SINGAPORE - Even as Soh Rui Yong lowered the men’s marathon national record – which had stood since 1995 – with his 2hr 23min 42sec effort at the Seoul Marathon on Sunday (March 17), one of his first thoughts after crossing the finish line was how he could improve further.
The previous mark of 2:24:22 was set by Murugiah Rameshon at the Chiangmai SEA Games in 1995, and Soh’s record is pending ratification by Singapore Athletics (SA).
“I feel pretty tired but, at the same time, really happy because this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – get under 2hr 24min,” Soh, a two-time SEA Games champion, told The Straits Times.
“It took a few years of work and I finally found the race and opportunity to do it, so I’m definitely happy with that.”
Rameshon, now 55, said: “Records are meant to be broken. This will enable fellow Singaporeans to follow suit (and) aim for a sub-2hr 20min time.”
Soh’s personal best before yesterday race was 2:24:55, set at the 2016 Chicago Marathon.
The 27-year-old, who spent over five weeks training in Flagstaff, Arizona in February, was pleased to go under 2hr 24min despite not hitting optimum mileage due to work commitments and injury.
One key area he hopes to manage better is to increase his training load without getting injured.
“If I didn’t have my Achilles injury during the five weeks I was in Flagstaff, I could have put in more work there and that would have made me aerobically stronger and more able to execute a strong race.
“Today, I did what I could, given the circumstances – no matter how fit you are, on race day it still depends on how the packs form.”
Soh’s American coach Ben Rosario had told him before the race to run the first 30km at 3min 25sec for each kilometre, then slowly increase that pace over the next 5km before going all out from the 35km mark.
Soh had to adapt this plan to suit the pace of the runners, and started the race about 30 seconds faster.
“In the last 7km, I was pretty much running alone... when I ditched my group to go off by myself, it was definitely a bit harder,” added Soh, who kept checking his watch during the final stages of the 42.195km race.
“I could feel my breathing increasing and the pressure was on me to deliver the pace. I couldn’t just sit back and follow people.”
He now holds the national records in the marathon, the half marathon and the 10,000m.
“When I first started running, I didn’t think I would ever accumulate all these accolades, so it’s nice to be here. But, at the same time, I’m not going to get complacent. I’m going to keep working hard and enjoying my running,” he added.
His next goals include lowering Mok Ying Ren's national record in the 5,000m as “a personal challenge, to be a bit more versatile”, and to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
The Olympic qualifying times were released by the International Association of Athletics Federations last week, and the standard for the men’s marathon is 2:11:30.
Athletes can also qualify by finishing in the top 10 of this year’s world championships in Doha, Qatar, in September or a World Marathon Major race, or in the top five at an IAAF Gold Label Marathon.
Soh acknowledged the challenge of meeting the Olympic qualifying time, saying: “I’m going to sit down with my coach and strategise – we’re thinking of targeting maybe a race in April next year where we can try and go for the top 10.
“But I definitely need to get to 2:20 or 2:19 to have a chance of finishing in the top 10 of some of these races, so we’ll see what we can do from here.”
SA president Tang Weng Fei hailed Soh’s achievement as “very positive for Singapore athletics”, saying: “Rui Yong has been working very hard. I think it’ll give a lot of stimulus to the other athletes that if they train hard and smart, have proper coaching and a team supporting them, they can do it.”