Taking on the World
In less than 3 weeks, I will leave Kenya for Wales to compete in my third consecutive World Half Marathon Championships.
The World Half Marathon Championships will always have a special place in my heart. It was “World Half” where I first earned the chance to represent Singapore in international competition, when I finished as first Singaporean at the 2012 Army Half Marathon (AHM). AHM 2012, which effectively served as Singapore’s World Half trials, is perhaps better remembered for Ashley Liew’s mishap and subsequent perseverance (link). But for me, it will also be remembered as being my springboard to international competition.
Karvana, Bulgaria – Where it all began
Going to the 2012 World Half in Karvana, Bulgaria was a humbling and inspiring experience. I spoke a group of Kenyans including Eliud Kipchoge (now a good friend and also the best marathoner in the world), and learned how hard they trained. While I was used to doing intervals of 5 x 1km as a staple workout and up to 10 x 1km maximum, they often reeled off intervals of 12 or even 15 x 1km on a regular basis. While I ran 60km a week and was able to be the best in Singapore off that mileage, they ran up to 200km a week.
I met the “People’s Champion”, Yuki Kawauchi of Japan, a 2:08 marathon runner who reportedly works a normal job of 12:45pm to 9:15pm every day, yet manages to compete with the best in the world. He was so humble and polite.
I met Gi Ka Man of Hong Kong and Chang Chia-che of Taiwan, incredible athletes from a little closer to home. Watching the Kenyans and the Japanese was inspiring, but knowing that if the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan, who possessed a similar body type to me, could do well in distance running, then maybe I could as well, if I put in the work.
I set a new personal best of 1hr 12min 12sec at Worlds, and returned to Singapore more motivated than ever. I began to lay out plans to train overseas and one day return to the championships, stronger, tougher, and faster.
Copenhagen, Denmark – Round 2
17 months later, I headed to the 2014 World Half in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was no longer a 60km-a-week, 5000m trained runner trying to survive the half marathon. I had now doubled my mileage to 120km a week, and had broken 70min for the half marathon (1:09:15 to win the Cascade Half Marathon). Training had suggested that I might break my personal best – but not by much. Coach Ian Dobson felt that I might run 1:09 again. But I felt I was ready to compete, and not just be there for the experience.
I ran the race of my life – 1:08:18 - defeating Singapore record holder and reigning SEA Games Marathon Champion Mok Ying Ren in the process. It far surpassed all expectations I or anyone else had for myself, and I wasn’t even focusing too much on the time – I was just racing, trying to beat as many people as possible. I couldn’t walk properly for days after because I had taken my body to far beyond what it was physically capable of on that day. But that’s the beauty of distance running. No matter how good or bad training is going, on race day, anything can happen.
Cardiff – Full Circle
Today, as I prepare for my third round at the World Championships in Kenya, I feel like my journey has come full circle. 2012 earned me a personal best and exposed me to the Kenyans, who inspired me to dream of training overseas and training more, training harder, training faster.
After studying and training in Eugene, Oregon in 2014, I returned to Worlds, clocked a massive personal best, but still finished far back enough to remind me that I had a long way to go to run with the best in the world.
Come Cardiff 2016, I will have trained in Kenya for 7 weeks. I don’t expect to magically be able to run against the very best in the world just yet, but I know that I feel stronger. I feel tougher. I feel more confident than I did in 2012 or in 2014. I have grown as a person and a runner. And even if I can’t run with the world’s best just yet, another strong performance and hopefully a personal best will put me one step closer to that ultimate goal.
I am proud to represent Singapore Athletics, an organization which provides me with the opportunity to compete and be inspired by athletes better than myself. I am fortunate to pursue my newfound career as a professional athlete with the support of main sponsors H-Two-O. And I and am appreciative of the support that other sponsors, my friends and family have given me in one way or another.
On 26 March, for the third time, I take on the world. And I am honored to represent all of us.