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  • Writer's pictureRui

World Cross Country!! A 6 month campaign starts now.

Updated: Oct 13

Soh Rui Yong - 5th place at Surrey League 22/23 Match 3
5th place at Surrey League 22/23 Match 3

Cross country (XC) has died in Singapore and with it, the toughness of our athletes.

Some people point to my 4 national records (5,000m, 10,000m, half marathon, marathon) as a sign that our current athletes are better than our “golden generation” in the 1970s and 1980s. As humbly as I can, I would point out that I am the exception.

It’s no secret that Singapore’s middle-distance runners, both men and women, were deeper in quality than our current generation of athletes. Symbolic of this is how Chee Swee Lee still holds the 800m record of 2:07 despite all the advantages our current batch of athletes have over her - better nutrition, track surfaces and spikes. K Jayamani also held the 3,000m and 1,500m national records (9:56/4:31) from 1982 all the way until last year, a 40-year reign!

It’s no surprise then, that our current batch of distance athletes has been far off the pace even at the SEA Games level, as far as winning gold medal are concerned. We need to be tougher, and cross country builds that toughness.

The national schools cross country was my first introduction to competitive distance running in secondary school, and boy was it a sight to behold. There are few things in life more adrenaline pumping than racing off a start line into the hills of MacRitchie or the fields of Turf City, with 300 other enthusiastic young runners.

Fast forward to today, and our national schools cross country championships have been dumbed down into a bit of a joke.

National Schools XC moved to Bedok Reservoir in 2009, after the event moved from Turf City in 2007 and spent 1 weird year at Botanic Gardens, where the route included a flight of steps downhill. Anyone who has run a lap at Bedok Reservoir will tell you the course resembles less of a cross-country experience and more of a road race.

This year, we sank to a new low. To my understanding, out of fear that the start was too crowded and students might fall after pushing each other, the event committee decided that runners would be flagged off in WAVES, with each runner’s finishing time then used to sort out finishing positions.

What. the. Hell?

That goes against everything that cross country stands for!!

What happened to the adrenaline rush of racing with 300 other runners off the starting line?

What happened to building one’s toughness in racing shoulder-to-shoulder, over difficult terrain?

What happened to “it’s not about time, it’s about beating people” - the very essence of team scoring in cross country?

What happened to cross country being the hardest footrace to win, one that brings together runners from 800m to 10,000m in one epic footrace?

Sebastian Coe was interviewed by Athletics Weekly about cross country in 2021 and said: “Cross country should be a standard part of the preparation for middle and long-distance athletes,” he said, “as it was for myself, Ovett, Cram, Elliott, John Walker, Aouita, Gebrselassie, Bekele and many others who have also been successful on the track.”

Sebastian Coe on the importance of cross country
Sebastian Coe on the importance of cross country

Singapore, it’s time to bring XC back. And I’ll be leading by example.

I am hereby embarking on a 6-month long journey to the World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia (March 2024). Selection criteria hasn’t quite been announced yet, but by past editions, Singapore Athletics chose our team based on performances at 10,000m/10km. Given that I set the Singapore record of 31:10 for 10,000m and nobody has come within 2min of that in recent times, I think my position is rather secure, and I will be working hard to give my best performance at the world cross country championships.

There is no better way to prepare for world cross-country, than to race more cross-country. This winter, I will throw myself into the thick of real cross-country meets in London, in London’s Surrey League Division 1, with my club, Clapham Chasers. We have one race each month in October, November, January and February.

With clubmates Nick Bowker, Matt Dickinson, Richard Lilley and Richard Bull.
With clubmates Nick Bowker, Matt Dickinson, Richard Lilley and Richard Bull.

My first season with Clapham was last year in Division 2, where I knew little about cross country and was for all intents and purposes rather hesitant and intimidated by the idea of UK cross country given that I had grown up soft on the road races masquerading as cross country in Singapore. Thanks to some peer pressure from my club mates Richard Bull, Stu Rawly and Nick Bowker, I raced every XC meet that season and finished as the top scorer in Division 2. Wild, and I had lots of fun doing it (helped that the whole club went to the bars after every XC race). XC made me stay fit, and when I got the last minute call to the 2023 SEA Games team, all I needed was 6 weeks of training to get into shape for a national record and silver medal in the 10,000m.

Clapham Chasers also won the entire Division 2 and got promoted to Division 1, where we will be racing the big boys and fighting to stay in the top flight.

Clapham Chasers - Division 2 Champions!!!
Clapham Chasers - Division 2 Champions!!!

Now I can’t wait for more. I am fully aware XC isn’t my best surface - I’m more of a steady tempo runner, than a runner capable of powering up and down hills, into mud and around tight turns. But the racing is fun, and the base built will carry well into a track or marathon season, whichever comes first.

Follow along for our first race this Saturday!

The World Cross Country Championship historically falls outside of Singapore Athletics' planned budget for the year, and hence athletes have to pay their own way to the championships even after qualifying for the team. Do consider helping me defray expenses if you can afford it, any help is much appreciated:

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