Athletics: Soh aiming for historic double

Singapore's Soh Rui Yong celebrates as he approaches the finishing line for the marathon at last year's SEA Games. Prior to this victory on home soil, he had spent a month training at Flagstaff, Arizona.
Singapore's Soh Rui Yong celebrates as he approaches the finishing line for the marathon at last year's SEA Games. Prior to this victory on home soil, he had spent a month training at Flagstaff, Arizona.ST FILE PHOTO

He'll take no-pay leave in bid to be S'pore's 1st back-to-back SEA Games marathon champ

Singapore marathoner Soh Rui Yong wants to go where no Singaporean has gone before - he wants to be the first local runner to win two consecutive SEA Games marathon crowns.

The reigning champion's journey, though, will start from a well-trodden base next May - Flagstaff, Arizona, where he has already had three training stints.

This latest stint will set him back about $35,000 - including loss of wages - but he believes it will put him in prime condition ahead of the Aug 19-31 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Kandasamy Jayamani (1983) and Mok Ying Ren (2013) are the other Singaporeans to have won marathon gold.

An executive at Sport Singapore's coaching development department, Soh told The Straits Times:

"Each time I've trained at Flagstaff, I've achieved good results, so it makes sense to go somewhere that has worked.

"It's difficult to juggle training and work in Singapore... but I'm thankful to have an understanding employer which allows me to take extended no-pay leave to really gear up for the SEA Games."

The training costs will be offset by a monthly stipend - around $1,200 - he receives from local track and field body Singapore Athletics.

SUCCESSFUL FORMULA

Each time I've trained at Flagstaff, I 've achieved good results, so it makes sense to go somewhere that has worked.

SOH RUI YONG , national marathoner, on his decision to return to Flagstaff, Arizona in May to prepare for the SEA Games.

While he had considered going to Kenya, where he trained in for six weeks this year, he ultimately settled on Flagstaff - and for good reason.

After all, each time he returned from a high-altitude training stint there, he would run into the metaphorical pot of gold.

After a month-long spell that finished in April last year, he descended from the camp - which is some 2,130m above sea level - to win the SEA Games marathon gold in June.

Then in September last year, after 51/2 weeks at altitude, he set what was then the national-best half-marathon time of 1hr 7min 21sec. That mark has since been eclipsed by Mok (1:07:08).

Finally, in October this year, after nine weeks of training at Flagstaff, he shaved more than a minute off his marathon personal-best time of 2:26:01 to clock 2:24:55. No Singaporean has come closer to M. Rameshon's national record (2:24:22).

Soh, who is training daily and clocks about 110km a week, believes Flagstaff's community of strong runners and sound facilities will make him "hard to beat".

The 25-year-old can also train with running club Northern Arizona Elite.

"I have a regular physiotherapist, chiropractor and masseuse there, so there's everything I need to stay healthy and become a better runner," said Soh.

"The guys on the team are all faster, so it helps to push me.

"In Singapore, I'm driving the programme myself and fighting many factors like the lack of training partners and the weather, but (in Flagstaff) everything is taken care of."

While the national record is on his mind, he emphasised that timing is not crucial at the SEA Games.

"The longer the distance, the more tactical it becomes," he said.

"It's not about running a fast time but about being able to run at different paces during the race.

"I'm definitely going to make myself hard to beat. You're going to have to hurt pretty bad to beat me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 17, 2016, with the headline 'Soh aiming for historic double'. Print Edition | Subscribe