He is Singapore's first SEA Games men's marathon winner, and most would expect 2013 champion Mok Ying Ren to stake his claim to gold at this year's Kuala Lumpur edition.
However, the 28-year-old first-year orthopaedic surgical resident at National University Hospital revealed a more modest target should he qualify for the Aug 19-31 Games: a podium finish.
"For me, the goal now is just to qualify," he told The Straits Times.
"Work has been a priority for me, so I'm focused on seeing how much I can achieve while being in residency and trying to compete at the South-east Asian level."
He said his training has taken a step back due to greater commitments to work, adding: "I have to be realistic in my expectations.
I was working at a polyclinic and was enlisted into the army one week before the marathon, so I'm used to training at a high level while juggling work, and I have no plans to change that.
MOK YING REN , the 2013 SEA Games men's marathon champion, recounting what failed to stand between him and a gold medal in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. The 28-year-old refuses to rule himself out of regaining the title in Kuala Lumpur this year despite work commitments.
"When I was in the United States, I ran between 160km and 180km a week, but now I'm at about 60 to 80km a week and it's a big cut."
Nowadays, he tries to integrate training into his lifestyle as much as possible, running back from NUH to his home in Bishan at the end of the work day.
"On certain days where I have a bit more time, I will run with my friends at the hills around NUH, or on the NUS (National University of Singapore) track," he added.
"On weekends, I go for longer runs that last around two hours."
To qualify for the SEA Games, he intends to run in either next month's Tokyo Marathon or the Seoul International Marathon in March.
He clocked 2hr 41min 3sec to be the top local finisher at last month's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS). While it is still off Singapore National Olympic Council's qualifying time for this year's SEA Games (2:37:10, pegged to the bronze medal timing of the 2015 Games), Mok is confident of meeting the mark.
"Based on my training and performance in the recent SCMS, the qualifying mark shouldn't be an issue," he said.
"At the end of the day, I still like running. It's my passion and it's a part of me, and I hope to continue for as long as I can and represent Singapore at major Games."
Mok did not defend his title at the 2015 Singapore SEA Games due to injury. And he is aware of the challenge from his rivals, including compatriot and reigning champion Soh Rui Yong, as well as Indonesia's Agus Prayogo, who was also the top South-east Asian runner at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in July. He posted a personal best of 2:21:09 to finish 14th.
Still, he has not completely ruled out his chances of winning gold.
Referring to his victory in 2013 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Mok said: "I was working at a polyclinic and was enlisted into the army one week before the marathon, so I'm used to training at a high level while juggling work, and I have no plans to change that.
"Maybe my reduced training mileage now could even reduce my risk of injury."
He also believes the "unpredictable" nature of the marathon levels the playing field at the Games.
"It's based on who gets it right on race day," he added. "You have to run a smart race and expect the unexpected, because running more in training doesn't necessarily mean you got it right. And that's the thrill of the marathon."