There is a fairly high chance that your alarm is set for 5:00am tomorrow – 10km run before work you tell yourself. No I do not have superhuman insights and ‘Big Brother’ is not watching you; we are just part of the 7 in 10 who stick to new year resolutions 9 days into 2018; but it is likely you won’t last and neither will I if the University of Pennsylvania study is right.
So how about #ONEathlete national marathoners, Ashley Liew and Mok Ying Ren?
When asked about his goals for 2018, Ashley says:
“I differentiate between targets (what you want to achieve) and goals (who you want to be)”. His targets are to “run a sub-2hr 30min marathon personal best and to qualify for a major Games event” and his goal is “to remember that life is not all about running and thus I should better appreciate the people around me like my father and girlfriend”.
Ashley, who was the first Singaporean to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy in 2016, has both feet firmly grounded (pun intended) when he sees running as fulfilling a promise to himself while life is about fulfilment through his loved and cherished ones.
Similarly for Mok, who has spent more than half his life chasing down that finish tape and recently started his lifetime marathon of matrimonial bliss, goals are as much an end in itself, as a means to a (larger) end. He too echoed that special occasions are meant to be spent with special people in his life! He was relating to why he only did an easy run and opted to spend the festive days with his wife, family, and best friend instead.
Writing as a man who seeks clarity in life, and in true Mok-style brevity:
“A generation without a vision will perish. Likewise a man without goals.”
Mok, who has a major exam coming up this year in his residency Programme, hopes to balance that and enjoy his running in 2018!
From runONE and ONEathlete, we wish all readers and runners alike a blessed and meaningful 2018!
For more about setting new year resolutions and goals, (or if you’re deciding what time to set the alarm for) read on below or click here for article link.
This article was first published on The Straits Times column on 12 Aug 2017.
Singapore running legend Murugiah Rameshon was decades ahead of his time, though not many recognised it then. He raced against himself, lowering the national record 5 times in as many years, shaving 4 minutes off his 2:28 mark in his final record-breaking race. Then 31 years old, his final national marathon record of 2:24:22 set at the 1995 SEA Games has withstood the test of time, unwavering and dignified even after 22 years.
Setting The Bar High
It all started in 1987. Only 23 then, Rameshon had his first break and established himself as one of Singapore’s top marathoner by winning the Mobil Marathon. But in order to have a shot at then national record of 2:34 held by Tan Choon Ghee, he had planned to increase his weekly mileage from 70km to 120km. Grass was the only way to go: it was a more forgiving surface than tarmac with a lower risk of injury. In grass Rameshon had found an unlikely partner – one who, like him, bends but never yields to pressure.
In an era without compression tights and altitude chambers, an athlete with Rameshon’s ethos would never be found wanting. Hand-written training notes, meticulously recorded with timings to the second, are among his prized possessions today. He epitomised the complete athlete who owned his training, mind, body and results – a point he continues to emphasize now as head coach of a fitness and training outfit. To him, professional running is a full-time commitment requiring absolute focus and discipline. He upholds that, “If you have time to be distracted, then you are not training like you should.”
His minimalistic approach also embodied another timeless lesson – that performance in endurance running is simply and undeniably consistent hard work. But just as eggs are the hardest dish to master, the simplest is not always the easiest.
Against All Odds
Like national swimmer Joscelin Yeo, Rameshon had decided early in his running career that the best way to improve was to train overseas. But without any result to secure a scholarship, he had no choice but to go the distance on faith. Taking matters into his own hands, Rameshon balanced training and undergraduate studies at Loughborough University, England. Eventually running up a bill of $60,000 when his personal income then was a hard-earned $1,000. It was draining physically, mentally and financially.
It was only after he first broke the national record at the Hong Kong marathon in 1991, did then Singapore Sports Council offer a $1,500 per year grant and he started being outfitted by Nike. It was help late in arriving, but gratifying nonetheless.
I Don’t Think In Terms Of Limits
Could he have reached greater heights with more support? “Maybe. But it doesn’t matter anymore.” Rameshon hints of a quiet confidence that can only come from someone who has dreamed big, worked hard and treads softly.When asked about not being selected for the Olympics despite qualifying for it, he said, “Let me be my own judge. There is no need to prove oneself if one has achieved.”
Fame was never the name of the game for Rameshon. He was clear about being beholden to but not enslaved by his ambitions. “Once you see running as a conquest of numbers, then this sport, any sport, will be reduced to a race for glory.” Till today, he lives by this principle.
