, bettered only by P.C. Suppiah’s record of 31:19 minutes at the 1973 Asian Track and Field Championships.
But, things could have been so different for the local runner. It is hard to believe that Rui Yong’s love affair with running came about due to the fact that his first love, football was unavailable in his secondary school’s CCA curriculum. After a promising long-distance running display at his CCA trials, he was drafted into the cross-country team. And, the rest they say is history.
Now a busy university student, Rui Yong still manages to juggle his time so as to comprehensively train for upcoming races. He finds time to run at least four times a week, so as to hone his running speed and stamina. Taking some time out after his evening training, we sat down and shot the breeze with this rising track star.
Qn: Hi Rui Yong, it is a pleasure to finally meet you. You are quite the busy man, so let’s cut straight to the chase. What is the most important thing when preparing for long-distance running?
Ans: I think the most important thing for anyone who is interested in improving their own running performance is to train hard for it. But, that is the easier part. In many instances, people train too hard and end up getting sick or injured before the run itself and that disrupts the training.
Most importantly, you have to be patient and have a long term plan for your training. Start early. I think it is best to begin training at least three months prior to the run. Don’t try to train at the last minute because it doesn’t help. Remember to have a long term plan, stick to it and be patient even if you don’t see the initial results. It will take time for the body to adapt and become stronger.
Qn: Moving on, can you tell us how do you keep yourself motivated throughout the prolonged training?
Ans: Oh, I must admit that there are some days when I wake up and I don’t feel like going for that morning run. There are also some afternoons when I am tired from classes and dread going for interval (speed) training. But what’s important is that you have a goal in mind, and you need that powerful thought to keep yourself motivated whenever you are feeling tired or in need of motivation.
So for me last year when I was preparing for the race, I wanted to win the SSBR for the first time. I have never won it before in my previous two outings. So, it was third time lucky for me. So, I knew I wanted to win the SSBR and I knew that I had a good chance of doing so because I was improving every year.
So I told myself whenever I was feeling tired, you need to stay motivated through the sessions. It is very easy to lose focus and you are exhausted by your sixth or seventh lap, but you still need to complete the workout. So that’s what kept me going, my goal of running a good time and winning the gold medal at SSBR.
Although not everyone is aiming for a podium finish, you can always aim for a personal best. A personal goal that you know is achievable if you put in the effort.
Qn: So having said that, what do you think is the biggest obstacle in long distance running?
Ans: I think many people get the pre-race butterflies or jitters, they can’t sleep the night before and they are worried that they are going to mess up in the race because they didn’t sleep well. Actually, it is pretty normal. Many of the veterans and elite athletes, because of the anticipation of the race, they don’t sleep well the night before.
So what’s important is that you try to go to bed as early as possible, get your eight to ten hours of sleep if possible and that one night of lost sleep is not going to kill you. In fact, the adrenaline will help you in the race.
And in the race itself, because it is a long race, it is important to know your own pace and not start off too fast. 90% of people start off too fast and after four to five kilometres, they realised they went off too hard. But by then, it is too late because you have hit the wall, your body is struggling and there is still a long way to go.
I had to learn it the hard way during my first Sheares Bridge Run three years ago. I started off too fast in the first five kilometres and I was struggling in the second half of the race. So, that was my first experience and I learnt from it.
From my own experience, I feel that you should start off conservatively. It is only after half the race is gone, before you should make any moves or put in a hard effort. You’ll never know how you are going to feel in the second half of the race and how thing changes. Runners who are way in front of you may “die” and drop behind. So, you have to know your own limits and pace yourself well.
Qn: So, what is the one thing that pushes you to the finish line?
Ans: For me, I have never dropped out of a single race. Even though there are some races when I don’t run well, I feel that you should always finish what you started. So even if I am really tired, I will just keep working towards the finish line. The pain is temporary, but the result is permanent. So, go for the long term and push yourself through the pain. I mean you are already hurting, you might as well get something out of it.
I think the army inculcates that sense of perseverance which many of us can identify with. But as a runner, the people around you can only do so much. In the end, it is your own sense of values and motivations that is going to keep you going. Running is largely an individual sport once you are in the race, the only one that can keep you going is yourself. Your friend can run with or beside you and encourage you but end of the day, you got to find the motivation to keep going.
Qn: Finally, do you have any advice for people training for a long-distance run?
Ans: I will say definitely condition your body first. Interval (speed) training is important, but it is only effective once you have reached a certain level of basic. Go on long runs three times a week and build up your aerobic base. Once you are fit and ready to take on more challenging stuff, you can add intervals (speed) training to your sessions.
In addition, many people think running is just about running, but for me I believe in core exercises as well. I do my push ups, sit-ups, planks and jumps. It is good to have an all-round developed muscular system that would keep your running form and lessen your chance of injury. And you look good too!
At the end of the day, enjoy running. I know runners who are so set about what they want to achieve and when they can’t achieve it, they get depressed and angry with themselves. They feel that they are worthless.
But I always feel that we are not professional runners, running doesn’t define what or who we are. So, we will always have off days. There will be months when we are not in form and can’t perform for whatever reasons.
Hence, just enjoy running and run free and happy! And, that’s when the results will come. At the end of the day, enjoying your run is still the most important because we are doing this for leisure and health. It keeps us healthy and fit and results are secondary.
Those are stirring words of wisdom indeed Rui Yong! Thank you for chatting with us and we wish you all the best in your next race.
At the same time, we are sure that you have given our readers some very helpful tips for their own SSBR preparations.