This is my first post on the team blog since it was created. I never posted until now because I really had no idea what to write about. As most of you know, I train alone almost all the time and hardly ever talk in the first place. I am probably the most anti-social member of the team, and I give no excuses for that, but after what happened last Sunday, I felt a need to post something here.
Currently in my 4th year as a medical student, I spent the past two years as a reserve for the 5000m and 10,000m events during IVP. In other words, I watched from the sidelines as Mok and Aaron literally ran rings around the rest of the runners. The first time I watched them run IVP in my 2nd year, I told myself that one day I would run the race too. The next year, I improved but still didn’t make it.
Last Sunday, I ran my first ever IVP race in the men’s 10,000m event. Going into the race, I have to say I felt tremendously pressured to continue the tradition of delivering a 1-2 finish for NUS as Mok and Aaron had been doing just that for the past 2 years. I have only been running competitively for 3.5 years since I joined the NUS cross team halfway through first year, so in terms of experience in running big races like IVP, I didn’t really have much to fall back on. Of course I had run in road races outside that were open to the public, but this was very different. As it was my first IVP, it was probably the biggest race of my life. In the week leading up to the race, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I would go to bed at 12 and sleep only at 3am almost every day. Luckily for me we have a rather screwed up timetable in medicine and my holiday week in between hospital postings coincided exactly with the week before my race. This meant that I could catch up on whatever sleep I lost at night during the daytime. Despite this, I found myself wishing that I could just run the race and get it over and done with quickly so that life can get back to normal.
On the day itself, I was even more nervous. I couldn’t really eat much for lunch and I really hated sitting around at home waiting for the time to pass. So I decided to go down to Gombak Stadium early to hopefully distract myself with the other races that would be going on. At the stadium, some of you commented that I looked very nervous and that made me even more worried. Hopefully none of my competitors saw my face before the race! I have never felt this nervous before any other race in my short running career so far and I will make sure it never happens again.
After a short warmup with Mok it was time to go to the call room. The minutes flashed by and before I knew it the starter’s gun went off with a bang. The first lap was run in about 85s and everyone was bunched up together, but soon Mok went off at his insane pace. I was quite surprised when a few guys decided to go with him and picked up their pace as well. Ashley from SMU was one of them and I knew he was a very strong runner who had a good chance of finishing among the medals. When he began pushing the pace so early, I had to make a split-second decision. Should I follow him and start fast or run an evenly paced race..?
Sitting on the fence was not an option because too much was at stake. I decided not to follow him and stuck to my own race plans. Within the next 4 laps I began to regret letting him go. I had overtaken the rest of the fast starters and was lying in 3rd position by the 2K mark, but the bad news was that Ashley was almost 100m ahead!! Over the next few laps, he went on to extend his lead even more and by the 4K mark he was more than 150m away. All the while I was running at my own pace, but now I was beginning to doubt my own strategy. What if I couldn’t catch him? I would have just thrown away second place without even putting up a fight!! I told myself that I would stick to my plan for another 2K before going for broke if I still couldn’t close the gap.
The good thing about a 10K race is that you have plenty of time to think while running, and plenty of time to wait and be patient to see how things go. So, although I was beginning to doubt myself, I decided to wait. True enough, in the next few laps, I heard shouts from some of you guys that the gap was closing. I was relieved, but not too sure if I was closing fast enough. Slowly, he got closer and closer. With 6 laps to go, I finally overtook him. There was a lot of shouting and cheering from the supporters along the straight as I overtook him and that helped me to pass him strongly. Now it was only a 2.4km run to the finish!! I intended to just keep at my steady pace rather than try and speed up and risk getting caught again from behind.
However, after the 20th lap, with 2K to go, I accidentally pressed the stop button on my stopwatch! I was relying on it heavily for my pacing and now it was gone. Luckily, before the race I had asked Patrick and Azrul to read me my lap splits from the opposite side of the track at the 200m mark. With my watch out of the picture I now had to rely entirely on them. They did such an excellent job that I could even throw them my watch for safekeeping as I passed them, while I finished my last 4 laps. They had been helping me all along from the start but now they were effectively my stopwatch! The rest of the race went according to plan although I had to turn and check a few times to make sure I wasn’t being caught.
