RELIEF and joy were etched on the faces of ultramarathon runners Yong Yuen Cheng and Lim Nghee Huat as they crossed the finish line on their 50th and final 50km run yesterday.
"Mission completed," declared Mr Lim, a 62-year-old TV editor, after their challenge to mark Singapore's 50th anniversary ended at 10.32am at the Marina Bay Promontory. "It has been tougher than expected but we made it!"
Said Mr Yong, his 43-year-old running buddy: "The first thing that came to my mind was relief. For 50 days, I focused on nothing but the run and how to recover. Now all that mental stress is over. The second thing was really appreciation for those who have supported us in one way or another."
Mr Yong, a physical education teacher, had struggled through the final days of the challenge after gastric flu killed his appetite and left him nauseated.
Earlier, he overcame a strained Achilles tendon. "Sometimes you just have to push through the run with sheer willpower. I believe ordinary people achieve extraordinary things."
The pair displayed grim determination at the start of their final 50km, but were lifted by about 50 runners who ran the home stretch with them to show support.
Among them was Mr Chen Joo Soon, 56, who ran alongside them for the entire final leg, which started from Ion Orchard mall at 2am.
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) lecturer hardly had any sleep the night before, having completed the previous day's 50km leg with the duo at 4pm.
"The runners have been through so much, I wanted to give them the last boost and be there to celebrate their feat with them."
In the run, co-organised by youth charity Heartware Network and ITE, the runners paid tribute to the resilience and fortitude of Singapore's pioneers.
Mr Lim, tanned from running under the sun for 50 days straight, overcame a bout of diarrhoea earlier in the challenge and ended it with just minor aches and pains.
"The first few days of our run, I felt pain everywhere in my legs," he said. "But after 10-plus days, our feet felt lighter. Our bodies were conditioned to running 50km every day."
Pacer Gerrard Lin had mixed feelings about the challenge ending. "There is a certain sense of loss," said the 31-year-old, who would challenge the two men to "mini races" and give certain stretches nicknames like "Tour de Sembawang" to keep their spirits up. "Somehow it feels like the past 50 days have gone by so quickly."
Even supporters like Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong felt relieved for the two men. The run would be taxing for anybody, including 62-year-old Mr Lim, said Mr Goh who knows the ultramarathoner personally. "I remember him saying that he had never done anything like that before but he thought it was worthwhile to test his limits," said Mr Goh. He had encouraged Mr Lim but also advised him "not to go beyond the limit where he could be seriously injured". Mr Goh kept close track of the runners throughout. Now that the feat was accomplished, he said: "I feel proud and relieved."
After they crossed the finish line yesterday, the two men, along with Mr Lin, hardly had any time to spare as they hugged and took pictures with supporters. All three were awarded certificates from co-chair of the SG50 Steering Committee, Dr Tan Lai Yong.
They then ignited the SEA Games flame, which was used to light the SEA Games torch for a community parade last night.
Having forgone spicy and sweet foods for the last 50 days, all Mr Yong wanted was a bowl of laksa and ice kacang.
Meanwhile, Mr Lim was looking forward to a holiday in Beijing next week with his wife Deborah, 56, who joked: "Maybe he'll run the Great Wall."