From The Straits Times Archives

Benedict Tan: Going the distance

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 20, 2011

File pix of sports physician and former national sailor Benedict Tan (right) --STPHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN 
File pix of sports physician and former national sailor Benedict Tan (right) --STPHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN 

For ex-national sailor Benedict Tan, the winds of change blew him from the high seas towards land, and he has not stopped running on tarmac since.

Dr Tan, 44, who retired from competitive sailing in 1996, has taken to marathon running, here and abroad.

“Running overseas allows me to experience countries from a different perspective,” he said.

In Bhutan, he took mountainous paths with breath-taking views that few foreigners get to see, while in Athens, “I ran up to the Parthenon to catch the sunrise”.

His choice of distance running to keep physically active after his sailing days was a calculated decision.

He had wanted to catch up on his medical career after spending his best years representing Singapore in sailing.

“It is accessible, convenient and not so time-consuming,” he said of distance running; he runs 100km a week.

And, loving “a good challenge”, Dr Tan wanted to see if he could thrive “in a sport that is diametrically opposite to sailing”.

“Sailing is a strength sport that is extremely technical and tactical, whereas distance running is purely aerobic and is the epitome of simplicity.”

In his transformation from a strength athlete to an endurance one, he went from 82kg to under 65kg.

Being a sports physician, he admits, he has “an unfair advantage” over many other runners: “I can more accurately draw the fine line between pushing myself to get results, and staying safe and injury-free.”

His first overseas marathon was done on the spur of the moment, at the Prague International in May 2004.

He had just flown into Prague and noticed a few Kenyans in the hotel lobby. He signed up that very day and “ran the marathon the next day, in 6 deg C!”

“I was spellbound by the many historic icons along the route, which ended in the cobblestoned – and very painful to run on – old town centre,” he said, adding he has never looked back.

He has since run in cities including Otawara in Japan, Boston and New York in the United States, Berlin in Germany and, of course, in Singapore – completing 17 marathons to date.

His ultimate goal is to complete the World Marathon Majors, comprising the five most prestigious locales: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York City.

“Boston is a must-do, being the oldest marathon. New York City is another must-do because its electric atmosphere is unmatched. Berlin is an extremely fast course to record one’s personal best because it is flat and the weather is usually perfect,” he said.

“But ironically, my personal best of 2hr 56min was recorded in hot and humid Singapore.”

His last leg will be next year in Chicago.