There was much to cheer about for national marathoner Soh Rui Yong on his Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) debut yesterday as he finished as the top Singaporean and was crowned the country's first men's national champion.
And the two-time SEA Games champion wants more: He hopes to one day finish in the top 10 or maybe better still, in the top five, among the international competitors in the event.
Soh's time of 2hr 35min 55sec ranked him 14th overall and ahead of fellow Singaporeans Ashley Liew (2:50:29) and Evan Chee (2:54:38).
Rachel See was the top Singaporean woman with her 3:11:08 effort, ahead of Mok Ying Rong (3:16:59) and Jasmine Goh (3:20:04).
The SCSM is doubling up as the official National Championships race this year for the first time, after a tie-up between Singapore Athletics and race organiser Ironman Asia.
Said Soh, who was congratulated and sought out for wefies by fellow runners after the race: "It's a national championship but, when I'm at the start line, I'm ready to race everyone whether they are Kenyan, European, American or Singaporean - it doesn't really matter to me. If you're next to me, I'm going to race you.
"As Singaporeans, we sometimes get a little bit comfortable racing among ourselves and if that's the case, the standard will never improve... I think I gained a good goal. One day I'd like to finish in the top 10 or top five of the international category and it'd be really cool if a Singaporean could make the podium of the Singapore marathon."
The 26-year-old acknowledged that this goal of his is "obviously many steps away" as Kenyan Cosmas Kimutai's winning time for the men's open category this year was 2:22:48, compared to his personal best of 2:24:55.
"It's not easy but, with some good training and with time, I think I can get somewhere to that level," said the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games champion.
Soh had been targeting Murugiah Rameshon's 1994 mark of 2:34:02, the fastest time clocked by a Singaporean in a marathon on home soil, but fell short by 1min 53sec.
Admitting that he thought he had a good chance of bettering the mark until about 30 to 32km into the race, when his calves began cramping, Soh said: "I told myself, 'Don't gamble so much, just finish the race, have a good experience and go back to recuperate' - the record will come some day."
He rated his first SCSM experience a "very pleasant" one, despite feeling slightly underprepared as he only made the decision to participate almost three weeks ago. .
"My average mileage was probably 120km, it was close to 150km or 160km before the SEA Games so that was the difference and the last 10km was a lot harder when you run a lesser mileage, but it was fun to be out here with all the Singaporeans," added Soh.
He thanked his coach Ben Rosario and local coaches Steven Quek, Fabian William and Shawn Wee for guiding his preparation, as well as a "special" person in his life.
"I met someone special the last couple of weeks so that's been an exciting time of my life," he said.
"She's my first girlfriend so it's cool to have her supporting me and it really calmed me down before this race."
While Soh is setting the bar higher for himself, he is undecided about competing in next year's edition as he wants to focus on qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. His next big competition is the World Half-Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain on March 24.
For See, who has run in almost every edition of the SCSM since 2007, keeping a consistent pace paid off.
"I didn't run too fast in the beginning and tried to conserve, I stayed around a 2:40 or 2:50 pace so towards the end, I wasn't tired at all as I was quite well-paced," said the 35-year-old, who was 10th overall.
"I decided to just keep to my own pace and not be too bothered by whether anyone was catching up... I'm very happy to be the first (women's) national champion."