Then as now, he believes the porousness of records cannot take anything away from the greatness sports has to offer. The irony of records is that once it’s set, its destiny is to be broken. In fact, Rameshon has been instrumental in igniting many prolific younger marathoners, spurring them to reach their fullest potential by surpassing him. Like the proverbial lamb at the altar, what matters is the kindling process. Records are but means to an end, although lesser athletes may, and often, confuse the two.
Setting The Stage For Others
It’s not just his longstanding record, that makes Rameshon one of Singapore’s greatest runner to date. More importantly is the way he does it. The honesty with which he trains, and his humility in finishing. Rameshon always raced as if to celebrate the greatness of endurance running – honouring it by raising it.
As the 29th SEA Games approaches, Rameshon’s record still resonates, leading us to wonder if our capable athletes will raise the standards even further. In surpassing the competition and himself, Rameshon eventually rose above the arena where his fame was birthed, writing a legacy beyond the numbers once ascribed to his name. In achieving so much with so little, Rameshon has kept the flame alive for others to seek what may seem to be, but many hope not, impossible.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
About two million years ago homo sapiens evolved long legs and short toes to run for survival. Since then, Man has progressed from hunter-gatherers chasing food to running down competition but the race against time, for time, continues. In this time immemorial cycle of life, the young chases the old, the hunter becomes the hunted. Time is the enemy of all. Does one choose to rage against the dying of the light or fill the unforgiving minute with its worth of run?
(Photo Credits: ONEathlete)
Mok Ying Ren is 29 years old. The creases on his face wink in agreement when Mok smilingly bemoans “that the party doesn’t last forever and one day the music will have to stop.”
Once Mok was performing overnight duties at the hospital. There was a patient who got really excited knowing she was going to be stitched up by the national marathoner because “now I’ve got your autograph for life”. By all accounts time has also left its indelible mark on us all. In medicine as in running, it is always a race against time. Mok knows it only too well.
The enormity of the mission behind Mok’s medical profession has lent a great gravity and awareness of the fragilities of life and the human body. After spending a large part of his earlier running career overcoming personal injuries and now dedicating himself to the wounds of others, Mok quietly accepts when his legs take longer to recover, and his breathing more laboured as his heart and lungs strain to compensate. Men at 30 learn to close softly, doors they know won’t be opening again.
Professional running has been compared by some to poetry in motion. Gliding legs caressing the pavement like a carefree antelope, although not even the fastest or most graceful of them has been known to escape the endless pursuit of time. The younger Mok admittedly had an immolating passion and fury raged in his belly, which did not play well to the strengths of a sport where the one who wins is often the last to slow down.
Today, Mok can hold his own among some of the region’s best marathoners, and turn up the heat with a burst of speed or join a breakaway. The feisty runner is hardly one to expect mercy from after the gun goes off. But he always delivers respect. Respect your opponent and the distance. Respect your body. Respect the clock.
How much fire still burns within him? No one, including Mok himself, knows how his SEA Games bid will end. “You have to be absolutely committed, and hungry,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t tell myself that I must win this race or break that record.”
For the doctor-athlete straddled between medical responsibilities and athletic pursuit, Mok’s priorities were clear – his patients. “Their lives and well-being are my responsibility, and I owe it to them and their families that they receive complete focus and attention. When I was put in situations where I had to choose between my training and my patients, I was convicted to prioritize the latter. I guess then, training was compromised, but I gave the best of my ability.”
(photo credits: Ming Ham)
Like medicine, athletics is a lifelong apprenticeship where lessons are passed from one generation to the next. Through mistakes made and guidance shared, the baton is passed as the young learn what they can and the wise imparts what they have.
Mok knows his success is not his alone and he is grateful to friends, family and coaches who have stood by him throughout all these years, as well as the continuing support of partners and sponsors like 100PLUS and New Balance.
At the 29th SEA Games in KL, Mok will be trying to beat the clock but he is also racing the era. Champions don’t give up easily, not even against time. Coach Rameshon set the standing national marathon record of 2:24:22 at the 1995 SEA Games. Then, he was 31 years old.
Anyone with a brother or sister will attest to a childhood filled with not just bedside stories but also plenty of sarcasm-ridden competition. Siblings share the same parents, and by extension 99.9% of the genes. Which means what one is capable the other should technically be as well. But of course in reality that never happens and growing up becomes a endless series of action and reaction, provocation and retaliation. Newton’s wisdom in its full glory.
For the uninitiated, like myself, learning to tell the difference between canoeing and kayaking is like telling Stephenie apart from Sarah. During our first interview the two sisters wore the same white tee, both beaming megawatt pearly whites and well-defined torsos that made me seriously regret skipping gym days.
Their fierce style of racing and success at the 2015 SEA Games have made Stephanie and Sarah one of the top home favourites at the coming Asian Canoe Sprint Championships in Shanghai, not to mention their fun-loving, larger-than-life personalities which never fails to bring a party of its own at any gathering.
