Holding a longstanding record with quiet dignity

Singapore running star Murugiah Rameshon was decades ahead of his time, though not many recognised it during his brief career.

He lowered the marathon national record five times in as many years, shaving four minutes off in his final record-breaking race - the 2:24:22 set at the 1995 SEA Games, when he was 31, has stood the test of time for 22 years.

It all started in 1987, when Rameshon established himself as one of Singapore's top marathoners by winning the Mobil Marathon.

In order to have a shot at the then-national record of 2hr 34sec 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 ally - 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.

Murugiah Rameshon's Singapore national marathon record of 2hr 24min 22sec has stood since the 1995 SEA Games in Chiang Mai.
Murugiah Rameshon's Singapore national marathon record of 2hr 24min 22sec has stood since the 1995 SEA Games in Chiang Mai. ST FILE PHOTO

He epitomised the complete athlete who owned his training, mind, body and results - a point he continues to emphasise nowadays 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 approach also embodied another timeless lesson - that performance in endurance running is simply consistent hard work. However, just as eggs are the hardest dish to master, the simplest is not always the easiest.

Rameshon had decided early in his running career that the best way to improve was to train overseas. Without any result to secure a scholarship, however, he had to balance training and undergraduate studies at Loughborough University in England.

He eventually ran up a bill of $80,000 while his family's income then was a hard-earned $1,000. It was draining physically, mentally as well as financially.

It was only after he first broke the national record at the Hong Kong marathon in 1991 that the Singapore Sports Council offered a $1,500 annual grant and he started being outfitted by Nike.

Could he have reached greater heights with more support? "Maybe. But it doesn't matter anymore," Rameshon said.

When asked about not being selected for the Olympics despite qualifying for it, he replied: "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," he said.

The irony of records is that once it's set, its destiny is to be broken. Rameshon has in fact been instrumental in igniting many young 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.

It is not just his longstanding record that makes Rameshon one of Singapore's greatest runners. More importantly is the way he does it. The honesty with which he trains, and his humility in finishing a race. He always raced as if to celebrate the greatness of endurance running, honouring it by raising it.

As the 29th SEA Games approaches, his record still resonates, leading us to wonder if our capable athletes will raise the standards even further.

In achieving so much with so little, he has kept the flame alive for others to seek what may seem to be, but many hope not, impossible.

• The writer is an avid runner and passionate triathlete who raced at the Asia-Pacific 70.3 World Champs in Cebu. He is an in-house writer for runONE.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'Holding a longstanding record with quiet dignity'. Print Edition | Subscribe