As I started on my last lap, I thought about my long journey as a runner. My first 10K run in sec 4 as a recreational runner took over one hour, but now I was just one lap away from almost halving that time as a competitive runner. I thought about all those long lonely runs on the outer lane of the NUS track and all the sacrifices made over the years. It was all worth it in the end.
When I crossed the finish line, I didn’t really feel the happiness that everyone says you are supposed to feel when you win a medal. What I felt was relief that it was finally over. I set out to run in an IVP race 3 years ago. 3 years ago I would have taken last place as long as I could run the race. Today I had not only run the race, but finished in 2nd place. It was much more than what I could have asked for.
Only when I got home did I feel the happiness. That night I swear that I didn’t sleep more than half an hour. I replayed the race in my mind many times as I lay sleepless in bed and realised that I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get to where I am today. So here goes-
First and foremost a big thank you to my parents for putting up with all my running related nonsense over these 3 years. For enduring my depressed mood whenever I got injured. For allowing me to miss family functions in order to train. For providing me with all the food that was required to appease my substantial appetite. For allowing me to use the car to go from hospital to school so that I can train. Neither of you were at the race physically, but you were with me every step of the way as I ran. I think I am really very lucky to have all these privileges and I hope you share my view that I have put them to good use rather than just waste it all. I could never have balanced my studies and training if not for all your support. I don’t know if you will ever read this, but if you do, I hope you feel that all your efforts were worth it too.
Next, Mok and Aaron, fellow medical students- one in my year and one my senior. You guys really set the standards for long distance running in NUS and probably in Singapore over the past few years. Although it was frustrating not being able to run IVP for so long because of you two, I have to say that I ultimately benefitted from it because it forced me to train harder to improve. I still remember Aaron teaching me how to pace myself during one of my first interval sessions many years ago. I had no idea what 96 second pace meant until he explained it to me. Aside from the running side of things, Aaron has also been very helpful in guiding me through medical school, always giving me early warnings about potential pitfalls in school and helping me avoid them. Most importantly, I have to thank Aaron for deciding to run the 1500m race this year because otherwise I would never have even got to run the 10,000m in the first place. It was a very kind gesture that I will never forget. Since I get to see Mok almost every day in school/ hospital, there is no end to the number of things I have learnt from him over the years. If I were to list them out here you would all die of boredom so I shall save it for another day. Nevertheless, they have all been valuable lessons that I will never forget. Thanks guys!
Next I have to thank Mr. Tho for all his help especially over the last few weeks. The hamstring problem after AHM really left me in a mess because I had to run IVP in 5 weeks out of which I spent 2 weeks unable to run. Your willingness to spend so much of your time trying to rehabilitate me was extremely touching and I feel very lucky to have such a multi-talented coach! I have also never seen someone so willing to help another person for absolutely nothing in return. Many thanks also for the constant encouragement and all your efforts to boost my confidence in the days before the race. It all turned out well in the end and I hope to continue working with you for as long as I am running.
I would like to go on to type out the names of everyone from the cross team who came down on Sunday to run or to support the runners, but unfortunately I can’t for 2 reasons. Firstly, there were so many of you that it would take too long to type. Secondly, I can’t because I don’t know all your names!! I know that’s nothing to be proud of but please say hi and tell me your name if you see me during training so that by the end of the year I know more of my teammates, especially the freshies.
All the random shouts of encouragement from you guys along the final straight of each lap were very helpful in pushing me along lap after lap. It made running a whole lot easier as you never get such support in the road races. Special mention to Jayanta- it was great seeing you get a well-deserved win in the steeplechase just before my race. It was very inspiring and I went away from your race feeling more confident of myself. And of course Benedict!! I might have run in the longest race of the day but I think you displayed far more endurance than any of us who ran, staying out on the field for 4 hours just to get pictures of all the action. Much appreciated!
Lastly I want to thank some of my friends from my medicine class for their words of encouragement in the days before the race. I should also thank those classmates who laughed at me for spending all of my non-hospital time running, because your comments gave me the motivation to train harder and ultimately, run faster.
Disclaimer: As you read through this account, you may be of the opinion that I am overly glorifying myself and the events of the day. After all it was only a local IVP race and I only finished second!! However, I came away from this race with many thoughts and I really want to share them with all of you and also thank people who have supported me all this while. I have tried to be as honest as possible in my account of the race and the events leading up to it. Hope you enjoyed reading!