“I did not hit you. I merely high-fived your face!”
A post shared by Stephenie Chen (@stephjxchen) on Apr 19, 2017 at 9:16pm PDT
Sarah and Stephenie are incredibly close even if, being the competitive national canoeists they are, it’s not something they are too vocal about. They are by no means inseparable, a point both were eager to make. However, what they thrive on is this constant encouragement to each other to seek out the best in themselves, both on and off the water. The uncanny resemblance between them drives them even harder to outdo the ‘shadow’ of each other’s (lesser) existence.
Family and friends speak to the heart of the tightly bonded sisters. The only time when I had a whiff of of one-upmanship was when Sarah grudgingly bemoans that “girls have muscles too” and backs up her statement visibly agitated. No disagreement was to be had and the interview quickly moved on. On a serious note, the sisters sincerely hope to empower and encourage women in society and sports through the platform that canoeing has given them.
“We hope to show by example of our effort, that as long as you set your heart and mind to something, put in the hard work, then there is nothing to lose because you have already given it all you’ve got” For them, sports is one of the best metaphor for life, going through the trials of miles and miles of trials teaches so much about determination, discipline and perseverance. That the power to achieve dreams comes from your heart (and not just your biceps).
“The best race will always be the next” quips Sarah when asked about the drive behind her pursuit of the perfect one. “Definitely without the tsunami waves and gale winds we once raced in” Stephenie chimed in.
In this final countdown to the 2017 Asian Canoe Sprint Championships in October (canoeing is not part of the 29th SEA Games), the Chen sisters will be looking to the Olympic motto of ‘faster, higher, stronger’ as inspiration for an all-rounded performance to better their previous SEA Games performance of 2 Gold, 1 Silver in 2015. Even then, they know this long and tough journey will not end anytime soon, but I’m not sure if they’d rather have anyone else by their side. Well, they are literally (racing) in the same boat for K4!
Meanwhile, catch Stephenie donning the Team Singapore tee! Get yours now!
What were you doing when you were 8? My memory is vague but not too far from between getting whacked and playing catching. When Shaheed Alam was 8, he had already won three U10 National Tennis titles. Shaheed walks us through his story below – one of a path less travelled, and one that he chose.
A post shared by Shaheed Alam (@shaheedalam98) on Sep 3, 2016 at 5:05am PDT
“If you want to achieve what others can’t, you have to do what others won’t”
When Shaheed was 14, then studying at St Andrew’s School, he took a gap year to eat, sleep, breathe, think and train tennis. (again what was I doing at 14? Asking girls for numbers maybe) It was a life-changing decision. The academic progress that he gave up brought Shaheed clarity on what he (really) wanted – a single-minded devotion and commitment to train and compete without worrying unduly about studies. On returning to Singapore, the Saint had decided to join Singapore Sports School.
For as long as Shaheed can remember, one of the first and last thing he sees everyday is his tennis racket. He packs his loyal companion into his training bag at 6am and puts it back only after returning home late at night. His anthem might very well be, “with my racket, and my court and me!”
A post shared by Shaheed Alam (@shaheedalam98) on Jul 14, 2017 at 4:06am PDT
With typical teenage nonchalance, Shaheed sees his tennis ambitions in black-and-white. When asked about how he feels about his more ‘carefree’ peers, Shaheed simply shrugs it off. “You really can’t, and shouldn’t compare. Tennis is my choice and for all the pain it’s worth I think tennis helps me bring the best out of myself.”
So when Shaheed’s coach left in 2016, it was a loss which left its toll on him and his game. For a player who, just one year earlier, had made ITF Junior history by being the first Singaporean male player to win an ITF Junior Singles title, rough was an understatement.
A post shared by Shaheed Alam (@shaheedalam98) on Aug 13, 2016 at 3:46am PDT
However, Shaheed kept chugging along because he knew that the game was not just about himself. “I did not want to disappoint my family, especially my father, who had supported and encouraged me all these while. I also wanted to show the younger tennis players, through my actions, that the game is never lost until you tell yourself it is.” It was evident that Shaheed’s family was a strong pillar of support in his endeavours.
Speaking with Shaheed left me a mixed bag of feelings.
He exuded this enviable and infectious rush of youthful ambition, like any 18-year old would, and his eyes would light up when he spoke about his debut as Team Singapore contingent at the 2015 SEA Games opening ceremony. “That immense pride and joy. It’s a feeling no one can take away from me”
A post shared by Shaheed Alam (@shaheedalam98) on May 25, 2017 at 10:45pm PDT
At the same time, I wonder if I had the opportunity that Shaheed had, would I have had the courage to follow in his footsteps. Now my time has passed, but not for Shaheed who is determined to make the best of God’s gift to him. So far, 2017 seems to be getting off well for Shaheed who earned his first ATP point during the ITF Pro Circuit Tournaments held earlier in Singapore.
Andre Agassi once lamented the loneliness of being a professional player. “The fact that tennis is, for the most part, an individual sport throws up its own set of challenges. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure… At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis, you’re an island.”
When Shaheed returns to the court at the 2017 SEA Games, it’ll be him against himself. new Shaheed versus old Shaheed. And he believes he will be prepared for it.
First published on The Straits Times on 29 July 2017.
Most people run to keep up with their own fitness, and be physically and mentally engaged. It is probably the most effective way to live a healthier life, as my fellow columnists – who are reputable athletes and medical professionals – have pointed out over the past weeks.
Beyond personal good, what if I told you that you can run for other kinds of good too?
In a previous article, National Marathoner Mok Ying Ren shared that one should run at a comfortable conversational pace. This is a good case in point – exercising with your running kaki at a comfortable pace allows you to catch up and spend the time meaningfully.
Being part of a running community gives strength in numbers to a sport which can feel ‘lonesome’ at times. For one, it allows you to share running tips with one another, join a network of like-minded individuals, inspire or be inspired, strengthen basic disciplines and habits, reach out to any resources that you might not have on your own, create self-development opportunities for others, and support both individual and collective endeavors. Most importantly, peer influence becomes a powerful tool to spur one another on to persevere.
That is why several running groups have sprung up in recent years, each with a unique value proposition that appeals to their followers.
#RunONE, the training partner for the recently concluded Straits Times Run in the City 2017 (ST Run), is one example of an online running and training community that aims to reframe running as one with personal, social and altruistic benefits.
Other running groups, like Running Department – the official pacers for ST Run – organize weekly group runs regularly, rain or shine. They have come a long way since its humble beginnings four years ago. As iron sharpens iron, today, these running groups form the core of an increasingly active collective of passionate runners.
Other than running with others, you can also run for others. Some run for advocacy causes, others for charitable causes. In both cases, you can be part of a bigger vision and make a difference to the lives of those around us. Sometimes the output comes in the form of increased donations towards these causes, and other times, an additional convert to the cause. In either case, it reminds us to remember the poor and marginalized, and uphold benevolence. Essentially, these runs represent, on a broader level, the challenges these groups face and are working to overcome i.e. their own ‘marathon’ in life. Some of these runs include:
● The Straits Times Run in the City, supports The Straits Times Pocket Money Fund (SPMF). SPMF started in 2000 and has helped 150,000 students and youths with collections amounting up to S$55million. The funds disbursed through social service agencies supports our students from low income families and multiple-stressor backgrounds to enable them to make it to school and have something to eat. To all the 13,000 runners on 16 July: you have contributed to making their lives better!
● Run & Raisin Charity Run, organized by Touch Community Services, aims to raise about S$250,000 for their Touch Young Arrows (TYA) activities and programmes. TYA provides weekly academic coaching through their dedicated volunteers, and aims to help children realize their potential.
● Yellow Ribbon Prison Run & Unlabelled Run, both combat the stigma against and the challenges of former offenders. These runs allow participants to pledge their support towards creating second chances in our society. They also encourage us to be more empathetic towards the circumstances faced by ex-offenders and to learn from their resilience.
In more ways than one, our seemingly minute efforts can go the extra mile in improving the lives of others. Running can be an absolutely meaningful activity! The next time you sign up for a run, do also consider the social and altruistic impacts that you bring to yourself and the people around you.
“Athletes inspire us not just with their records and medals, but also with their spirit and stories.”
In the coming weeks #runONE will be running (pun intended) a special series featuring #ONEathlete(s) who are also national athletes. Some of them will be heading to SEA Games 2017 representing #ONEteamsg this August, #ReadyforKL!
We will be taking a look at these national athletes’ training journey and a peek into the stories within their struggles, the faces behind the medal. What keeps them going? How, if at all, are they different from us?
I believe these athletes have a personal side to share, a story to tell. That aside from all the finish-line glory they return to a house just like ours, and go through Monday blues just like we do.
I hope these stories lend a voice to the athletes that their medals and records can’t. Even better if it should move us while we are trying to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” As Sir Edmund Hillary, first man to summit Mt. Everest, once said: ‘In the end, it’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”.
Stay tuned for the upcoming piece, first of the series, featuring ONEathlete and national canoeist, who was 4th in SEA Games 2015, Jonathan Chong!